|Photo by Rachel Shaw|
Friday, December 3, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
|Photo by Rachel Shaw|
|Photo by Rachel Shaw|
Sunday, October 10, 2010
While the cardinal flower happily seeds itself in throughout the yard, the blue lobelia has not reproduced at all...until this year. I was actually on the verge of pulling it out, when I discovered a flock of low growing, flowering new lobelias around the mother plant. Not only were they quite pretty, they also included some white flowers as well as the usual blue.
I realized that what I seeing must be the result of a mutation. Now I'm fascinated. What will happen next year? Will I have more white plants? And is the much shorter height also a mutation? I don't recall that in its first year of flowering the parent plant was short like these. For now, the blue lobelia stays!
Monday, October 4, 2010
I wondered how such a flower was pollinated, and read that it is done by bumblebees, the only pollinators strong enough to force open the flowers. So I started watching. I had assumed that the bees would force the flower open from the top. But from what I observed, the bees clasp the bottom of the flower, facing downward to get pollen from the base. Fascinating!
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Several days later, I saw a lovely chrysalis hanging from one of my tomato cage supports. The Monarch chrysalis, with its beautiful jade color and delicate threading of gold near the top always makes me think of stunning piece of jewelry. In the photo you can actually just make out a bit of the colors of the caterpillar from inside the chrysalis!
Not too many days later there was just a papery empty shell left. Hopefully there's one more lovely Monarch flittering about, or perhaps heading down to Mexico. Here's a neat link with some information about the Monarch lifecycle plus video of one emerging. http://www.monarchbutterflyusa.com/Cycle.htm
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
For eating fresh, the Brandywine is still my pick for the best flavor. The yellow pears are tasty and are low in acid. Brown berries are an excellent cherry tomato. The Cherokee purple are a bit of a disappointment, not terribly productive, especially after one of the main stems broke.
An interesting new one for us is a patio tomato with the uninspired name "Patio hybrid" from Totally Tomatoes seed company. The tomatoes felt so firm that we wondered if they were ripe, even when bright red. However, they sliced well, without the hard white core that the heirlooms are inclined to, and proved quite ripe and nice for sandwiches.
Last week we decided to try making tomato sauce.This was so much easier than I had imagined: dip the tomatoes in boiling water for 20 seconds, and then put them in a bowl of ice water. The skins really do slide right off! Our recipe was simple: garlic, onions, fresh oregano and basil, and our secret ingredient: ground buffalo meat. I don't know if it was the buffalo that did it, but the sauce was fabulous! A later batch made with ground beef was not remarkable, though other factors such as cooking time and the amount of fresh herbs added may have been in play.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The big stories of the moment - hummingbirds and tomatoes. On Sunday as we were getting out of the car I saw that the cardinal flowers in the front garden were starting to bloom, and I wondered when the hummingbirds would show up. No sooner did I have the thought than two appeared, one hovering over the cardinal flowers, the other perusing the purple blossoms of the chaste tree. Last year I had a female virtually living in the yard for much of the summer -- I wonder if she is one of the two? So now, the quest for a really good photo of a hummingbird begins anew.
The tomatoes have puzzled me for awhile. All have had clusters of green tomatoes for weeks, and none seemed to be ripening, although now the Brown Berry, the Yellow Pear, and the Costaluto Genovese have begun. But the Brandywines and other large tomatoes remain resolutely green. I googled "tomatoes not ripening" and came up with 3 pieces of advice: 1) be patient, 2) cut back on water, and 3) fertilize. It had never occurred to me that it would be possible to water a potted tomato too much, and I'm still not sure about this, but I am cutting back just a bit. I sure want those big green softballs to fulfill their delicious potential.
Monday, July 5, 2010
This year, I've limited myself to the more traditional tomatoes and peppers, along with an okra and plans for a cucumber. The tomatoes look healthier and more productive than last year, and there are probably several reasons why.
First, I started out with better transplants. Last year the plants I started from seed were pretty lanky by the time they got into the big pots. I let them sit outside in part shade, hardening off in small pots, while I got around to buying the large pots and preparing the soil mix. This year's plants got out sooner, and had sturdier stems to start with.
