Saturday, July 22, 2017

TANTE GISELA’S TOMATO TIPS FROM ACROSS THE POND - A Guest post by Karin Rindal



Last month I went to Germany to help my 90 year aunt with her garden.  I expected to have it all to myself but she instead led the way in all the efforts, from selecting plants for her window boxes (she drove us to three nurseries in her search), to instructions on weeding (because there are some weeds she eats), to moving stone slabs to widen a walkway (I was worried she might slip and fall on the moss-covered narrowing path).  She was a wonder to behold and a poster child for the idea that gardening keeps you young in body and spirit. I thought you might be interested in her unique approach to planting tomatoes.

Behind her garage she has attached wooden scaffolding. Each year she reattaches 30 ft. of heavy vinyl covering on top of it and, after some adjusting for the same amount of overlap on each side laces the vinyl in place through a series of punched holes at the bottom first and then at the top. She told me the last few years she has done this all by herself.

The two of us pulled and stretched to be sure the vinyl was tight and overlapped over the wood. The purpose was to prevent rain from collecting and weighing the structure down. Each hanging corner of the vinyl than had a string and a square paving stone attached to the end of the corner. The string around the stone wrapped around as if it was a package.  This helped the stone hang squarely in the center.
She wanted the stones to dangle slightly above the ground so they hold the side flap in place and keep it from flapping in the wind.

She clearly has years of trial and error invested in this process.   You might ask why this whole effort was necessary.  She does this to control the amount of water the tomatoes receive and hand waters them throughout the season using water collected in the nearby rain barrel. It also heats up the soil by providing a mini greenhouse effect.

I had already weeded and expanded the bed slight creating a clear margin between it and the grass bath before the cover was put in place. I raked through our trample marks one more time before we began planting.  The soil was really lovely.

In mid-May things already were picked over in the nursery where Tante Gisela normally gets her tomatoes. So we weren’t able to find 12 of the same kind that she usually purchases. The four odd varieties were in the center of the front row. I personally would be a little overwhelmed at the prospect of 12 cherry tomato plants for two people...her and my 93 year-old uncle… but my gentle questioning of the quantity was met with certitude that it was in fact to be 12 tomato plants and no less.

When she went off to collect stinging nettles, I cleaned each spiral support pool with some kind of unfamiliar, smelly oil substance to coat the pole and ward off diseases.  Then per her instructions, I organized each of the twelve cherry tomato plants next to their associated pole evenly distributed, but with the front and back row staggered.

I prepared each plant by pinching off bottom three leaves. She was not interested in pinching the emerging leaves because she told me she wanted tall plants and not pushy ones. I gave up making suggestions and went with the flow.  Tante Gisela then proceeded to dig a gallon-sized hole for a three inch pot and fill it with chopped nettle leaves, a cup of sand and two tablespoons of multicolored fertilizer beads. Everything was mixed around with a shovel. The tomato plant was placed in the hole and back filled with soil so the level reached about an inch below the remaining bottom leaves.

Later I asked other German relatives if this was what they did and they said no. Intrigued by this elaborate set of steps and particularly about adding stinging nettles, I searched on the Internet and found no description of her tips but I did find this: https://www.plantopedia.com/stinging-nettles/  (A slightly different take on using them as fertilizer.)

And if she does end up with too many tomatoes, I have to translate this recipe for her into German: http://fat-of-the-land.blogspot.com/2009/03/fire-roasted-tomato-soup-with-nettle.html

Karen Rindal is an avid gardener and served as 2015-2017 President  of NCAGC District III's Fairfax Ferns Garden Club in Centerville, VA. We are hoping to hear back on Tante Gisela's tomato harvest. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

We've been busy!! - A Post by Thea McGinnis

Our new President and board have only been on duty for two months but lots of events have taken place, including the National Garden Club's convention held in Richmond, VA in mid May.



