Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Of Honey Bees and Orchids

Will a superbee save our honey bees and the many food crops they pollinate?

And what’s the best way to keep alive your gift moth orchid?

Here are two links to recent feature articles by Adrian Higgins, Garden columnist of the Washington Post. 

For his “In search of a better bee,” which appear on the front page of this morning’s Post, CLICK HERE

For his December 22 “How to keep a moth orchid alive,” CLICK HERE.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gardeners, Rejoice!

Gardeners, rejoice!  Spring is coming!

Today, Thursday, December 22, has the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Yesterday, today, and tomorrow all have nine hours and 26 minutes of daylight, but today is one second shorter than yesterday, and tomorrow will be three seconds longer than today.  Soon daylight will be noticeably longer—and winter temperatures will bottom out and spring will be just a few weeks away.

Take a look around your landscape.  Are daffodil leaves starting to poke through your mulch?  Are buds on your maple and redbud trees beginning to swell?  Does that red flag on your mailbox mean you’re mailing your veggie and flower seed order for your 2012 garden?

Gardeners are born optimists.  When days are short, temperatures plunge, and ice coats and snow needs to be shoveled, gardeners smile and plan March plantings of “cool weather veggies” and salivate at the mere thought of next August’s ripe Brandywine tomato.

Yes, spring is coming to your garden—soon!

To expand your weather knowledge, CLICK HERE to read the excellent explanation of the winter solstice by Justin Grieser of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.  He answers questions you and I haven’t even thought to ask.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Greetings

We Wish You
Merry Christmas 2011
Happy New Year 2012
Ellen & Bob

We invite you to listen to one of Ellen’s favorite Christmas carols, “I Wonder as I Wander.”  The song’s roots go back to folk singers in Appalachia.  Voice is that of Maureen Hegarty.

Seed Catalog: R. H. Shumway’s Illustrated Garden Guide

Step right back, ladies and gentlemen, into the nineteenth century.  Turn the oversize pages of Shumway’s Illustrated Garden Guide slowly or you may miss the rattlesnakes you want to add to your 2012 garden.  This is the company's 142nd year of seed selling.

Unlike most seed catalogs, Shumway’s is illustrated with line drawings in the style of a hundred years and more ago.  Sixteen of the catalog’s 64 pages are in color, but the rest are in stunning black and white.  Most of the color pages offer flowers and herbs, and all of the black-and-white pages offer fruits and vegetables.

If your dad—like mine—often spoke of planting by the moon, don’t miss the great offer on the 2012  paperback edition of Moon Sign Book, “a popular astrological guide since … 1905 … complete tables and instructions on planting and harvesting … accurate and reliable.”  Same moon, I suppose, but it now has some human footprints.

If you order the moon book, why not add a Tomato Holder?  I love the description:  “There are two sure ways to avoid cutting yourself when slicing tomatoes.  1.  Have someone else hold the tomato.  2.  Use this tomato holder.  Gives you a firm, safe grip, and knife slots measure perfect slices every time.  Great invention!  Aluminum.”  If you tend to amputate fingers while slicing tomatoes, hey, cut your losses and order a Tomato Holder.

The corn pages contain varieties I’ve seen in no other catalog—Bonus Hybrid ‘Baby Corn’ that produces those miniature ears you find in salads and exotic foods and Goliath Silo or Ensilage Seed Corn, which grows to 15 feet and yields up to 50 tons per acre.  Your cows will be delighted if you cut, chop, and ferment it in your silo for their winter feedings.

And for violence-prone gardeners who are sick and tired of burrowing mammals, there’s the four-pack Revenge Rodent Smoke Bomb to toss into those burrows … “safe [for the quarterback, not the receiver] and easy-to-use … absolutely guaranteed.”  Many years ago I tossed something like that into a groundhog burrow under one of our huge tulip poplars at the edge of our woods.  Apparently there was an interception because the next morning I found the bomb about three feet outside the burrow entrance.  Groundhog 1, Bob 0.

I haven’t ordered from Shumway’s recently, but I’m going to order a moon book, maybe some rutabaga seeds (I seldom see them on seed racks locally), and maybe a rattlesnake or two.  The reptiles, of course, would be Georgia Rattlesnake Watermelon and Rattlesnake Climbing Bean.  Second, thought, our little plots on our hillside don’t have room for such wide-ranging veggie critters.

Prices are reasonable:  Celebrity Hybrid (30 seeds), $2.75; Juliet Hybrid, not available; Better Boy Hybrid (30), $2.45; Brandywine Pink (30), $2.10; postage/handling, $6.00 on orders up to $30.

To take a look at Shumway’s catalog, CLICK HERE.  Unfortunately, veggie illustrations online are mostly color photographs, which makes the Internet edition colorless as far as I’m concerned.  If you want to see the “real” Shumway’s catalog, go online and order a print copy.

Additional Recommendations from Readers

Anne posted a Comment after my last catalog review posting:  “My favorite home garden seed catalog is Pinetree Garden Seeds.  They sell nearly everything you might want to try, the quantities are small and prices are very reasonable.  So instead of agonizing over which variety to get, I can go ahead and get several kinds, often for less than a dollar a packet and just enough seeds for a season or two.”  To take a look at Pinetree Garden Seeds online, CHECK HERE.

Kent recommended Meyer Seed Co. of Baltimore: “You can find Meyer Seed on the web and order a catalog.  They carry most of the varieties recommended by the University of Maryland.  Their prices are pretty good compared to a lot of the mail order companies.”  To check out Meyer Seed Co., CLICK HERE.  Online offerings are all vegetables, but the print catalog contains flowers too.

Notes:  (1) You can order a print catalog through most of the catalog websites.  (2) Mention of specific products, brands, or companies is not intended as an endorsement by the University of Maryland.  (3) I do not receive consideration of any kind for mentioning products, brands, or companies in my postings.  The seed catalogs I review are those from sellers from which I have previously bought seeds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Seed Catalog: Seed Savers Exchange

“Most beautiful” is the phrase that pops into my mind when I think about the Seed Savers Exchange catalog. 

