Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Organize Your Garden Notes Now

At the end of a Gardening Year 2010, you’re just brimming over with thoughts and ideas about what worked and what didn’t and what you’re going to do the same—or differently—in Gardening Year 2011.  Perhaps you even have a scattered collection of scraps of paper with scribbled notes on them.

But when Gardening Year 2011 begins, how many of those great ideas will you remember—or be able to decipher?   How many will you recall if you haven’t even jotted them down in your personal shorthand?
Now that Thanksgiving is past and the weather is turning colder, it’s time draft you gardening notes. 

For five years I kept a garden diary in a bound book, but I wrote in cursive and then had the problem of trying to find particular entries and then deciphering my often abbreviated squiggles.  So a few years ago I started a garden diary file on my computer.

Each year I start out trying to write notes on a daily … then weekly … then monthly … then … you get the idea.  So at the end of the season I force myself to take my haphazard notes, add my current thoughts, and update my computerized garden notes for the year.

I like computer notes for two reasons: (1.) I type faster than I can write and then can read what I typed, provided, of course, I have my fingers on the right keys, and (2) later I can usually find what I’m looking for quickly by using the “Find” function.

I won’t bore you here with all my 2010 veggie notes, but I’ll give you a few edited samples so you can get an idea of how I do it:

1.  Overwinter research recommendations for control of the plague of brown marmorated stink bugs, which took a heavy toll on my tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, and green beans.

2.  Don’t repeat the four new lettuces I tried this year, but go back to my long-time favorites, Paris Island Cos and Red Sails.

3. Repeat Burpee’s Short n’ Sweet Carrots, which grew impressively, and sweetly, in our piedmont Maryland clay.

4. Dumb-dumber-dumbest: Remember to order rutabaga seeds, not purple-top turnips.

5.  Reduce tomato varieties from 8 to 4 or 5:  Sungold, Juliet, Yellow Plum, Celebrity, and another “big red.”  Reduce number of plants to 20 max.  Those tomatoes aren’t getting any younger.

6.  Repeat growing squash around a 4-gallon “drip irrigation” bucket with holes drilled in the bottom.  Plant green zucchini and yellow crookneck again in late June to avoid squash vine borers.

At the beginning of Gardening Year 2010, I looked around the garden and tried to remember where I had planted tomatoes in 2009 so I could rotate my tomato crop to a different part of my garden.  Thorough garden cleanup, three blizzards, and six months had left no tell-tale evidence in either my garden or my memory.  I went into the house and searched my computer notes—and found nothing.

Learn from my experience.  Write your garden notes now—which is what I did last night.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mulch-Mowing Leaves: How to Do It

You’ve cleaned up the house after your family Thanksgiving feast.  You’ve napped through Black Friday, when the clouds and sprinkles gave way to sunshine and colder weather.  The forecast says rain tomorrow.  It’s time to get serious about the job you’ve been putting off for weeks—disposing of those autumn leaves covering your yard.

In his “Garden” column in the Washington Post, Adrian Higgins details how the “garden honchos” at Winterthur, the duPont estate in Delaware, use mulching mowers to recycle leaves right into gardens and lawns, rather than raking or blowing and bagging.

Higgins even explains how the honchos take care of the leaves that fall in the shrubs and on hard surfaces, such as sidewalks—details often lacking in such articles.

To read Higgins’s article, CLICK HERE.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Eat Your Landscaping

Adrian Higgins, “Garden” columnist of the Washington Post, interviews Rosalind Creasy, author of the “Edible Landscaping,” which moved veggies and other edibles from backyard gardens to landscapes wherever they might be. To read “Romancing the vegetable garden,” CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Real Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is more than cooking and eating.  For seven thoughtful paragraphs, CLICK HERE to read Barbara Damrosch’s “A Cook’s Garden” column, “Thanksgiving the way it was (and should be),” in today’s Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

T-Day Countdown: Bringing in the Chard

Our countdown to Thanksgiving Day is just about over.

Monday: Beat the rush by doing most of holiday shopping at Giant Food. Touch up lawn by mowing front yard and along driveway. Ellen finishes third of three quilts for grandkids of a long-time friend. Wash insides of most windows with simple ammonia-water mix to remove Windex smudges and streaks from last month’s wash.

Tuesday: Clean bathrooms, run vacuum, and Swiffer tile floors.

Wednesday: Make up guest bedroom & do laundry. Peel and boil rutabagas and mash with butter. Roast Brussels sprouts. Make cranberry-apple chutney. Bring chard in from garden and sauté with onion and garlic and top with sliced beets. Refrigerate all to reheat tomorrow, when we’ll add lemon juice, feta, and toasted nuts to the chard. Check thawing turkey in refrigerator. It’s not gobbling. We’ll make veggie stuffing/roast tomorrow.