On May 21, National Capital Area Garden Clubs hosted a re-dedication of the Friendship Garden  at the United States Arboretum. The replanting of this garden was several years in the making, led by board member, Ellen Spencer.  A wonderful article in the Washington Post about the Friendship garden goes into the history behind this beautiful garden. The Arboretum  is quite a treasure and well worth a visit by locals of guests of the city while you're in town.

Here the link to the Washington Post Article by Adrian Higgins. Washington Post's Friendship Garden article

NCAGC President Robin Hammer
On June 10, our NCAGC president and my friend, Robin Hammer took to the gavel and hosted our first NCAGC Conference in about 10 years. And it was terrific - great food, speakers, a Small Standard Flower Show and really interesting breakout workshops and brainstorming.  I had a wonderful time and I wish I could have experienced every workshop.

Leigh Kitcher and Nancy Moats' floral workshop was a big hit

New District III Director Mary Cottrell with Sandi Piccirillo enjoying the flower show

Past District III Director, Jane Smith doing classification for the Flower Show

Some of our NCAGC Board Members

Even though most of our clubs are off for the summer months, that doesn't mean there isn't lots going on getting ready for a new season of meetings, events and demonstrations hosted by various clubs, districts and councils in NCAGC.  Be sure to check out our main website page for lots of information, photos and contact information.  If you're reading this and want to be a part of the exciting activities in garden club, please contact us.  http://www.ncagardenclubs.org

Have a wonderful gardening summer!  Thea

Bounty Full - Take Advantage of your local Farmers' Market - a happy PSA by Thea McGinnis

If you are lucky enough to have a town or village Farmers' Market in your area during the warmer months, you are lucky enough.  I hiked over on Saturday morning to one of the markets in my area and could barely control myself.

I bought freshly made cheese, crunchy bread, still sun-warm tomatoes, eggplants, preserves - the list goes on.  I'm heading to the mountains soon and I plan to swing by before I go so I have the freshest and the best local produce to enjoy.

The samplings didn't last long




the corn was fantastic!






Time to put up the pickles








farmer humor!


Monday, June 19, 2017

My Father, the Vegetable Gardener - A post by Jenny Sullivan



Come April my dad was out in the back yard turning over his vegetable plot, a perfect rectangle positioned between the patio and the garage. The hose to the well he had drilled was conveniently hanging just outside the garage, and he was religious about proper watering.  His lawn chairs were positioned just inside the open garage door where he sat to rest, to smoke, to savor a bit of Four Roses, and to “receive.” Once that garage door went up in the early morning, everyone in the neighborhood knew that Doc “was receiving.”

Geezers, young fellows, and little children came and went all day long. They got cokes and watermelon and cheese if they liked but mainly talk. I believe they came for the talk. Once Dad was rested enough to get back to his garden, often his visitors did not leave. They did not even get up from their lawn chairs. They watched Doc till or weed or water. The little kids, of course, wanted to help, to dig with the shovel or sow the seed. The men wanted to advise or compliment as appropriate.


Sometimes Dad and another fellow would disappear for an hour or so and come back with fertilizer. When the circus was in town, they would go and ask for elephant manure and bring home buckets-full. Dad would find someone in the family, usually me it seemed, and thrust the bucket in my face.
“Smell that. We’ll have some good tomatoes this year.” He loved to watch me cringe and turn my head. What would he do now that Ringling Brother got rid of their elephants and then even had to close down.

Dad loved dirt and talked about his dirt all season long. He was so proud of the soil he gave to his vegetables to grow in. It was black and loamy and luscious. All summer long it fed his tomatoes and peppers, summer squash and zucchini, cucumbers and occasional radishes. And all summer long they fed us.

What he did not grow, he bought from the farmers’ market. Our farmers’ market back then was not the sophisticated affair that many farmers’ markets are today. A permanent semi-circle of shelters, a roof and a table, gave the sellers some shade through their hot day. All of the sellers were very small farmers, some even backyard farmers, who came to town each Saturday.

Dad was a frequent enough customer that folks knew him, and he knew which growers had the best value for the price in his opinion. They did not know each other’s names, but they spoke with the familiarity of people who get together once a week. At the farmer’s market, Dad wanted corn, kale, collards, or mustard greens, and watermelon or peaches.