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization with a mission—to save our diverse but endangered garden heritage by building a network of people committed to collecting, conserving, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants and educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity.  Sales of seed packets help fund that mission.

The Exchange sells the kind of open-pollinated or heirloom vegetable and flower varieties that our grandparents and great-grandparents planted and saved because the open-pollinated varieties grew with the same characteristics from year to year.

Access to the Exchange’s catalog, both print and online editions, is free.  You can also become a member (I am one) and receive an inch-thick Yearbook of thousands of open-pollinated seed varieties grown, saved, and made available by gardeners across North America.

Every year the catalog features several new varieties.  Two this year are White Vienna Kohlrabi, a pre-1860 variety, and Georgia Southern Collard, which dates to about 1880.  Ok, maybe they are the kinds of vegetables your great-great-great grandparents grew.

The vegetable section takes up nearly 70 of the catalog’s 100 pages and is followed by sections of heirloom herbs and flowers.  Most veggie offerings take up two or three pages, but tomatoes have eight pages, from Amish Paste to Crnkovic Yugoslavian, from Green Sausage to Hillbilly Potato Leaf, and from Jaune Flamme to Speckled Roman and Wapsipinicon Peach.

I think you should get an honorary B.H.G.H. (Bachelor of Horticulture in Garden History) if you read the seed descriptions.  For example, the annotation for Red Fig tomato states, “Philadelphia heirloom documented to 1805.  Heavy yields of 1½” pear-shaped fruits that are great for fresh eating.  Used as a substitute for figs years ago by gardeners who would pack away crates of dried tomatoes for winter use.”  Maybe that information will help you in a game of Trivial Pursuit some winter evening.

Since the Exchange doesn’t sell hybrid seeds, I cannot compare most of the prices I’ve listed in other catalog reviews.  The only one of the tomatoes available is Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain) (50 seeds), $2.75.  Postage/handling is $3.00 on purchases less than $10. 

If you wish to check out the online catalog, CLICK HERE.

Additional Recommendations from Readers

Two readers have sent personal catalog recommendations after reading my earlier catalog postings. 

“TankMan” recommended that readers interested in hot peppers should check out Pepper Joe’s website, which sells seeds for, among scores of other fiery varieties, the Ghost Pepper, also known as Bhut Jolokia or Naga, and at 970,000 Scoville Units (11 on Pepper Joe’s 10-point scale) is billed as the “hottest pepper in the word.”  To check out Pepper Joe’s, CLICK HERE.

Another reader recommended that anyone seriously interested in beans should check out the 11-page bean section of the Vermont Bean Seed Company catalog, which contains more than 40 additional pages covering other vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers.  To check out Vermont Bean, CLICK HERE.

Notes:  (1) You can order a print catalog through most of the catalog websites.  (2) Mention of specific products, brands, or companies is not intended as an endorsement by the University of Maryland.  (3) I do not receive consideration of any kind for mentioning products, brands, or companies in my postings.  The seed catalogs I review are those of sellers from which I have previously bought seeds.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Seed Catalog: Johnny's Selected Seeds

Johnny’s catalog is designed for two different types of food growers—backyard and commercial or market.  Because of that, this catalog contains varieties and comments that you won’t find in most other catalogs.  For example, in the “Greenhouse” subsection of eight pages of tomato seeds, you’ll see “Rebelski aka DRW 7749 (F1) … The Best greenhouse tomato for fresh market.”

Johnny’s 206-page catalog—which is perfect bound like a small book—contains a wealth of information that serious gardeners can mine to improve their wisdom and skills.  Before each vegetable category appears a column labeled “Growing Information.”  The one about tomatoes has 16 entries: determinate and indeterminate (definitions); growing seedlings; transplanting outdoors; fertilizer; diseases; blossom end rot; insect pests; harvest; storage; days to maturity; seeds to plants ratio; average planting rate, seed specs; packet (number of seeds); and germination chart showing optimum temperature range.

Scattered through the catalog are other charts—some of primary interest to market growers but containing all sorts of information that can give a backyard gardener perspective—and appreciation of the knowledge required to successfully produce vegetables sold at farmers’ markets or grocery stores.  One page gives “Seasonal Salad Ideas for Your Markets.”  Another page contains “Glossary of Terms,” “Life Cycle Codes,” “Vegetable Disease Codes,” and “Hardiness Zone Chart.”

The catalog also has large sections of herbs (20 pages) and flowers (36 pages).  Johnny’s encourages commercial growers to diversify to meet the changing interests of buyers—and you’ll likely see the result when you check out offerings during your next visit to your local farmers’ market.

I’m utterly fascinated—as you can tell—by all the information in this catalog but even more so by its “Tools and Supplies” section.  Many of the offerings are designed for commercial growers, such as a precision seeder that holds 7.3 quarts of pea, corn, or bean seeds.  If you’re hankering for a broadfork, Johnny’s has three sizes for tilling and one for harvesting.  I had never heard of broadforks until I saw them here.

Finally, I want to yell, “Bingo!” because one page lists four long-handled, high-quality weeding hoes: a 4-inch wire weeder, a 3¾-inch collinear hoe, a 5-inch trapezoid hoe with replaceable blade, and a 3¼-inch stirrup hoe.   Hoe, hoe, hoe, hoe—maybe you should give a hint to someone you know who is dying to give you a super-special gift.

I’ve bought seeds from this company.  Prices are reasonable: Celebrity Hybrid (40 seeds), $3.45; Juliet Hybrid (15), $3.45; Better Boy Hybrid, not available; Brandywine (40), $3.45; postage/handling, $7.25 on orders from $10.01 to $30.  I also like the idea that it’s an employee-owned company.

If you wish to check out the online catalog, CLICK HERE.

And while you’re spying out Johnny’s website, check out the Video section.  Want to see how to use a collinear hoe?  Watch the video.  Want to know how to use a row cover?  Watch the video.  The video list is long, but, hey, it’s winter and evenings are long.

