Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Chocolate Mint, a great plant to grow (and eat) !

NCA's blogspot editor Peg Riccio, Pegplant.com


February 19th is National Chocolate Mint Day and for gardeners that translates into the chocolate mint herb (Mentha x piperita forma citrata ‘Chocolate’). Mints are herbaceous perennials. They are extremely hardy but must be grown in containers. All mints will take over your garden if you plant them in the ground.
Chocolate mint has textured leaves and dark brown to purple stems. The leaves are green but the new growth is darker, with veins that are brown to purple. The leaves really do taste like chocolate mint, which kids love. In my family, we make a syrup out of the leaves and pour it on fresh strawberries (see recipe below). We also put minced leaves in a store-bought brownie mix, chocolate cake, and chocolate chip cookie dough to add the mint flavor. The leaves are great for garnishing fruit salads, desserts, cakes, and cupcakes. They can be used fresh or dried for making tea, or adding to coffee or hot chocolate.
This is a great plant to have in order to make gifts. The stems root very easily in water so you can either pot up the rooted stems or just give cuttings to friends. We have given away pots of chocolate mint with a recipe card attached. Because the cost is minimal, pots of chocolate mint make a great gift for your children’s teachers.
Mints can tolerate shade and prefer moist soil. They can be grown in dappled shade or morning sun and afternoon shade. If there is a dry period in the summer, make sure the container is receiving enough water. They grow to a few feet tall and flower in the summer. The small flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish. They also attract beneficial insects, bees, and butterflies. Deer leave the plant alone. Chocolate mint also can be used as the “spiller” in a container with summer flowers.
Syrup Put one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. When the sugar dissolves, turn off the heat, and add a large handful of chocolate mint leaves. Bruise with a wooden spoon by smashing leaves against the side of the pot. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. When cool, strain leaves out and pour syrup in glass jar. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

It All Started With Seeds

It All Started With Seeds


Saving various types of lima beans and their names and stories
read a phrase that is so true: “It all starts with the seed. The seeds take care of us.” We rely on seeds, thus plants, to feed, clothe, and shelter us. But these seeds in turn rely on us. Our cultivated plants (not wild grown but grown in gardens and farms) depend on human care. If we do not preserve a species it will become extinct. If no one grows a plant and saves the seed, the plant and its genetic material will not exist anymore.                                           

                                                               

                                                                      

The Importance of Seeds

Because seeds are fundamentally important to our survival, saving seeds, especially open pollinated, heirloom seeds, is vital. Plants make up 80 percent of our diet. On an agricultural level, saving seeds preserves genetic diversity. Breeders can tap into a large genetic pool for improved crops and pest/disease resistant crops. Saving seeds of various plants ensures crop diversity so that one pest/disease does not wipe out one crop. Saving seeds of plants that have adapted to a local area helps to become resilient to climate change.

Sharing saved seeds at a seed swap
On a home gardener level, saving seeds saves money. One can exchange seeds at seed swaps or pass down seeds to future generations. Over time, saving seed from plants that have done well in the garden saves plants that have adapted well to the region. This may help with climatic change. Saving seed also increases the diversity of plants grown. There is more of a choice, more of a variety to choose from for better flavor, time of harvest, or plant type. Saving seeds also saves the memories and stories from previous generations and the lineage of heirlooms.
However, each year, as seed are not saved, plants become extinct. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, an estimated 75 percent of global food diversity has become extinct in the past 100 years. Of just 20 plants used for global food production in 2014, only 9 accounted for more than 66 percent of all crop production. Only five cereal grains make up 60 percent of our calories. In the past century we have lost more than 90 percent of our seed diversity. Thousands of plant species are no longer available, and we continue to lose them every day. Yet biodiversity is essential to food and agriculture and provides us and plants with resilience.

Seed Saving Initiatives


Grandpa Ott’s morning glory
Fortunately, there are seed saving initiativesacross the world to save seeds for future generations. One American organization, Seed Savers Exchange, has several programs that are extremely useful and helpful to home gardeners. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) began in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy. Diane’s grandfather gave them seeds of Grandpa Ott’s morning glory and German Pink tomato which were brought by Grandpa Ott’s parents from Bavaria when they immigrated to Iowa in the 1870’s. Diane knew that with her grandfather’s passing, unless the seed were grown and saved, they would be lost. She reached out to like-minded people interested in saving and sharing heirloom seeds and gradually formed a network.