Summer was tomato sandwiches on lightly toasted white bread with salt, pepper and mayonnaise for lunch, cucumbers every night for supper, summer squash fried down with heaps of onions and lots of black pepper every Sunday dinner along with some of those greens from the market and a peach cobbler for dessert. We enjoyed zucchini bread when Mama felt like baking, which was often. And there was watermelon in the backyard, cold from the refrigerator Dad kept in the garage for entertaining when he was receiving.

We did eat protein. But in the summer meat seemed merely a compliment to the vegetables, except for pork. Dad would drive into North Carolina with a friend for pork that the farmer made available from the poor pig on that very day. And Dad fished for spot and croaker or bought them from the men who brought their boats in at Harrison’s Pier. Summer pork and fish out of the bay have almost nothing in common with a pot roast in winter. They are more like ripe tomatoes right off the vine.


 Mama took care of the flowers and of food in the winter. But food in the summer was my Dad’s. It was not his responsibility but his great enthusiasm. When spring arrived, he donned his warm-weather uniform, a horizontal striped tank top, plaid Bermuda shorts, and bare feet. He died on April 23, 1991. It was sudden and merciful. His heart played out as he tried to rise from his bed, and he was gone. He had already turned over his vegetable garden. I flew down to Norfolk that morning when I got the call, cried with and tried to console my mother, took care of some of the funeral business, what Emily Dickenson calls “the solemnest of industries enacted upon earth,” and then went out back for a quiet moment alone. There in the soft dirt of Dad’s vegetable garden, in his beloved dirt, were his footprints, probably from the day before. Mama set in the plants he had bought and bravely harvested his vegetables that year.




Jenny N. Sullivan is a gardener, author and garden club member in Northern Virginia. Her first novel, From My Father's House., was published in 2015. Sullivan grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, enjoyed a long teaching career in the Virginia Community College System in the Tidewater area and in Northern Virginia.





Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Year of Composting Dangerously - A post by Jenny Sullivan


There was a time during 42 years of teaching literature that spring meant lines of poetry would soon be spilling out of my mouth from Hopkins or Housman: “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring/ when reeds in wheels shoots long and lovely and lush” or “Loveliest of tree, the Cherry now/ Is hung with bloom along the bough."


But then I retired and took a Master Gardeners course! Talk about being a lonely little petunia in an onion patch—or more accurately-- a wild, invasive onion in a cultivated petunia patch. While my teachers talked of monocots, calyxes, endocarps, and bracts, my fellow students carried on about their compost piles. Carbon/nitrogen ratios are very important. Huh? Bulking agents, leachate, and worm castings were the topics of many a lively conversation among my supposed peers. I sat and remembered that year I grew zinnias from seed…and was ashamed.

So, predictably, I did not make it through the internship. Trust me, no one should ask me how to avoid blossom end rot on their tomatoes just because I am at a Master Gardeners’ table at a Farmer’s Market wearing an official  name tag. My best advice would be, “Look around you, fool. A dozen people are selling beautiful tomatoes today.


Buy what you need, then go home and watch Jordan Spieth and Jason Day duke it out on the back nine.”

Still, all that talk of compost got to me. The thought of making my own dirt was not only intriguing but absolutely empowering. What could be more creative? But the more I read about composting, the more confused I became.


So I watched gardening shows where men took 20 hours and $300 to build large wooden composting bins, enough bins to have one for “mature” compost and one for the new pile being formed, and one bin in the middle. What that bin in the middle was for was never clear to me. Other TV guys suggested a far corner of the property (I have a yard, not a “property.”) where bins would not be needed, only real compost piles,  and where any raccoons attracted to the piles would not find themselves at the edge of the patio terrifying guests and their children.
 
Scary? Moi?

One rotating bin in a catalogue looked great. It was like a giant bingo barrel with a handle to crank it. But that bin would have necessitated a second mortgage and would have been the dominant design element in the back yard.

