Hello old and new readers alike!

Wow! I am amazed by the continued influx of “New Subscriber” e-mails I receive on a daily basis. I haven’t posted in nearly a year and I am quite embarrassed by my lack of posting.

Life is busy with two little people, a husband (who, quite honestly, takes care of himself), work, writing for Virginia Gardener magazine and working at a client’s home on a weekly basis. We are hoping to move to our homestead within the next 7-8 months so there is the never ending “to-do” list to ready our current home for sale. I know…excuses, excuses.

Perhaps some of you would like to shoot me some ideas as to what you would like to see me write about. Do you have a burning gardening question? An insect that just won’t leave your plants alone? A replacement plant that you are looking for? Ideas…I need lots of them! I hope to hear from all of you soon!

Stacey

September 3, 2013Permalink 6 Comments

Cleaning Up The Fall Garden

Brrrr…it’s chilly outside. The wind has been blowing briskly today and thankfully, most of the leaves have finally fallen. Fellow horticulturists and I have discussed how the leaves seem to be hanging on longer this year. Perhaps it’s because we had a decent summer of rainfall, even though the temperatures were at or near 100 degrees for nearly a month. Regardless of the reason, I’m delighted that the leaves have finally dropped so that I can get on with cleaning up the fall garden.

My black eyed Susan’s are mere sticks with dried seed heads, my Solomon’s Seal has withered to the ground and all that remains of my hostas are a few translucent leaves. It’s time to take my handy Felcos to the dried seed heads and my fingers to the remains of the Solomon’s Seal and hostas. My evergreen perennials like Ajuga, Christmas fern and Heucheras will be fine with little or no maintenance until spring. Thank goodness.

cleaning up the fall garden

This Heuchera will not require any maintenance until spring when they’ll appreciate a nice haircut

Many gardeners fret over their perennials in the fall. Do I cut them back half way, all the way or not at all? Thankfully, Mother Nature has managed to go about her business for thousands of years without our doting over her. If you don’t cut back your perennials, what’s the worst that can happen? They’ll look untidy and unkempt but that’s really the only concern. If you cut back a perennial that is dormant in the winter before all of the leaves turn brown and wither away, you can pretty much rest assured that it will be fine as it wouldn’t have any leaves for photosynthesis during the winter anyway.

There are a few perennials that appreciate a bit more thought being put into their care. Here’s a partial list:

  1. Ornamental grasses – these are best left untouched until February or early March here in Virginia. They’ll offer cover for birds and the snow looks magnificent against the seedheads.
  2. Hibiscus – of course, I’m talking about the perennial types like the ‘Disco Belle’ series, ‘Kopper King’ and all of the wonderful hybrids. The bare stalks, while not particularly attractive, are best left intact until the following spring.
  3. Balloon flowers – The brown, dried foliage of Platycodon is highly susceptible to Botrytis, a deadly fungus. You can eliminate the worry completely by taking a few moments to swipe your hand across the dormant plants to remove the plants’ remains.

Other tasks to complete in cleaning up the fall garden include removing piled up leaves, putting away terra cotta pots that may crack in the winter weather and assessing areas that may need improvement at a later date. Perhaps that includes filling in with new perennials, adding a blooming shrub in the the spring or tucking in a few bulbs or annuals.

I love gardening but I am also thankful to live in Virginia where we have four seasons (usually). I look forward to the respite that winter offers but I also look forward to the anticipation of spring. Seed catalogs have already started filling my mailbox and it’s exciting to think of what next spring may bring. Have you already cleaned up your garden for the fall or do you still have chores to complete? Drop me a line in the comment section below.  If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

November 24, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Oops!

I just want to apologize to my readers for the website being down for the past few days. I let the domain name expire…I kept thinking that I had a few more days before I had to renew. I was wrong!