Ellen and I are on schedule preparing for the big event. We were planning on 19 for dinner. The number has increased to 21.

All our guests will contribute to the meal. They’ll bring Jersey limas and corn, coleslaw, pepper relish, sweet potato casserole, drink, fruit cobbler, pies, ice cream, and disposable tableware so for the first time we won’t have to spend an hour and a half washing dishes.

Planning ahead—plus many hands—make this traditional Thanksgiving feast both doable and enjoyable.

Yes, three or four hours one day. Four or five another. Five or six another. Seven or eight on the big day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ellen and I are looking forward to Friday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

After Your Thanksgiving Feast ... a Heart Attack?

Thursday morning you stuff your turkey or tofu.  Thursday afternoon you stuff yourself, say with about 4,000 calories of “the works” plus dessert.   Then you sit back, put your feet up, and … have a heart attack.  To increase your chances of surviving the feast, CLICK HERE to link to “And for dessert, a heart attack?” from Consumers Union in today’s Washington Post.  Don't miss the eight bulleted survival tips at the end of the article.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kill the Pests?

When stink bugs attack your tomatoes, kill them by dropping them into a jar of soapy water or stamping them under foot—correct? When deer severely damage your flower and veggie gardens and shrubs and young trees, kill them by shooting them—correct? Whoaaaa! No! Yes! You’ve got to read this thoughtful column by Robert McCartney in Sunday’s Washington Post.  CLICK HERE to link to the article.

"If you can grow him, he ain't no problem to get rid of"

They’re ugly, disease-prone, and difficult to grow. But gardeners and farmers on the Eastern Shore have been growing Hayman sweet potatoes since 1856. Sweet potato lovers put their names on waiting lists to buy these sugary, creamy-white heirloom treats—which may be available at a farmer’s market near you some year soon. To read “The dirt on Haymans,” by Lorraine Eaton, in the Sunday Washington Post, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Goodbye, Cousin Dale

Today was a perfect late-autumn day for yard work. The temperature: 52° F. Breeze: none. Sun: full. Ah, yes, the perfect day for using my loppers to reshape the dormant redbud tree in our backyard, divide and replant several daylilies, and do some winter weeding.

As I used my Cape Cod weeder to uproot some young weeds, I came to a clump of grass that had somehow gained a foothold—maybe that should be rhizomehold—in a lily bed.

As I uprooted the grass, I thought of the words I heard yesterday at the funeral service of a cousin, Dale Abbott, of Rileyville, Virginia. Pastor Jeff Taylor of the Luray Seventh-day Adventist Church in his sermon had read parts of Psalm 90: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations…. Your turn men back to dust…. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered…. The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength….”

Several hundred relatives, including his four daughters, his brothers and sister, and friends celebrated his life with tears, stories, and a smile or chuckle at times.

It’s always sad to lose a friend, a loved one.

As I uprooted the invading grass from the flower bed, I faced reality. I too am like grass.

Dale was 71. I am 70.

“The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength.”

Sometimes I have a lot to think about as I weed our gardens.

Goodbye, Cousin Dale. God be with you.

Veggie Seed Saving--Just as in Centuries Past

You’ve got to meet Lisa Von Saunder, who saves heirloom veggie seeds just like Amish and Mennonite gardeners have been doing for a couple of centuries and then sells them in what Adrian Higgins, Washington Post gardening columnist, calls a “cottage industry, a throwback to the century before last.”

The favorite of the 123 tomato varieties she sells: “The best-tasting tomato is a toss-up between two identical varieties, Todd County Amish and Amish Potato Leaf,” two pink beefsteaks, Von Saunder said.

If you’re a tomato freak like I am, CLICK HERE to read Higgins’ article, “Gathering seeds for a growth enterprise” in the Local Living Section of the Washington Post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holiday Treat: Cranberry-Apple Chutney

I’ve always been on the lookout for special side dishes to add to our traditional holiday celebrations. I’ve loved them all—but, I must admit, most guests passed them by.

Take Brussels sprouts, a dish that evolved in our kitchen over the years, from boiled sprouts with a tomato-cheese sauce, to a simpler boiled sprouts with stewed tomatoes, to the more recent roasted sprouts. Yes, they’re delicious, but … unappreciated.