Seed Savers Exchange


German Pink tomato
Today, SSE is a non-profit organization in Decorah, Iowa, with more than 13,000 members. Its mission is to “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.”
The SSE maintains a seed bank with 18,000 to 20,000 varieties at their headquarters in Iowa. They also send seed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seed vault at Fort Collins, Colorado, and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.
“At SSE, we store seeds at zero degrees Fahrenheit and 20 percent humidity. Under these conditions, certain seed can last up to 100 years,” said Philip Kauth, Ph.D., Director of Preservation.
To give an idea of the number of varieties that can exist within one plant, Philip said that currently the SSE collection has 6,000 tomatoes. There are 3,000 types on the market that are commercially available. “We have 1,100 varieties of corn but the USDA has 20,000 varieties of corn. We also have 6,000 varieties of beans.” What makes SSE unique is that they also maintain the seed’s history. “We put a lot of emphasis on stories. We preserve the varieties and their histories as well as evaluation data on their performance as a plant.”

The Seed Exchange

Anyone, including home gardeners, may access some of these varieties through the Seed Exchange. The Seed Exchange is a free online database of seeds, basically a seed swap. Anyone can offer or obtain open pollinated seeds to grow in their garden. It does not cost money to view this database; however, in order to list or request seed a free account must be established. If reading hard copy is preferable, there is an annual catalog called the Yearbook that can be ordered for a fee. The Seed Exchange has more than 11,000 varieties of homegrown, open pollinated vegetable, flower, and herb seed. Once people obtain and grow these, they can save and re-sow the seed (hence have them for a long time) or even save and share the seed with friends and family. The Seed Exchange also includes potato tubers, garlic bulbs, apple tree cuttings, and other non-seed material.

Field crew harvesting beans
Today, a quick look at the Seed Exchange reveals 9,563 varieties of tomatoes. Some entries have short descriptions, some long, and some have photos. For example, the description for the Silvery Fir Tree tomato is a “compact (18 – 24 inches high) with unusual, delicate, lacy leaves. In Russian, it is called ‘Serebristaya El’ .. it is an old Russian variety that was introduced to American seed savers in the early 1990s by Marina Danilenko, pioneering private seed seller from Moscow during the Perestroika-era.”
There are 38 entries for spinach including a broad leaved prickly seed spinach “described by Albertus Magnus, a Catholic saint from Germany, in 1260, has been commercially available in the US since at least 1806, and was planted by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in 1809 and 1812.”
SSE also sells seed, people can order online and from a free catalog. SSE makes about 600 varieties available commercially to the public when inventory of seed is high enough to meed the demand. The revenue from the seed sales, as well as donations and memberships, maintain the organization’s seed collection and promote and encourage the tradition of saving and sharing seed.

Trial beds at Heritage Farm

Seed Savers Exchange Projects

Other interesting SSE projects are Seed Rematriation (identifying and growing plants grown by indigenous communities in order to obtain and save the seeds); SeedLinked, a seed data platform connecting people with information on varieties from other gardeners/farmers; and the Community Seed Network, which engages hundreds of people across the United States and Canada to connect, share, and learn about seeds. The SSE also provides free seed to schools, community groups, and people in need via the Herman’s Garden and Disaster Relief Seed Donation programs.

Heritage Farm

The SSE is a destination point — hundreds of gardeners, horticulturists, and seed savers visit the headquarters, known as Heritage Farm, each year. The public is encouraged to visit the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center and Gift and Garden store, walk through display gardens, including an apple orchard with 900 varieties of apple trees, and attend events such as a seed swap, an heirloom plant sale, a seed school, a tomato tasting, and a harvest festival. And if that isn’t enough, there is always the Robert Becker Memorial Library with 6,000 volumes covering agriculture, horticulture, and biodiversity. And to think it all started with seeds of a morning glory and a tomato.
All photos courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Gardener's Christmas


Thank you Peg Riccio for this poem..remember her website: pegplant.com
Best New Year wishes from President Cherie Lejeune