Second, I've been better about removing the suckers - the new leaves that start to grow between the main stem and a branch. Suckers left to grow turn into stems, which means more energy diverted from the growing plant. I try to get them when they are tiny, so as not to damage the plant. Last year I did some more vigorous pruning of larger stems, which my plants may not have appreciated.
Third, I mixed some fertilizer in with my soil mix, which was a blend of potting soil and compost. I'm not always so great about making sure my vegetable crops get some fertilizer.
Finally, I've been careful about giving them a good watering every day. It's been essential, as we've had many days with temps in the 90s.
All my plants have healthy looking tomatoes, though none have ripened yet. I'm growing mostly heirlooms: Cherokee Purple, Brandwine, Yellow Pear Cherry, Brown Berry, Amish Paste, Costaluto Genovese. I'm also growing a couple of hybrids: Micro Tom (a truly tiny plant with tiny tomatoes), and another patio variety called Container Choice Hybrid. Peppers are Poblano, Mohawk (supposed to be an orange bell pepper), Rainbow (also bell), and Salsa Mix (we'll see what that is.)
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I also wanted to visit Environmental Concern, a non-profit native plant nursery specializing in wetland plants of the Chesapeake region. They are housed in St. Michaels, and our trip was planned around their twice-yearly native plant sale and open house. Turned out we were a day too early for the open house, but we were kindly allowed to wander around the campus, after promising we wouldn't actually go in the greenhouses. We enjoyed hanging out at the freshwater and saltwater marshes.
We kept an eye out especially for turtles, one of my favorite animals. We didn't spot any in the freshwater marsh, but found quite an impressive specimen on the grass nearby!
Our visit the next day to Adkins Arboretum was an unexpected bonus - I knew about this native plant arboretum, but hadn't realized it was only a half hour or so from St. Michaels. What a delight! The marshes near the nature center were teeming with sounds and sights - bullfrogs, snapping turtles, dragonflies, redwing blackbirds.
The meadow path was thick with common milkweed, and we saw many zebra swallowtails feeding on their nectar. There are several miles of trails, through meadows and woodlands, and we're looking forward to returning for more exploration.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
In the meantime I've turned into a bee watcher. I don't see many butterflies in my yard, but I have lots of bees! When my Penstemon digitalis started blooming I began to notice that there were always bumblebees hovering over the white tube-like flowers. I began watching more closely, and saw bees disappearing into the flowers, emerging a few seconds later to fly on to the next flower. It became a sight that delighted me: the glove-like fit between the flower and the bee, the idea that each is benefiting from the bee's visit.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
I've been hearing a lot about solitary bees lately. Unlike honeybees, they're natives, they don't make honey, and seldom, if ever, sting. The females make nests in twigs, reeds, holes in wood, or tunnels in the ground. They'll lay an egg, put some food in with it, seal it off in its own compartment, lay another egg, and so on. The new bees emerge the following spring.
I'm for doing everything we can to help pollinators. So when I read about setting out tubes for the bees to use as nests, I decided to try it. (Paula Shrewsbury's description and photos in the Maryland Cooperative Extension Weekly Integrated Pest Management report really got me going; see p. 6.) Here's what John and I came up with.
I ordered the tubes online (basically they're just straws made of heavy paper.) The instructions are to place the tubes off the ground and protect them from rain. John made a nice sheltered holder for the tubes out of a plastic container, and nailed it to the side of our shed. I tied up two sets of straws with cord, and we snugged them tightly into the container.
There are plenty of places that sell the bee tubes, as well as more substantial nesting materials such as wood "houses" with holes drilled in them. Some people just drill holes of different sizes in a piece of firewood. Overall, the tubes seemed quick and simple. (Well, simple now that John has the structure in place!)
The only thing is, I think we're a little late for this season; it sounds like the egg-laying is usually in March and April. But we just put out our setup out a couple of days ago, so we'll see. Meanwhile, I've got a lot to learn about bees. A source that looks interesting:the Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Except it wasn't marsh marigold, it turns out, but a look-alike invasive known as lesser celandine, Ranunculus ficaria. I got the bad news via a short article in the Washington Post. I then googled lesser celandine, and came upon a great article that helped confirm what I now suspected: http://www.earthcaretaker.com/alienplants/mondaygarden/159/SS159lessercelandine.html
In addition to photos, the article lists some ways to distinguish the two plants. I dug up a bit of my plant, and sure enough, it had underground tubers, characteristic of lesser celandine.