Another addition was rutabaga, boiled and then mashed with either butter or cream. I salivate at the mere thought, though my cardiologist doubtless would give two-thumbs down. Again, most guests don’t reach for the serving spoon. Rutabagas don’t even get respect at our local supermarket. Last year, the checker asked me what it was. I answer, “Rutabaga.” With raised eyebrow she flipped through her code chart and then shook her head no. I suggested “Swede” as an antique possibility but got another no. Oh how embarrassing for the humble rutabaga when the clerk found it listed as “Yellow Turnip.”

This year’s newbie is Cranberry-Apple Chutney. I’ve already done a test-run and, shockingly, my fellow adults really like the stuff. It’s so good that those without diet discipline will sneak a treat between meals.

Chutney has been absent from our family table for a couple of generations. I have dim memories of saying “No thanks” to chutney when I was a child visiting elderly relatives for a traditional roast-goose Christmas dinner. The chutney appeared in a small cut-glass bowl and looked like lumpy axel grease and smelled like oniony vinegar. Yuck, I thought.

You probably smile in disbelief at that description from the 1940s if you’re familiar with colorful and tangy chutneys that are created in India and the Caribbean.

Cranberry-Apple Chutney is colorful—think cranberries. Tart Granny Smith apples, golden raisins, onion, and pecans add to the flavor and texture. And it’s tangy courtesy of such traditional chutney spices as ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves.

Other than 5-star taste, another plus is that it refrigerates well so I’ll make it a day or two before Thanksgiving. It takes only about a half hour.

If you like a spicy food in the flavorful, not hot, sense, I recommend you try this holiday treat.

For an online recipe, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Explaining the Broccoli Cousins Without DNA Testing

Confused about broccoli, broccolini, broccoletti, and broccoli rabe? Barbara Damrosch takes six paragraphs to set you on the right track in her “A Cook’s Garden” column, “Honey, I shrunk the broccoli (and improved it),” in today’s Washington Post. CLICK HERE to link to her article.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two Tutus for Fall Broccoli

Did tutu fabric protect Howard County Master Gardener Susan Levi-Goerlich’s broccoli from cabbage butterflies this summer?

I checked with Susan last week at her plot at Westside Gardens, a part of Columbia Gardeners, Inc., to get a progress report.

“Yes, the tulle did its job. The larvae of cabbage butterflies weren’t a problem,” she said, as she pulled the fabric back to show me a broccoli head. “I’ve been cutting about two weeks now. The first head was pretty large. With the shorter days, the rest of the broccoli are growing more slowly now.”

The tutu worked to keep the butterflies from getting to the broccoli leaves to lay their eggs but didn’t solve a new problem—harlequin bugs.

“Harlequin bugs weren’t a problem before this year,” Susan explained. “The netting didn’t provide total protection against them. It kept them out of the centers of the plants, but then they just sat on the top of the tulle and sucked on the leaves through the fabric’s little holes.”


“I added another layer of fabric,” explained Susan, who gardens organically. “The second layer was a little stiffer than the first and both layers together were enough to prevent the harlequin bugs from reaching the leaves.”

Any other problems?

“White flies. Tons of them materialized about a week ago. But so far they’re just a nuisance and haven’t damaged the plants.”

“The brown marmorated stink bugs weren’t a problem for the broccoli, although they decimated my pole beans. They didn’t damage my chard, lettuce, or root crops, such as potatoes, beets, and carrots.”

Susan’s thought of one possible way of thwarting the stink bugs.

“Pole beans grow over a long season, so it seemed that several generations of stink bugs were able to attack them. Next spring I’m going to try bush beans, which produce relatively quickly. If the stink bugs are a big problem then, I’ll just not plant a second or third crop.”

Susan shared her favorite broccoli recipe:

Pasta with Broccoli and Tomatoes

Briefly blanch or steam 1 head broccoli, cut into flowerets, until bright green.

Toss together in a bowl:

¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped (sauté gently in the oil first for a less pungent garlic taste)
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
The steamed broccoli
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Cook 1 pound ziti or penne until al dente.

Toss together pasta and veggies.

Top with ¼ cup grated Parmesan.

Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4.

Adapted from The Dinah Shore Cookbook.

If you want to read my August 7 "Grow It East It" blog about how Susan uses tutu fabric, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Susan's Winter Crop: Garlic

Most people think of winter gardens in terms of zero—nothing happening, nothing growing. But Howard County Master Gardener Susan Levi-Goerlich knows that something will be growing in her garden this winter—garlic.

“I planted most of my garlic about two weeks ago,” Susan said last Friday, pointing to several green sprouts—garlic leaves—poking through a thick mulch of shredded leaves. “October 15 to November 15 are the planting dates for garlic in Maryland.”