Then one day, I saw a little, unassuming garbage can with holes all over it sitting out back at the Variety Store: a Behrens RS 20 gallon steel rubbish burner/composter sitting up on little triangular legs (good for the leachate) and priced at only $30. I could do this. My pulse quickened. I fantasized where I would place it, on the cement slab where the air-conditioning unit sits. I scooped that baby up and carried it inside the store, using it as my shopping basket, tossing in the socks, the jigsaw puzzle, the wrapping paper, and the embroidery floss I had come for and proudly presenting it and its contents to the cashier. “I don’t need a bag,” I told her. She applied my senior discount, and I walked out of there swelling with the thrill of anticipation. 

We had lots of scratch cooking from that June day forward. All summer long I made vegetable soup so that I could have potato skins and carrots peels. I was happy when the green parts of scallions were not good enough for the salad.


I ripped open used Keurig cups to get those grounds. Everything destined for my compost bin I collected in a little yellow plastic tub and happily carried out to the Behrens RS 20, dumping everything on top of the leaves that the guys neglected to collect from under the shrubs when they were supposed to be blowing them all down to the curb the previous fall. But no matter, I crawled under the bushes and dragged that “brown material,” as they call it at Master Gardeners, out from under its shelter to add it to the “green material” from my kitchen. I needed that carbon/nitrogen ratio, don’t you know.



My Behrens was not on a platform constructed for rotation, so moving the green and brown around in order to introduce a little air into the mix (which all the articles, websites, and TV shows say you must do) was going to be a problem-- or so I thought. Then I remembered the “garden weasel” that I had bought 10 years earlier and that stood abandoned in a dusty corner of the garage. Although it had proved useless for cultivating the clay in my yard, it was perfect for weaseling my compost pile. The cement pad that the RS 20 sat on was even near the outdoor faucet, so adding water, a must to speed decomposition, was a breeze. The universe seemed to be lining up for me to have a great batch of compost, magnificent handmade dirt for spring 2017.


           
Over the winter, it hurt me not to be able to add new organic matter from the kitchen since it would not decompose in time to be dirt in the spring. Now I appreciated the value of having more than one bin. Every time I threw away a pear that had gone mushy or potatoes that had shriveled away in the dark of the cupboard or onion skins, banana peels, bruised apple slices, garlic papers, I kissed them goodbye. Were I a smarter gardener, they would be on their way to becoming precious compost rather than putrefying in plastic bags at Mt. Trashmore.

Finally the time came. Winter broke. The spring day was warm, the plants were emerging, and everything in the compost bin was black and beautiful, rich and luscious, full of vigor, ready to get the season going. I weaseled everything one more time, fluffed it, gave it oxygen.


The gesture served no practical purpose at this point but was a token of my sentimental affection: we had spent so much time together. I tipped the mix into my wheelbarrow and headed off to my rose bed.  I had almost enough compost to dress all eight rose bushes, almost. That’s pretty good, right? Then I went to Home Depot to buy three more bags of compost for $21 and finished the job.



Jenny N. Sullivan is a gardener, author and garden club member in Northern Virginia. Her first novel, From My Father's House., was published in 2015. Sullivan grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, enjoyed a long teaching career in the Virginia Community College System in the Tidewater area and in Northern Virginia.




                                                                                        



                  

Historical Gardening and Bloggers Who Love Other Blogs

I don't normally blog about other blogs. But I have to share this link to the Early American Gardens and Cultural Landscapes. https://americangardenhistory.blogspot.com

You cannot live in the National Capital Region of the United States without occasionally if not  constantly immersing yourself in history - whether it be colonial, revolutionary or civil war era.

Gardening in the 'new world' was quite an adventure for our intrepid ancestors. While they were able to bring much technical experience from the 'old world', farmers and gardeners were faced with growing conditions that required them to be innovative, agile, and quite optimistic.



Transforming wilderness to precise gardens, we can look back on now, was folly. But obviously they succeeded.