A Gardener’s Christmas
´Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the yard
The branches were bare
And the ground frozen hard;
The roses were dormant
And mulched all around
To protect them from damage
If frost heaves the ground;
The perennials were nestled
All snug in their beds,
While visions of fertilizer
Danced in their heads;
The newly planted shrubs                         
Had been soaked by a hose
To settle their roots
For a long winter’s doze;
And out on the lawn
The new fallen snow
Protected the roots
Of the grasses below;
When, what to my wondering
Eyes should appear,
But a Prius full of gifts
Of gardening gear;
St. Nick was the driver
A jolly old elf,
And he winked as he said,
“I’m a gardener myself.
I’ve brought new seeds
And light systems, too,
Give them a try
And see how they do.
To eliminate weeding,
I brought bags of mulch
To attract the pollinators,
I have flowers for best results.
To add to your joy,
I’ve plenty of herbs
And ornamental grasses
For your hell strip curb.
For seed planting days,
I’ve a trowel and dibble.
And a roll of wire mesh,
If the rabbits should nibble.
I have the latest books
Plus some gadgets you’ll love;
Plant stakes and frames,
And waterproof gloves.
Here are sharp shears
And a new compost pit
And, for pH detecting,
A soil testing kit.
With these colorful flagstones,
Lay a new garden path.
For the view from your window,
A bird feeder and bath.
And last but not least,
Some well-rotted manure.
A green garden year-round,
These gifts will ensure.
Then, jolly St. Nick
Having emptied his load,
Started his Prius
And took on the road.
And I heard him exclaim
Through the motor’s quiet hum,
“Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a green thumb!”

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Chrysanthemums: Post-Bloom and Post-Frost

Care of Chrysanthemums: Post-Bloom and Post-Frost

by Peggy Riccio

chrysanthemums are perennial plants
Its chrysanthemum season, time to enjoy the autumn colors of yellow, orange, and red flowers. But what to do after Jack Frost visits?
Todd Brethauer, president of the Old Dominion Chrysanthemum Society, says to cut back the mums in the garden to 4 inches and cover with 4 inches of mulch, such as pine boughs or straw. It is okay if the plant is in darkness, it will be dormant during the winter months. Although mums are perennials, they are subject to the soil heaving during warm winter days which can damage or kill the roots. Keeping the plants covered insulates and protects them from the fluctuations in soil temperature. When spring arrives, remove the mulch.
If you have purchased a potted mum this fall and it is still in the container, cut back the stems to 4 inches and cover the entire plant and pot with mulch. Todd suggests keeping the plant in the container and not taking the plant out and planting in the garden. There is not enough time for the mum’s roots to become established in the ground; therefore, the plant will not survive the winter. For extra insulation, Todd suggests putting the entire plant and container under a deck, covered with mulch, and even putting the pot on its side so excess rain or snow will run off. Otherwise, treat decorative potted mums as annuals. Either throw away after they bloom or take the plants out of the containers and put the plants in the compost pile when they are past their prime.
The best time to plant mums in your garden is in the spring after the last frost. This will give them all summer long to get established.

chrysanthemums forced for fall flowers don’t have time for root establishment in the garden bed

Don't forget to follow Peggy Riccio at:   pegplant.com 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Save Your Geraniums for Next Year

Peggy Riccio

When my mother lived in Vienna, Virginia, she grew red geraniums in large containers by the front door. Every fall she would pull the plants out of the containers, knock off the excess soil, and place the plants on a shelf in the basement. There was one small window allowing very little light but these plants would come back to life the following summer. She did this because her mother, who lived in Wisconsin, also saved geraniums in the fall. However, her mother had a sunny foyer. Every fall, she would cut her plants back, repot them in smaller containers, and treat them as small indoor plants in the foyer. Both methods worked well. Geraniums can take quite a bit of dryness which is what makes them ideal for overwintering.
This year, I received a geranium from All-America SelectionsCalliopeis a 2017 AAS ornamental vegetative winner (not grown from seed) with red flowers. It has bloomed all summer in a large container, in full sun. I added Osmocote when I originally planted it in May but I have not needed to water it. The rain has been enough. Every time I see this pretty plant I think of my mother and grandmother and how gardening wisdom passes down from generation to generation. Before winter hits, I want to save my geranium too. Since I do not have a brightly lit room in my house, I will try my mother’s technique.