“Garlic likes good soil plus a thick mulch of shredded leaves or straw to help protect it through the winter. And it needs the mulch through the spring growing season too, because it doesn’t compete well with weeds. Planting is simple: two and a half inches deep and six inches apart, pointy end up. I use my weeding tool to make a hole in the soil for each clove.”

Susan bought heads of garlic from several suppliers last year and uses the best of that crop for her seed cloves. “I have six hard-neck varieties. Unfortunately, I didn’t label them when I planted last year, so I can’t really tell them apart, except for the two types that are purple.”

This year Susan has planted about 100 cloves, enough to fill a 4-foot by 8-foot raised bed at her plot in Westside Gardens, a part of Columbia Gardeners, Inc. The 100 cloves, of course, will grow into 100 heads of garlic, right?

“Yes,” Susan replied. “We eat a lot of garlic. Last year I planted 150 cloves and ended up with 12 mesh bags full, which was a lot. I had to go online to find ways to preserve it before it went bad. I pureed some with olive oil and froze it in ice-cube trays for use in Italian recipes. I also chopped and froze some without olive oil.”

Susan expects to harvest her garlic next summer. “Traditional harvest date is Bastille Day, July 14, but I’ll begin checking in late June because some varieties mature earlier,” she said.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Veggie Orchestra--Really?

Ever listened to an orchestra with instruments made from veggies?

If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. If your garden produces too many veggies, start a veggie orchestra.

No, my tomatoes haven’t been stewed. There really is a veggie orchestra, the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which has been giving the world a taste of fresh veggie music since 1998.

If you’re having a hard time imagining a veggie instrument, think carrot or radish flute. For brass, think carrot trumpet with bell made of—don’t be shocked—a bell pepper. For percussion, think turnip bongo, pumpkin drum, and eggplant clapper. On the mellower side, think cucumberphone.

You’re still not taking this seriously, are you? But the Vienna veggies are for real. They have several CDs out, the latest called “Onionoise.”

“Noise” probably isn’t the best word to associate with veggie music. Perhaps “funky and groovy” or “organic experimental sound” would be better.

And it’s comforting to think that in a world of veggie orchestras, no one would starve. After each concert, the conductor could collect all instruments and cook up a pot of vegetable soup.

“Brass and percussion, report to the kitchen!”

Eat your hearts out, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. Lucky you weren’t celery.

Ready to view and hear a 2-minute veggie concert? CLICK HERE.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Food for Feathered Friends

Scratch a gardener and you’ll likely find a bird lover. I’m one. I rejoice whenever a bird dines on weed seeds or on an insect that is chomping on one of my veggies. In appreciation and as encouragement, I’ve set up three nesting boxes for well-known insect eaters, blue birds and tree swallows. Come right this way, my bird friends. Dine on all the garden insects you can eat.

When winter approaches and food-finding becomes more difficult for non-migrating birds, I put up our three bird feeders. Each winter a steady procession of birds visits our feeders, and when snow or ice arrives, the orderly parade turns into an impatient crowd.

I knew it was time to hang up our three feeders when I noticed a small flock of juncos scratching up a mulchy storm in one of our flower beds while searching for seeds.

The pivoting feeder—mostly squirrel proof—contains black-oil sunflower seed, a favorite of a wide variety of birds. Through the winter it will attract cardinals, titmice, chickadees, house finches, song sparrows, and, when snow covers the land, white-throated sparrows.

The gray feeder contains a block of suet, which attracts downy, hairy, and red-breasted woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice, which, unlike the gluttons called starlings, don’t mind dining while clinging upside down.

The green-topped feeder contains “thistle” seed, actually imported and heat-sterilized nyjer seed, often from Ethiopia. It’s a favorite of goldfinches, which can enter through the protective wire that keeps the seed just beyond “arm length” of neighborhood squirrels.

I put up the feeders on Wednesday. On Thursday chickadees discovered the sunflower seed. On Friday the juncos started scouring the ground under the feeders for dropped seeds. On Saturday titmice and house finches joined the diners. On Sunday a titmouse discovered the suet.

The news is spreading fast: Good food is now available at Meadow Glenn. I wonder when the woodpeckers will get the word.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Leaves of Autumn--No More Bagging

Leaves are falling from your maple and oak trees by the tens of thousands. You’ve got to get out there with your rake and 10, 20, 40, or 80 recyclable leaf bags. Your muscles soon will cramp. Your back will ache. God bless suburbia! Happy Autumn!


There’s a better, easier, way to take care of your leaves. In her “A Cook’s Garden” column in the Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch, recommends several ways you can use them in your flower and veggie gardens and even on your lawn.

I love her first sentence: “It’s November, and nature is mulching.”

To read her short article, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sex and Consequences

That three-letter word caught your attention, didn’t it? What a powerful word, that little “and.”