Notes:  (1) You can order a print catalog through most of the catalog websites.  (2) Mention of specific products, brands, or companies is not intended as an endorsement by the University of Maryland.  (3) I do not receive consideration of any kind for mentioning products, brands, or companies in my postings.  The seed catalogs I review are those that have arrived in our mailbox unsolicited.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Seed Catalog: Totally Tomatoes

When is “totally tomatoes” not “totally tomatoes”?

When Totally Tomatoes is a seed catalog.  The company’s 60-page 2012 catalog has more than 30 pages of tomato seeds followed by nearly 15 pages of pepper seeds and more on other vegetables. 

The hundreds of varieties of tomato seeds are divided into categories, such as giants, large hybrids, medium to large, rainbow, mountain (especially for the Southeast and mountain areas), open-pollinated and heirloom, and cherry.  If I see a trend, it’s the addition of new, “short” varieties for container gardeners.

If you’re a new gardener, you should check out your tomato-growing knowledge at the catalog’s two-page how-to-do-it guide, “These Simple Steps Yield Totally Terrific Tomatoes,” which covers seeding, growing plants, hardening off, site preparation, transplanting, culture, disease and pests, container gardening, and preserving.

I have ordered seeds from this company for several years.  Prices are reasonable (I plan to compare prices as I review catalogs):  Celebrity Hybrid (30 seeds), $2.75; Juliet Hybrid (20), $2.45; Better Boy Hybrid (30), $2.45; Brandywine Pink (30), $2.10; postage/handling, $4.95 on orders less than $25.

If you wish to check out the online catalog, CLICK HERE.

Notes:  (1) You can order a print catalog through most of the catalog websites.  (2) Mention of specific products, brands, or companies is not intended as an endorsement by the University of Maryland.  (3) I do not receive consideration of any kind for mentioning products, brands, or companies in my postings.  The seed catalogs I review are those that have arrived in our mailbox unsolicited.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Deer Country: What’s Blooming Mid-December?

Heather, the perfect winter flower for Deer Country

Yes, it’s mid-December, we’ve had multiple killing frosts, so our gardens must be dormant—right?
Wrong!  When I walk around our gardens doing winter chores—mostly cleanup and preparation for the next growing year—I see lots of flowers here and a few there.

The “lots of flowers here” is our heather shrub (Erica spp.), after six years about two feet high and five feet across.  Deer don’t browse this tough shrub, which is why it’s in our front yard and unprotected by wire cage or a deer-repellent spray.  The heather started blooming in mid-November and will bloom through the winter and into May.  How nice to pause and admire delicate pink flowers while I’m shoveling snow.

Moss phlox in its cage
Just a few feet from the heather are two kinds of pink blooms—several on moss phlox (Phlox subulata) protected by the wire tent I described in an earlier posting—and a lone dianthus (Dianthus spp.) blossom.  Across the sidewalk, a red Knockout rose (Rosa arbustiva ‘Double Knock Out’) sways gently in the December breeze above its wire cage.  How many more hard frosts can these three survive?

Just around the corner of the garage, a forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)—probably encouraged by the extra warm fall—sports 10 or so flowers.  A week ago there were more than 20 flowers, so frosty nights are taking a toll.

And about midway between the forsythia and the heather, a weed, common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), snubs frosty temperatures with green leaves and yellow flowers.  My “weed book,” Weeds of the Northeast (by Uva, Neal, & DiTomaso), warns that groundsel “contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that cause liver damage in horses and cattle.  Small herbivores, such as sheep, rabbits, and goats are resistant to the toxic effect….”

And humans?  I’m not about to experiment, and perhaps there’s a reason the bambits haven’t sampled the groundsel.   

In addition to groundsel’s toxicity, there’s another reason I must trash this flowering weed.  The weed book notes that “open flowers can develop fully mature seed after plants have been killed by cultivation or herbicides.” Whoa!  Groundsel certainly rates a plastic bag in this gardener’s trash can.

Knockout rose
As days become short, shorter, and shortest in December, I tend to stay indoors more and overlook what’s happening in our garden.  But when I go outside and take a minute to look around, I usually can find some flourishing plant—perhaps even a bloom—to add a positive note to a frigid day.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Deer Country: Don’t Cut Back Perennials?

My surprise--a browsed lychnis plant
I took my pruners to one of our perennial beds to cut back the dead flower stalks of our rose campion (Lychnis spp.) and discovered something that convinced me to put my pruners away.

One of the younger lychnis plants had been deer browsed.  That was significant here at Meadow Glenn because I’ve never seen a browsed lychnis plant in the four years they’ve been growing in that bed.  Photo 1 clearly shows the browsed leaves—some with tough fibers still attesting to a tough, fuzzy meal attempted by a deer.

Just a foot way another lychnis plant lay unbrowsed under a protective umbrella of dead stalks (Photo 2).

Unbrowsed lychnis protected by dead stalks
Eureka—a thought!  Perhaps deer are as energetic as I am and take the easy way out if they have a choice.  Exposed leaves: browse.  Protected leaves: pass by.

I looked around.  Not far way was a Shasta daisy with tall but dead stalks.  Still-green leaves of the plant hugged the ground.  A couple of the outer, unprotected leaves had been browsed—but the leaves protected by the stalks were untouched.

Put the pruners away until late winter, Bob.  Let the dead stalks help protect the plants over winter.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

And there are other reasons not to cut back dead perennial seed stalks.  Seed-eating birds—chipping sparrows and song sparrows, for example—check them out for winter food, and the stalks add character to gardenscapes when frosted or coated with ice or snow.

Seed stalks add winter character
Ah, yes, these are excellent reasons to put away my pruners until some sunny, pre-spring day in February.  Meanwhile, back at my lounger….

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tomato Patch: Tomato Plants for Holiday Decorating

Ready for your mantle?
Veggie growers will have to admit the University of New Hampshire has come up with a brilliant idea: Tomato plants as holiday decorations and gifts.