Calliope in October, ready to be overwintered
This month, before frost, I will lift the plant out of the container, shake the soil off and cut off or back diseased parts and the flowers. Then I will let it dry for a few days in the shade on the deck so that excess moisture will evaporate. I will then place the plant in a large paper grocery bag, upside down, and close with a binder clip.  I will store the bag in the coolest place in the basement, which will be around 50 degrees.
Periodically, I will check the plant to see if it is getting too dry or, conversely, moldy. If moldy, I would just cut and throw away those parts.  If too dry, I would soak the roots in water for a few hours and then dry and put back in the bag. Of course, the foliage will die off eventually but that is okay.  In the beginning of April, I will put the root structure in a small container with drainage holes. I am assuming the plant will look like a dead stump but I have no doubt it will come back to life. I will water and place the container in the living room where it is warmer and lighter than the basement. This will trigger the plant to leaf out again. After the average last frost date (Mother’s Day here), I will put the container on the deck. It will be in shade at first which actually will be more light than the living room. Gradually, I will move the container to a sunny location and probably in late May, I will plant it back into its large container with another dose of Osmocote.
If you have geraniums, now is the time to think about saving them so you can enjoy them again next summer. This method should enable you to enjoy your geraniums for many years to come.
Read more gardening tips at Pegplant.com 


Pink and red geraniums in the landscape in August

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Deer-Resistant Bulbs in the Lily Family for a Spring Show

From Cherie Lejeune, President of NCAGC October 6, 2019
We are fortunate to have a new Blog Post Editor/Contributor...Peggy Riccio. Her website,  Pegplant.com is growing fans not just locally but, attracting readers from across the globe. She is a member of Camelot Garden Club (DIII), the new President of the Potomac Chapter of the Herb Society and, a member of GardenComm, an international association of garden writers. She is a Mother of twins, both freshman in college, and, still works full time. Oh, and she gives many weekend workshops! 
She will definitely keep our local antenna in good working order for green, local activities.  

So with her permission, we are reprinting her latest post on Lily Family bulbs. For those of us with too many deer in our yards, this is welcome information. Thank you Peggy!                            ______________________________________________________________________

Deer-Resistant Bulbs in the Lily Family for a Spring Show

Of the fall-planted, spring-blooming bulbs, there are several in the lily family (Liliaceae) that are deer resistant. These are worth trying in your garden. If you have a severe deer issue, you may want to try deer-proof bulbs. As mentioned in my deer-proof article, I talked with Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, who explained the difference between deer proof and deer resistant.
“Critter-proof bulbs are poisonous to animals such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, and voles,” Brent said. “Critter-resistant bulbs have some quality that is unpleasant to the critter but if the critter is hungry enough it will eat the plant.” Because there are three types of deer-proof bulbs in the amaryllis family–daffodils, snowflakes, and snowdrops–you may want to expand your palette of colors with deer-resistant bulbs in the lily family. Try planting these in areas where you know deer do not frequent or cannot gain access. Brent also recommended using Plantskydd repellent for these bulbs. “Plantskydd is most effective,” he said. “You dip the bulb in the liquid, let it dry, and then plant in the ground. It prevents the critters from smelling the sweet smell of the bulbs so they tend to leave the bulbs alone.” Here are six deer-resistant bulbs in the lily family to plant now for a spring show.

Alliums


The drumstick shape of Allium sphaerocephalon
Alliums, also called ornamental onions, are grown for beautiful flowers, not for edible onions. “Allium bulbs have a distasteful, strong onion smell that critters find offensive,” said Brent. Usually the flowers are globe shaped and can be quite large. They bloom in late spring and early summer, preferring full sun and well-drained soil. Many of these flower heads work well as cut flowers and as dried flowers. There are globes, large and small; the drumstick shape (Allium sphaerocephalon); the firecracker shape (A. schubertii); and the large chive shape (A. unifolium), to name a few. The size of the bulb varies so planting depth varies but generally bulbs are planted 2 to 3 times their width.

Grape Hyacinths


Grape hyacinths in a container
The grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) is a small bulb but makes a big impact if planted in masses. Most people think of blue or purple grape looking flowers but there is a wide variety of colors. Some flowers are two-toned — blue and white or yellow and purple or white and purple. Some have all white flowers, or purple, or pink. Some flower structures have hairy, fuzzy flowers, instead of the common, grape-like clusters. Grape hyacinth bulbs naturalize well, can be grown in full or partial sun or dapple shade, and are great for planting under deciduous trees. Because of their small size, they do well in containers for forcing for an early indoor bloom. They bloom in March and April.