Yes, of course, I jest.

The three-letter word that you should be interested in during this time of the year if you live in deer country is “rut,” the time when deer breed and are more apt to travel about and challenge the front bumper or side door of your car. For deer, “rut” means “sex,” so I really didn’t lead you very much astray with the headline, now did I?

The Washington Post on Tuesday published an Urban Jungle column with six short paragraphs under the headline “Rut and consequences.” If you live in deer country, you owe it to yourself to CLICK HERE to become your household’s authority on the subject. It’ll only take a minute.

The photo I’ve posted shows two bucks in our front yard near the beginning of the rutting season. The stance of the left bucks seems to send a message: “Ok, buster, this territory and those does are mine. Move on—or prepare for battle.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Deer Jumped Over My Truck

Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
A deer jumped over my truck,
My wife smiled as she heard my report
That the doe ran away to her buck.

Yes, a deer tried to jump over my Tacoma pickup Sunday morning while I was driving to town. The doe’s gymnastic effort was so sudden and fast that I recall only a brown, furry blur about a foot from my driver’s side window and then the sound of deer meeting silvery Toyota metal just to the left and above my head.

I reacted instinctively. My hands squeezed the steering wheel, involuntarily blowing the horn. I jammed on the brakes, though I was probably going 30 mph or less because I was approaching a stop sign. I turned off the engine and stepped out expecting to see major damage to my truck and a dead deer.

Roadside honeysuckle vines were shaking violently—deer death throes, I thought. I noticed no damage to my truck. The doe had almost cleared the top of the cab, which is 67” high. The honeysuckle stopped shaking, and the doe’s white tail marked her route as she bounded across the adjacent field.

When I got home, I asked Ellen to check out my “souvenirs”—some gobs of deer saliva on my left truck window, just above a muddy smear—and four or five deer hairs where the window joins its frame. It reminded her of when a deer once took out the left side of her Volkswagen Jetta. Later, Deena, our visiting daughter-in-law, noticed two, 3” oval indentations, barely visible, on the edge of the door and the metal support behind the driver’s window—not significant damage on a 9-year-old pickup.

Since the collision, I’ve been wondering whether the doe was fleeing a buck in the annual deer ritual called “rut.” I think not. Tomorrow I’ll post a link to a short article that will make you an expert on “rut.”

All’s well that ended well in this encounter.

I wasn’t injured. My Tacoma wasn’t seriously damaged. And the doe ran away across the field.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More Exercise, Fewer Sniffles

As the temperatures drop, I tend to walk less. In general that’s not good. The Washington Post this morning gives me a more specific reason: more exercise may mean fewer and less severe colds.

To read the short report, CLICK HERE.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What Cost Cleaner Water?

Is it time to re-imagine your concept of “lawn”? Are you willing to replace traditional “grass” with a rain barrel and a rain garden and your driveway with porous pavement? Are you ready for a visit from your neighborhood “fertilizer cop”?

Man your battle stations! Read the pros and cons in “To save Chesapeake, turf may face tough love,” by David A. Fahrenthold, in today’s Washington Post.

The save-the-bay principles mentioned in the article apply elsewhere, of course, even to streams and rivers in your neighborhood if you live outside the Chesapeake watershed.

To go the Post article, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Blog of an Ancient Gardener

Remember these lines from English Literature?

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
Yes, they’re from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” You may give thumbs-down to that Romantic poem, but I give it thumbs-up.

In ancient times, in the last century, when I was a journalism intern at the Clinton Daily Item in Massachusetts, I wrote a story about a malfunction in the town’s water supply. I began, “Water, water, everywhere….” Bill, the editor, loved the literary allusion, but stopped short and began shaking his head when he got to “Nor any drop to drink.”

“We can’t print that,” he mumbled, fingering his unlit cigar. “Readers won’t understand.” I argued for literary integrity. His blue pencil wiggled and the story in print began: “Water, water, everywhere, And not a drop to drink.”

So much for the authentic Coleridge.

But I’ve always had a soft spot for the Ancient Mariner. Look him up on Wikipedia if you can’t remember the story of why he wandered the world with a dead albatross hanging from his neck.

When I thought to name this blog, a light went on: “Blog of an Ancient Gardener.”

Yes, for better or for worse, that’s the name.

This is a blog, not a poem, of course. Yes, I qualify as “ancient,” as my years total more than the biblical “three score and ten.” And I am a gardener, though my postings will wander outside the garden fence whenever things are greener there.

I plan to post at least once a week, so please click on "Subscribe" at the top of the right column if you want notice of new postings.

Welcome to “Blog of an Ancient Gardener.”