This tomato grower is smiling from ear to ear, and beyond, after reading today’s Associated Press story about the university’s experiment with dwarf tomato plants—deep green leaves and bright red fruit—for Christmas decorating and gift giving.

The idea has gotten rave reviews from people who’ve checked out the plants.

What fun!  Just walk over to the holiday plant on the mantle, pluck a juicy fruit, and munch away.  Can’t do that with the decorations on a Christmas tree!

Or a pot of this?
What next—pots of rhubarb chard?

Hoe, hoe, hoe.


To read more—including the names of tomato varieties used in the experiment—CLICK HERE.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cutting Lettuce in December

Simpsons Curled (left) and Red Sails lettuce
cut December 2

We’ve had many hard frosts during the last few weeks.  One morning the temperature was 27°F at dawn.  Many mornings our lawn is frosty white.  What am I harvesting from the outdoor freezer?

“Bob, we’re out of lettuce.  Do you still have some in the garden?”  Ellen recently asked.

I went to the garden and brought in the last of the lettuce I had planted in September in the experimental greenhouse or lettuce box—the one I called a “greenhouseperhaps” in an earlier posting—a bright-green Simpsons Curled plant and a Red Sails.  After I washed both lettuces, I stored them in a large plastic bag in our refrigerator between sandwiches and salads.

Red Sails seedlings in "greenhouseperhaps"
in early December
We’ve had such a warm fall that in early November I removed the box from around the lettuce and moved it to another location to protect three just-sprouted Red Sails plants, which continue to grow slowly.  This is a first-time experiment to see how long lettuce can continue growing as late-fall temperatures work their way down the thermometer.  Will some super-cold night soon kill the young plants?  Or will I pick lettuce at Christmas or New Year’s—or beyond?

What have I learned so far from this experiment?

First, with a little thought and care, I can pick lettuce—often called a “cool weather” vegetable—during most of the year if I plant small, successive crops every two to four weeks.  If I plant seeds in mid-March, I can begin picking small leaves as I thin the plants in April.  From May through November I can pick beautiful, mature plants.  Photo 1 shows the two beauties I picked even later, on December 2.

Second, my small greenhouse experiment quickly taught me that “short” lettuce will grow best in the box’s limited height.  Simpsons Curled and Red Sails top out at a foot or more, taller than the box.  When their leaves touch the top (lid) of the box, where moisture collects and freezes on frosty nights, ice crystals sometimes encase and damage the tallest lettuce leaves.  This winter I must buy a packet of seeds of some “short” head or leaf lettuce that will grow in the box without pressing against the icy top.

Third, the “greenhouseperhaps” is small, so the number of plants that can grow without overcrowding is limited.  For my first crop I transplanted 10 times too many plants and seeds in the box—a row of Simpsons Curled plants and a row of Red Sails seeds.  Within a few weeks the Simpsons Curled covered the Red Sails sprouts, which suffered in the deep shade.  My second attempt (Photo 2) has just three Red Sails seedlings, which I started in our sunroom in yoghurt cups and then transplanted.

Will I pick lettuce at year end—or even in early 2012?  I’ll let you know what happens as increasingly cold weather impacts on the three Red Sails lettuce plants growing in the mini-greenhouse.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Deer Country: New Fort Guards Our Viburnums

Strike 1: Wire cage was too small & deer
browsed every leaf that grew through the grid
Several years ago I built a protective cage of iron stakes and plastic deer fencing around four viburnums, two Blue Muffin arrowwood (V. dentatum) and two Cardinal Candy (V. dilatatum), after our local deer had heavily browsed them three times in one growing year.  The heavy browsing was taking its toll, and I feared the shrubs would die.

The new cage worked for a year or two, but late last year a deer discovered that if she leaned against the plastic fencing, it would give, and if she leaned far enough, the iron stakes would bend at ground level and she would have access to browse the two closest shrubs, the arrowwoods.  This year deer further collapsed the plastic fencing, entered the cage, and heavily browsed all four shrubs.

Last week I created Fort Viburnum around the four shrubs.  I used 5’ iron stakes every four feet and attached 3”x2”, 16 gauge, 36” galvanized wire fencing that advised on the label, “Ideal for garden enclosures.”  The final cage is about 20 feet long and stands about four feet from the center of the shrubs.  The fencing tops out at 4 feet, with a 1-foot gap between the ground and the bottom of the fencing.

Strike 2: Deer leaned into
plastic fencing and collapse the whole fence
I haven’t the slightest doubt the “ideal for garden enclosures” fencing will keep the viburnums in, but will it keep the deer out and permit our shrubs to flourish?

 Most mature deer could stand by a 48” fence and with ease gracefully jump over, but I’m counting on several factors that deer-management books and magazine articles often mention. 

First, the “cage” at most is about eight feet wide, and deer often seem reluctant to enter small spaces in which easy exit may be uncertain. 

Second, I’ve laid 6”x18” red patio blocks all the way around the cage to add another uncertain element to inquisitive deer.  The blocks also will help keep mulch inside the cage and create a distinct border that will speed lawn mowing.  I also hope the blocks will discourage deer from trying to slip under the fence. 

Third, I’m not going to let other plants, other than an older red maple tree, grow inside the fort and tempt the deer to find a way inside.  I’ll keep it mulched but will not add or permit any “deer candy”--hostas or tulips or local weed favorites such as poke, violets, and white clover.

Will the new Fort Viburnum's iron stakes & wire fencing
be Strike 3?
Of course, some buck next fall may decide to use the iron stakes to rub velvet off his antlers or to polish them—as a buck did a month ago with several stakes of nearby Fort Kevin, which protects our redosier dogwoods.

After I originally planted the viburnums and they were heavily browsed and rubbed, I built small wire cages around each of the plants.  That was Strike One because deer nibbled every leaf that grew through the wire.  Strike Two was the cage that I just replaced—iron stakes with plastic deer fencing, which the deer ultimately pushed over and then entered to browse. If deer do breech Fort Viburnum, I’ll consider that Strike Three and most likely abandon the shrubs to the bambits.