Hyacinths

“Hyacinth bulbs have scales that are a skin irritant so wear gloves when handling them,” recommended Brent. “This also is an irritant to critters.” Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) are less than a foot tall and flower colors come in ranges of pinks, yellow, blues, and whites. The actual flower shape does not vary much with cultivars. The bulbs last for a long time in the garden and over the years, the florets become looser, with more space between them instead of a tight cluster. Hyacinths prefer well-drained soil and full sun. They are very fragrant which is not as noticeable outside but can overpower a room if cut for a vase inside. Because of their small size, they do well in containers for forcing for an early indoor bloom. They bloom in March and April.

Spanish Bluebells

“Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are highly critter resistant,” said Brent. These have about the same height and color palette as hyacinths but the florets are tubular bells. They can tolerate shade, are often found in woodland areas, but also can be grown in sun. They naturalize well and can be used as a cut flower. They do not have such an overpowering scent like hyacinths.

Star flowers

Star Flowers

Star flowers (Ipheion uniflorum) have a nice fragrance but are too small for cutting and the foliage reeks of garlic. “When crushed, the star flower leaves smell like garlic so the plant is critter resistant,” said Brent. The flowers have six petals in pale blue, lavender, pink, or white, resembling a star. The plant is about 6 inches tall with thin, grass like foliage so it is best to grown them in a group or drift. As long as the soil is well drained, they have a wide range of soil tolerance and can be grown in full sun to part shade. They bloom in April and naturalize well.

Glory of the Snow

Glory of the snow (Chionodoxa forbesii) also has star-shaped flowers but they are more open and each flower is lavender with a white center. Again, a small, 6-inch plant so they are not used for cutting. They work well in a group or drift and naturalize easily. Glory of the snow blooms in March, sometimes with snow on the ground, and in April. They need well-drained soil and full sun to part shade.

Glory of the snow in a drift
All of these bulbs should be available to purchase now at your local independent garden center or order online through one of these bulb companies.
All photos courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Bumper Stickers and Garden Haiku - Creativity Blooms in NCAGC Workshop

Last year’s NCAGC Conference's Writing Workshop produced some interesting bumper sticker ideas and garden themed Haiku poetry by attendees. Such thoughtful creativity. Enjoy! Thea

NCAGC: We have met the gardeners and they are us
(Sumer Bomar)

NCAGC = Flower Power
Gardeners Love Growing Things
National Gardeners Grow Across the Nation
Metro Gardeners Grow Around NCA
(Mary Cottrell)

NCAGC  - More Than Just A Flower Bed
Yes! We Are A State! NCAGC
N ew
C onnections
A lways
G row
C ommitment
(Ronnie Levay and Ginny Vorhees)

Friendships Begin In A Garden Club
(David Healy and Ann Kiehl)

NCAGC: Our Capitol’s Garden Club
(Jane Kneessi and Linda Nordstrom)

                      ***********************************************************


Buzzing on a rose
Oblivious to the sun
Creating a yum
(Jane Ragezhi, Haymarket T&C GC)

Sunset on water
As solar slips to slumber
Night closes the day
(Mary Cottrell, Rock Spring GC)

Bee round and fury
Softly kissing a flower
Gathering pollen
(Bunny Barrett, Haymarket T&C GC)

Dark eyes, bright at birth
Precious little girl of mine
Black eyed Susan, light
(Esther Neckere, Mount Airy Clay Breakers)

Glowing petals rise
Uplifting natures buffet
Dining in midflight
(Teri Speight, Capitol Hill GC)

See the colors bright
Bees and insects all alight
Then they all take flight
(L. Millette, Mount Airy GC)

Dancing in the wind
Dressed to sparkle in sunlight
Color for a princess
(Ronnie Levay, Town and Country GC)

Each day a new bloom
Together catches your eyes
And more tomorrow
(David Healy, Capitol Hill GC)

Shimmering koi flash
Golden beneath the water
God’s moving flowers
(Jane Kneessi, The Garden Party GC)

Pink trees give blossoms
To Kenwood neighbors and friends
Kissing their petals
(Ginny Voorhees, Kenwood GC)

Black centered Susan
Arms stretched out to catch the sun
Happiness in Fall
(Mary Cottrell, Rock Spring GC)

Perching on flower
Extracts the golden nectar
A new plant is born

Petals spread like arms
Reaching toward the sun above
Thanking its creator

Daffodils awake
The sun arising on high
Heralds a new day
(Sue Bomar, Laurel GC)