The name celandine also applies to another cheerful yellow flowered plant, celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum. Some of my master gardener friends suggest referring to it by its other common name, wood poppy, to avoid confusing it with the invader. Celandine poppy, though native, is considered by some to be somewhat invasive. It has been well-behaved for me, and I have it mixed in with the lovely native Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Last year I added Sedum ternatum, also native around here, and it has come through the winter well.
At the native plant sale at the National Arboretum, I picked up some Pachysandra procumbens after one of the vendors told me her sister had good success growing it under a large tree. I believe it is native a little further south than where I live in Maryland, but it will sure beat the non-native pachysandra, which I have plenty of in other parts of the yard. It's still dormant right now, so I'll have to see how it does.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
This year two of the speakers, Darell Morrison and Bill Cullina, spoke about aspects of designing with native plants. Morrison, a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, talked about some of the large-scale projects he has designed using natives. Cullina talked about different botanical features of plants such as color, form, leaf variegation etc. can be used to advantage in the garden.
The third speaker, Kim Winter, talked about attracting wildlife to the garden. It was particularly interesting to me that she mentioned solitary bees. I had just recently read a short article about using small cardboard tubes as nesting cavities for these bees, and so it was already on my mind. She gave a link to a website I'll be exploring: pollinator.org.
I also got to go on a guided wildflower walk at the Arboretum's newly renovated Fern Hill wildflower garden. It was a chilly but sunny day, and many things were just starting to poke out of the ground, while a few things were already blooming, including Dutchman's breeches, trillium (the red one, I think commonly known as wake-robin), and one of my favorite shrubs, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) which has little yellow flowers and emits a spicy smell when the bark is scratched. Wish I had a place in the yard for one of these guys!
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
And there's the arborvitae. I didn't know that they are often multi-stemmed - the one I learned in my woody plants class had a single stem. At any rate, the multiple stems all sagged in different directions under the weight of the snow - something not so dramatically evident till the snow was mostly gone.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I'm happy that some of my less loved shrubs may be damaged after resting under heavy snow and ice for some time. I'm hoping that storm damage will make it easier to kill these non-natives off: nandina, privet, burning bush. The nandina was encased in ice for awhile that dripped from large icycles. That seems to have melted, and I'm afraid it looks surprisingly perky under the snow. One can only hope it may be weakened, at least, and a little easier to take out.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Jan. 17 - Okra (foreground), Cilantro (back left), Basil (back right)
Jan. 28 - Okra; Peas
Sunday, January 10, 2010
On January 7 I started several sets of seeds using Park Starts. I put 2-3 seeds per Park Start into the little hole in the center of each plug. The only exception was the peas; with such large seeds, I only put one seed per plug.We give each plug one teaspoon of water to start with, and check daily. You want the plugs barely moist, but not too wet.
John started basil seeds on January 3, and the little seedlings have already got their seed leaves. In a few days he will choose the strongest seedling and carefully snip the stems of any other seedlings sharing the same plug. Basil has turned out to be an amazing indoor plant; John harvests it regularly from his tabletop growlight system at work.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
My potted blueberry plant ended up with quite a load of snow!
Indoors, there are still many pots and plant trays that need to be washed, and we've only managed to transplant a couple of peppers and eggplants into bigger pots. But the holidays are past; no more excuses. Time to get busy.
We need to get some seeds going, as we're planning to have a booth at the DC Home and Garden Show in March. We'll want to have plants in various stages of growth in order to display how our system works. If I were starting these for outdoor transplanting, I'd wait a bit. For most plants, especially warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers, starting from seed this early would mean enormously overgrown plants by the time the weather is warm. But for indoor growing, anytime is a good time to plant seeds. So I'm starting okra, peas, lavender, peppers, rosemary. With the next post, I'll show exactly how we do it.