Over five years the cost of the materials for the three kinds of cages I’ve built to protect the viburnums probably exceeds the cost of the shrubs.  Another cost that I must consider is that of “age.”  I’m five years older than when I first started making cages to protect these plants from the deer, and each year it’s harder for me to drive in iron stakes, unroll and cut and install wire, and handle patio blocks, which each year seem to weigh heavier.  Oh, my Aching Back!

So, bambits—and that includes the 11 that watched as I built the new cage—have mercy on our four viburnums and the Ancient Gardener.  Gaze and browse outside Fort Viburnum, not inside.

To see how a buck damaged iron stakes of Fort Kevin, CLICK HERE.

Deer Country: Deer of a Feather…

Her snack...

Beth, a Howard County Master Gardener, puts out sunflower seeds for the birds—and a few neighborhood deer that dine on the high-quality seeds.

His snack...

“I buy black-oil sunflower seeds in 50-pound bags and we go through one in two to three weeks.  I also have a feeder with thistle seed and had one with suet, until it fell last winter and disappeared. I put sunflower seeds in the feeder in the photo plus two other feeders and in a pile on a stump in the adjacent woods, which is part of a tree conservation area we share with our neighbors. It hosts many animals and I'm happy to feed them seeds. I just wish they would stay away from the stuff I plant.”

Yes, Beth, that’s the joy of living in Deer Country, where deer love to eat things we plant.

“In any case, I've not put much thought into deterring anyone as everyone has to eat.” Beth continued.  “My only solution for keeping the deer out of the feeder is not to fill it completely as we would be broke from how much seed we would go through!  Instead, I get the camera out and shoot them.”

Their snack...

“This summer three does and four fawns came by occasionally.  I've seen them more often in the late summer and early fall, maybe as often as three or four times a week. I imagine as their food sources get leaner, I'll see them more often. Last winter I believe they even ate the sunflower shells they were so hungry.”

Thank you, Beth, for shooting your deer with your Canon (camera)—and sharing the photographs with Deer Country.

Thank you, Beth

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sherlock Gardener: Case of the Hollow Turnips

First discovery: Hollow turnip
How disappointing!  The leaves of my fall crop of Golden Globe turnips (Burpee Organic) were nearly picture perfect, but when I pulled some before Thanksgiving, they had underdeveloped roots.  When I cut off the stems and the tips of their taproots, I made an unusual discovery: The turnips were hollow.

What gives?  Bad lot of seeds?  Wacky growth because of our extra foot of rain this year?  Insect damage? 

I searched the Internet for information about “hollow turnips” and didn’t find much.  Several sites talked about a variety of pests that attack turnip leaves or roots from the outside—but I found no descriptions or photographs of huge cavities caused by disease or pests.  Several sites mentioned that turnips and rutabagas sometimes have hollows because of a boron deficiency of the soil, a problem often linked to repeated turnip crops in the same area, but that wasn’t the case here.

It was time for some expert consultation.  I fired off email queries to Burpee and to the Maryland University Extension Home & Garden Information Center. 

My second investigation
HGIC replied first: The hollowed turnips might be caused by a boron deficiency, and I might want to water down next year’s turnip patch with a weak boron solution, but there are other possible environmental factors….

Burpee also replied quickly.  Yes, boron deficiency is a possibility, but….

On Tuesday a downpour short-circuited my landscaping project, and I decided to pull more turnips and to look more closely at the problem.  I pulled four.  Three were underdeveloped and hollow.  The fourth was almost a perfect three-inch globe.

I shook most of the soil off the four turnips, cleaned them a bit more by rolling them in puddles on our driveway asphalt, and took them to our kitchen sink, where I cut them open while giving them a final rinse.

Hey, what was that washing into the In-Sink-Erator—a piece of mulch—or a small slug?  Unfortunately I didn’t react in time to grab and examine whatever it was.  After taking photos of the hollow turnips, I again searched for anything online about slugs stunting and hollowing out turnips—and found nothing, even in sites from Great Britain and New Zealand, apparently slug capitals of the world because of their slug-friendly climates.

I fired off an update to HGIC with my suspicion that slugs might be the culprits, noting that in the most recent photo, which shows the three hollow turnips with their tops up in the picture, there’s sort of an entry way from the top of the turnip into the root cavity.

Traffic report: Sluggish, just inching along
Having second thoughts about a slug in our kitchen sink, I went to the kitchen to clean up a bit more.  When I lifted the sink mat—there it was—a living, crawling slug.  The next morning I found a second inch-long slug crawling up the side of the sink, apparently after overnighting in the In-Sink-Erator.

Mystery solved—in my opinion.  Newly hatched slugs most likely ate their way from the crowns of the plants into the roots and hollowed them as they dined on the softer flesh.  Maryland slugs must be super smart if they can find such nearly perfect places—inside my turnips—to live, eat, and grow.
Hindsight says I shouldn’t be surprised.  I planted the turnips next to river-stone mulch along the side of our detached garage and just across the sidewalk from a large bed of sedums—both excellent slug habitats.

Next morning: Slug 2
If your turnip crop yields stunted, hollow turnips, consider the possibilities—unusual weather—a soil deficiency—insect predators—but don’t overlook the possibility that slugs have found and adopted your turnip roots as near perfect places to live.   And remember to remove all slugs from the kitchen sink before U-Know-Who sees them. 

If I plant turnips next year, I plan to locate them far from favored slug habitats and, for good measure, occasionally sprinkle iron sulfate slug-bait pellets, such as “Slug Magic,” “Sluggo,” and “Escar-Go!,” in the turnip patch. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Deer Country: Deer Cull Controversy

Want a good discussion topic to upset your neighbors?  Tired of politics or religion?  Try the subject of culling neighborhood deer by shooting them.