If you love gardening and history, this blog is for you.  Enjoy!  Thea

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Ultimate Flower Show experience (Think Philadelphia Flower Show...) A post by Thea McGinnis


Magnificent bridge lined with delft tile at the entrance to
the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's 2017
Philadelphia Flower Show "Holland - Flowering the World"

Like tens of thousands of you lovers of all things flower and garden, I attended this year's fabulous Philadelphia Flower Show.  But my visit was a bit different than yours - because I got to attend before the show opened. How did I finagle that?

One of the many beautiful display gardens at the Show

 I was honored to be asked to participate as a student judge - one of eighteen student judges invited to serve within panels of amazing, talented and professional judges from around the United States.


My team included Andrea Little from Boston, Massachusetts, Barbara Hamacheck from Ketchem, Idaho, and Amelia Crumbley from Mississippi.

 Andrea has been an accredited judge with National Garden Clubs for twenty-seven years.  Amelia is a brand new Garden Clubs of America accredited judge. And Barbara is an accredited judge with Garden Clubs of America.  I'm an NGC student judge and working toward my accreditation.

 This opportunity would never have come my way if I hadn't decided to attend NGC's Flower Show School.  I never really seriously considered becoming a flower show judge but I took Course I (of four) to find out what it was all about.  Honestly? I loved immersing myself in the course work. The Courses are like going back to college for a weekend.  Taking each course for credit is the key, though.  Yes, it requires you to take a very challenging exam at the end of each course, but a few of my fellow students learned the hard way that if you don't go for course credit, and you do go on to become judge, you will have to repeat the course.  What has impressed me the most, though, is the caliber of our instructors. Whether it is horticulture or design, the depth of knowledge and expertise shared with students is an awesome value.

 Back to my experience as a student judge with the PHS -  I arrived Thursday afternoon and immediately met up with NCAGC President-elect and fellow student flower show judge, Robin Hammer.  Robin and I have been lucky to go through our flower show school courses together.  Let's just say - we laughed a lot!!

NCAGC President-Elect
Robin Hammer
Robin and I, plus our dear garden friend, Julie Wadsworth, were invited to a dinner party for judges at the lovely Acorn Club, where we had the opportunity to meet many of the judges and chairpersons we would work with the next day. That's when I realized our fellow judges were from all over the U.S!

We got up early the next morning and met up with our panels. We started at 8:00 a.m. and didn't wrap up our work until about 1:00 p.m.  What impressed me most was how my fellow judges were able to make meaningful points that counted powerfully within our evaluation and decisions. And we were able to give exhibitors instructive comments that always circled back to principles and elements of design we adhere to in NGC and GCA.   I learned so much about the judging process and decision making that day, and best of all, made new friends.  Robin was assigned to a different panel of judges and had a wonderful experience as well.

 After all the scoring and collaboration with a great team of judges, we wrapped up our day with a lovely luncheon. We then got to experience the flower show in all its glory. All in all, it was a unique, fantastic opportunity and an awesome experience. And I loved visiting Philadelphia!

 I love garden club in all aspects of it's mission - as a community organization in your town, on-going member education, hands-on learning, and friendship.  I invite you to attend your local garden club's flower shows and meetings.  Come learn about horticulture and design.

Here are just a few of the exquisite designs competing at the Philadelphia Flower Show:







A charming bicycle basket of tulips

The Philadelphia Flower Show had top quality horticulture specimens, like this
gorgeous Hellebore, on display

Many go home with the names of new plants they can try in their gardens.  I also highly recommend attending any of the NGC courses for accreditation or certification as a consultant, offered to garden club members in your state - whether it is Landscape Design, Environmental, Flower Show Judge, or Garden Studies schools.

Robin and I are now immersing ourselves in completing our credentials by student judging flower shows in the National Capital area.  I'm looking forward to bringing what I learned from judging at the Philadelphia Flower Show to those shows.  My next post on the blog will include a list of our upcoming flower shows.  Flower shows are free, fun, educational and open to the public. Plan to attend one in your area this Spring!  - Thea