Today’s Washington Post has an eye-grabbing photo of a stunning white-tail buck jumping a fence over this headline: “Residents divided over deer cull: The USDA plans to thin herd in bayside Maryland community,” by Avis Thomas-Lester.

Residents in Bay Ridge, Maryland, near Annapolis, are confronting “roving deer that devour vegetation and wreak havoc” in their local woods and their civic association’s decision to cull the herd, which is approximately twice the size the local forest can support.

You should read the article because it outlines the basic arguments the two sides of the “kill/don’t kill” controversy.

To read Thomas-Lester’s article, or just to sneak a peek at the fantastic photograph of the buck jumping the fence, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winter Crop That Never Fails

Rutabagas ... eaten
Thanksgiving guests have long since departed.  We’ve just about liberated all leftovers from our refrigerator.  It’s now time to turn my attention to our vegetable garden.

Not much that I planted remains to harvest.  I pulled the last of our rutabagas for a simple Thanksgiving side dish—boiled rutabaga mashed with butter and a little salt.  I didn’t have an answer when a guest asked, “Why are your rutabagas so good when the ones I buy at the store are so strong and even bitter?”  I guess I could have answered, “Well, I grew them 20 feet from our kitchen door and pulled them an hour before I cooked them.”

I do have a short row or two of Cylindra beets to pull for another early-winter treat.  I’ll simply boil them and anoint them with a pat or two of butter.  Late-season Red Sails lettuce continues to grow in my “Cheap Greenhouse”—the experiment I’ll report on when this warm fall turns into frigid winter.  Drum roll … How long will the lettuce plants grow before they surrender to the cold?

Winter weeds ... flourishing
Yes, a few vegetables that I planted still are growing.  But other plants that I don’t want are growing larger every day, seemingly doubling in size when the temperatures zip into the 50s and 60s.  Those plants are winter weeds.

Every garden likely has some winter weeds that sprout in late fall and grow rapidly during warm fall and winter days.  I used to ignore them and turn them under on sunny February days, but some, especially chickweed, would be so thick and tangled that it was easier to roll them up like green rugs and toss them over the back fence.

But I’ve found a better way to control winter weeds.  From Thanksgiving until garden soil freezes solid and when I have 15 minutes or a half hour on a sunny day, I take my weeding hoe and make mayhem on winter weeds.  I decapitate them just below soil level, roll most of the soil off any roots with backstrokes of my hoe, and hope the sun dries the roots and kills the weeds.

Weeding hoe ... to the rescue
I don’t stoop and pull weeds, generally, because that gives me an Aching Back.  My goal isn’t a garden without a visible weed.  I hoe the biggest weeds first, especially those that are blooming—and if I miss some, I attack them the next time I hoe.

So my small, hillside veggie plots are not weed free, though some are nearly so.  And each week that passes more will be browner and less green.  When the sun begins to warm in February and the topsoil thaws a bit, I’ll be out there, a few minutes now and then, with my hoe.

This short, periodic hoeing helps me keep weeds under control.  I no longer have to stoop and roll green mats in early spring or struggle to turn the mats under with a shovel.  My Aching Back aches less, and if a few weeds still grow in March, I’ll turn them under with my shovel.

Now that you’re rested up from your Thanksgiving extravaganza, move your weeding hoe from your shed to your garage.  On the next sunny day put on a light jacket or an extra shirt and grab your hoe and do a little winter weeding.  Take a few deep breaths of the cool, crisp air, and hoe, hoe, hoe.

And while you’re working, think through your plans for Veggie Garden 2012—what you might plant and where.  Perhaps you’ll even smile and plan the perfect answer when someone asks you what you’d really like for a holiday gift:  “Well, I’d really like a high-quality, narrow-bladed weeding hoe.” That would be so much better than another necktie or box of chocolates, now wouldn’t it?

Hoe, hoe, hoe.

Extra:  To read Patterson Clark’s “Urban Jungle” feature, “Wrestling with winter’s weeds,” in the Washington Post (Nov. 22), CLICK HERE.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Deer Country: Counting Our Bambit Blessings

Three deer...
As Ellen and I put the finishing touches on the post-Thanksgiving cleanup on Friday, I glanced out the sunroom windows and noticed several groups of deer.  To get an accurate count, I went outside and walked around the house.  A herd of 19 grazed in the field to our south.  Smaller groups grazed to the west and north—a total of 26.  All were does and young.

But White Flag—the doe with the damaged tail that always stands straight up—and her two fawns weren’t there.  Neither were the bucks—Big Buck 2011, the medium twin bucks, the small twin bucks, or the disabled young buck with the shattered front-right knee.    Alas, if all the bambits were in sight I would have counted at least 35—a record number here at Meadow Glenn.

Six deer...
As I walked about slowly and took photographs, many of the deer just stood and watched and perked-up their ears, especially when I made a “kissing” noise with my lips.  Their perky ears are the equivalent, perhaps, to the smiles we humans make when a photographer instructs, “Say cheese.”

With so many deer browsing 24/7 in our neighborhood, when snow and ice cover much of their wintertime food supply this winter, will hunger urge them to break through the cages of iron stakes and welded wire I’ve installed and to browse the buds that would be next spring’s leaves and flowers?

Nineteen deer
Some long-range forecasts say winter will be “about average.”  Perhaps our deer will have sufficient food without our azaleas and viburnums.  But perhaps we’ll have a hard winter and lots of deer-damaged shrubs and trees.

I'm hoping for a “good” winter during which our beautiful bambits will find enough food outside our landscape to satisfy their hunger.  When I walk about and take their pictures, I consider them a blessing.  But when I see browsed shrubs and trees in the spring, I have other thoughts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm Thankful He Lifted Me over the Fence

Is a child watching?

“What do you think they are?” asked Mr. Rau as he lifted me high enough to peer into his rain barrel.  I must have been five or six years old, and Mr. Rau was our next-door neighbor on Main Street, Alloway, New Jersey.

My eyes focused on several living and moving things just below the waterline in the oak barrel.  I had no idea what they were.

“They’re mosquito larvae,” Mr. Rau explained.

That encounter took place at least 65 years ago.  Mr. and Mrs. Rau—I never would have thought to call them Carl and Mary—welcomed my daily visits.  At first Mr. Rau lifted me over the fence that separated our yards.  Later I learned how to climb over myself.  Mr. Rau called me “Farmer.”

“Yes, sir, you’ll always be Farmer Nixon,” Mr. Rau chucked as he puffed on his pipe years later when I visited as an adult.  “Mrs. Rau and I had a good laugh when we looked out the kitchen window one January day and saw you planting seeds.  You were having a tough time with your gloves on, your thick Mackinow coat, your hat, the packet of seeds, and a trowel.  But the next summer that bed produced the best crop of zinnias we’d ever seen..”

I’m sure I had zero skills for growing great zinnias.  In fact, as I recall those early years, I realize I was the learner and Mr. Rau taught me important principles of good gardening just by practicing them and letting me watch and help.

Mr. Rau’s rain barrel:  The rain barrel sat at the corner of the Rau home closest to their large garden.  The rotund oak barrel sat on several bricks, and Mr. Rau bored an overflow hole near the top and built a wooden top with handle.  He painted the exterior white to match their house but hadn’t thought of installing a screen at the top to keep out the infamous Jersey ‘skeeters or a spigot near the bottom. Rain water Mr. Rau used from the barrel meant he didn’t have to pump water from his well.

Mr. Rau’s drip irrigation system:  Mr. Rau would be fascinated by today’s simple and inexpensive drip irrigation systems, but he made do with the simple materials he had at hand.  I used to watch him dig-in clay flower pots between his tomato plants and fill them with buckets of water from the rain barrel during summer droughts. Today I place five-gallon plastic buckets with holes drilled in the bottoms in my Tomato Patch.

Mr. Rau’s pole limas:  In post-World War II years when nearly every backyard in Alloway still contained a vegetable garden, Mr. Rau often commented that other gardeners—especially Mr. Bowling just a few houses closer to the center of town—were trying to see who would grow the best pole lima beans.

Beans are beans, I suppose, to most modern shoppers, but pole limas were the prized vegetable in South Jersey gardens in those days.  They’re notoriously temperamental.  If the weather is too wet or cold, the seeds may rot before sprouting.  And when they grow, sometimes they produce a huge harvest—and sometimes little or none.

I used to watch Mr. Rau set up his two rows of bean poles in late spring.  He used a heavy, pointed steel bar to make holes every four feet for the cedar poles that were all approximately the same size.  He’d plant hills of lima seeds around each pole.  Then he’d string binder twine across the tops of the poles and in huge Xs between them.  As the plants grew, he’d guide them along the twine.

Growing limas took lots of work, time, patience, and good weather, but near the end of the growing season the rewards were mouth watering, a “mess of limer beans,” as a visitor from New York City once joked, or one of the signature dishes of South Jersey cookery, lima bean potpie.  Lima bean potpie also was work intensive, but I’ll not detour there.

Planting onion sets:  One early-spring day I watched over the fence as Mr. Rau worked in his khaki shirt and pants in his garden in early spring.  I climbed over for a closer look.

“What are you doing, Mr. Rau?”

“Planting onions, Farmer.”

“Can I help?”

“Do you know how to plant onions?”


“Well, watch what I do.  First, take a set from the paper bag. … Put the round end down in the row I’ve made with the hoe. … Put the next set down about here. …”

Mr. Rau took my small left hand and placed it between the two sets he had placed in the row.
“See,” he said, “that’s how you do it—one set every five fingers.”

I must have finished planting the onions in a reasonably acceptable way because Mr. Rau didn’t redo them before he carefully hoed soil up around them.  When he had finished, he said, “Here, Farmer,” and placed a dime into my dusty hand.

I can’t recall whether I climbed over or flew over the fence on my way home, but I remember yelling as I ran into the house, “Mom!  Look!  A dime!  Mr. Rau gave me a dime!”  Ten cents then was enough to buy two huge single-dip ice-cream cones at Ewen’s General Store or Dunham’s Market, the two small groceries at town center.

Thank you, Carl G. Rau, 1893-1971, for lifting me over the fence and letting me learn by helping in your garden.

Is a child watching as you work in your garden?  Lift him or her over the fence into the fascinating world of gardening.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Deer Country: Protective Cages for Shrubs

New PVC/netting cage for azalea
I planted three azaleas more than 10 years ago.  The two I protected from deer browsing with iron stakes and wire fencing are about six feet tall and each spring are covered with lavender flowers.  Because of deer browsing the flower buds in late winter, the unprotected plant is about 18 inches tall and each spring has few flowers.  When I recently saw a doe nibbling on the short azalea’s “backside”—the side from which the deer usually approach during the day—I decided it was time to build a protective cage.

Photo 1 shows the new cage, which I built from three 10-foot, 1½-inch PVC pipes, four 90° elbow joints, and one T-joint.  Since the azalea I want to protect is about 18 inches tall in most places but sprawls about four feet, I cut two 5-foot pieces from one of the pipes for the horizontal supports (the tops).  For the vertical supports (or legs), I cut five equal pieces (3 feet, 4 inches each) from the two remaining pipes, leaving a sixth piece for a future project.  The longer legs will give the plant room to grow.

Deer discovers new cage
I assembled this slightly more complicated structure basically the same way as I did the shorter structure I described in an earlier posting.  I used the elbow-joints to connect the ends of the tops to the legs.  I cut one top in half and joined the two pieces with the T-joint, with the fifth leg underneath.  I installed the 3-leg piece below the 2-leg piece to support help support both pieces and tied everything together with nylon string.  I hammered a 36-inch garden stake into the ground to help keep each leg in place.  I then wrapped the cage in deer netting, hoping that it will be sufficient to deter wintertime browsing.  If that doesn’t work, next winter I’ll add 2”x3” welded wire, which I used for the shorter cage.

Does the new cage work?  Photos 2 and 3 show a deer discovering the new arrival—the cage—around the azalea.  I happened to glance out a front window and saw deer moving toward our flower beds as they grazed.  I grabbed my camera and watched with a smile as one deer noticed the new structure.  The deer first surveyed the new cage from behind a Russian sage—looking intensely, sniffing, focusing its ears, like “radars,” on the contraption.  It took a few additional, cautious steps toward the cage, again looking, sniffing, listening.

Deer trying to figure out new cage
Oh how I wished the cage could have shouted, “Boo!”  But that wasn’t necessary, because after a few seconds, the curious deer turned and ran to rejoin the nearby, grazing herd.

Photo 4 shows a simpler cage I made for a miniature azalea that a friend gave us when my mother died a few years ago.  It has been a late-winter favorite of browsing deer, so each fall I encircle it with fencing that sits on the mulch and is anchored by four garden stakes.  For three winters it’s worked well, and each spring the small azalea has more pink flowers.

If deer browse your flowering shrubs, be creative.  Protect them some way.  The buds you save this winter will be next spring’s flowers.

Simpler cage for smaller azalea
To go to my earlier posting about the shorter PVC/wire cage that protects our moss phlox, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Washington Post Gardening Articles

Buried treasure?
Here are links to five recent Washington Post articles on a variety of gardening and related subjects—winter vegetables, trees with good fall colors, plants for dry shade, Osage orange tree, and snowbirds:

Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Garden” columnist, on “What on earth? Winter’s buried treasure”—“earth vegetables,” as she calls them, that make good winter food and can be stored in the ground, in a root cellar, or even “a garbage can or large picnic cooler sunk into the ground.”  CLICK HERE.

Like a rainbow?
Adrian Higgins, “Gardening” columnist, on “Like a rainbow, so colorful and brief”—trees that have beautiful colors in the fall.  CLICK HERE.

Adrian Higgins on “Beating the beast of dry shade”—with suggestions about perennials to plant in dry shade, such as under the sprawling branches of your maple tree.  CLICK HERE.

Patterson Clark, “Urban Jungle” columnist, on “Rebound from the brink”—about the Osage orange tree, which your granddad may have planted as a hedgerow because it grows “horse high, bull strong and pig tight.”  CLICK HERE.

Patterson Clark on “For snowbirds, it’s ‘ladies first’—about dark-eyed juncos, which probably are exploring possibilities for a snack at your under your feeder as you read this.  CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deer Country: PVC & Fencing Tent Protects Small Plants

Before: Deer browse moss phlox
I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing—two fawns standing in our bed of moss phlox (Phlox subulata) and chowing down on the greenery.  I couldn’t believe it because for about 10 years deer had mostly ignored the stringy, semi-prickly phlox.  Occasionally I’d found a stem or two that deer had pulled—and then promptly spit out.

What could I do, now that two beautiful specimens of the next deer generation had decided moss phlox belongs on their “favorite,” not “resistant,” list?

First attempt:  My earlier experiments with local deer management taught me that a soft answer—deer netting, for example—would not deter the browsing if I merely covered the phlox.  The deer would just step on the soft netting and browse accessible leaves and stems.  I had read several recommendations, though, that deer will avoid a sheet of welded wire fencing laid on the ground, so I went to the Shop and returned with a six-foot length of 2”x3” welded wire fencing—the green, plastic-coated kind you’ve probably used—and laid it over the small bed of phlox.

First failure: The next morning I had to search for the sheet of fencing.  I found it, rumpled, about 10 feet from the phlox in another perennial bed.  I imagine a deer had walked on it and in surprise carried it to the iris bed.  Hindsight said that a panicked deer with loose wire fencing wrapped around a leg or two wasn’t the way I want to interact with our local bambits.

Second attempt: If loose fencing doesn’t work, how about something more stationary, more resistant to hungry deer?  How about a “cage” made of the wire fencing but securely tied to a simple structure made of PVC pipe?

After: Deer inspects new cage
In the “After” photo you can see the structure I designed from one 10-foot, 1½ inch, PVC pipe, two 90° elbow joints, and one T-joint.  I cut the pipe into two 3½-feet pieces and three one-foot pieces and pressed the pieces together with the T-joint between the two long pieces, the two elbows at the ends of the long pieces, and the three short pieces serving as supports or legs.  Total cost of the PVC pieces at Home Depot: less than $5.30, including sales tax.

To help support the structure, I cut an old 48-inch garden stake (plastic covered aluminum) in half and hammered them into the ground to support the two end legs of the PVC structure.  After I installed the structure over the two stakes, I shaped the fencing over the support like a pup tent and tied it securely to the PVC support with nylon string.  I had used both the stake and the fencing for earlier projects, so I add no cost for them to the project.

Lunch of phlox is
out of the question, at least
for now
Does the contraption work?  The third photo shows the answer.  The moss phlox is in the cage and not the bambit’s belly.  I’ve watched several times from a window just 10 feet away as a deer has tried to work its nose under the fencing to grab a bite of phlox.  So far the simple structure has resisted sufficiently to encourage the deer to move on to easier browsing.

Score:  Bob 1, Bambits 0.  That’s the exciting news from Deer Country, where plants are caged and deer run free.

If you’re thinking of creating a similar cage, continue reading for a couple of additional points that I’ve learned from building projects from PVC pipe:

(1) PVC pipe comes with a full-length strip of black printing giving manufacturing details.  When I put the structure together, I position the printed strips so we don’t see them—downward on horizontal pieces and away from the most common view on vertical parts.

(2) I don’t glue the joints, which makes it easy for me to take the structure apart with a few twists or a few whacks with a rubber mallet if I want to store the structure over summer, when deer aren’t browsing heavily in our perennial beds, or until I want to use the pieces for another project.

(3) Tinker Toy 101 is the perfect training for PVC 101.  If you ever played with Tinker Toys, you should find it easy, maybe even fun, to make a simple PVC cage to protect your plants.