As a result, I’ve been unable to receive e-mails and I was in the middle of some good chats with some of you about your gardening issues. Please re-send your e-mails…I promise you won’t receive that weird message about “Daemon”—whoever he is. And no, that wasn’t a picture of me with the backpack on. ;)

November 20, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Guest Post: St. Fiacre, The Gentle Gardener by George Graine

I’m so excited to be able to share today’s post with Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Today’s article is about St. Fiacre and it is written by George Graine who is also known in gardening circles as Grainethumb (he’s so witty). George is a Virginia Cooperative Extension master gardener who represents Fairfax County to the Virginia Master Gardener Association. He is a wealth of information and you folks in Fairfax County are lucky to have George on your side when it comes to gardening questions. This article was originally published in the March/April issue of the Virginia Master Gardener newsletter, The Report, Volume 17, Number 2.  Without further ado…

I think most people assume he’s a Saint Francis with a spade.  He’s more of a saint for aficionados.                                                        Peter Cilioz, Campania International

st. fiacre

Photo courtesy of www.kaccents.com

While sales at the yard art section of many garden centers lead you to believe that Saint Francis of Assisi is the most popular statue in home gardens, he is not actually our champion. Perhaps the birds depicted on this statue symbolize freedom and it is suggested that animals should have the ability to roam wherever they please but these concepts are not completely garden worthy. Few people seem to know that our revered champion is Saint Fiacre. Who is this Irish holy man who is also the saint of gardeners? Before the Grainethumb answers this question, let me caution you not to expect this saint to displace the famous swashbuckling Irish Saint Patrick. No parades, no green beer or other forms of revelry will happen to honor Saint Fiacre, at least not in America. Saint Fiacre was born near the end of the sixth century, a good five hundred years before Saint Francis. Make no mistake about it, Saint Fiacre is the true patron saint of gardeners and was recognized as such in Europe since the Middle Ages.

A very brief history of Saint Fiacre is in order before the legend, that is, the miracle leading to Fiacre’s sainthood.  His father was a warrior and as such he was often away from home.  Although Fiacre was devoted to his mother, unfortunately she passed when he was a teenager. This experience must have set him on the path to become a holy man leading a reclusive life of a monk in solitude. Having been raised in a monastery he developed an abiding love of science, the joy of plants including healing herbs as well as an appreciation of nature. Eventually Fiacre left the green of Ireland for France where he established a hermitage in a cave near a spring. When he asked Bishop Faro of Meaux, France for some land in order to grow food crops and herbs for healing the Bishop granted this request.

The deal was struck. Fiacre could have as much land as he could entrench in a single day from sunup to sundown. Praying on this proposition, the next day Fiacre dragged the point of his staff (spade?) across the ground and the earth turned as he went, toppling trees and shrubs, digging up briars and weeds and stones moved to prepare the land for a garden of medicinal herbs, flowers, seeds and other plant material. This is the legend (miracle?)! In time Fiacre built a chapel in honor of the Holy Virgin, a house where he lived and a hospice for the sick and penniless. As word spread, people started to flock to Fiacre for food, healing, wisdom and of course spiritual guidance. A woman considered the feat of Fiacre nothing short of sorcery. (Was this a precursor to Salem witchery?) This accusation resulted in a harsh ruling by Fiacre. Henceforth he barred all women from his monastery on pain of blindness or madness. Actually, this was not unusual because women were routinely excluded from monasteries. Over time, Saint Fiacre became famous for his healing powers. With this gift he was able to cure his flock of followers when he laid hands on the sufferer. His garden became a place of pilgrimage for many centuries especially for those seeking healing.

If you saw the TV series about the mystery-solving Brother Cadfael, he is like a fictional counterpart to Saint Fiacre because both were gardeners and herbalists.  At that time, herbs were an essential part of the healing arts and not used primarily for beauty or culinary enhancement.  Now that you know the story about Saint Fiacre you do not have to be religious to have him as part of your yardscape and he should no longer be ignored.

It’s Been Awhile…

Gosh, it’s been over a month since I’ve posted here on the website. How terrible of me. I began this website with such great intentions…I’ll post 5 days a week, I’ll incorporate a podcast occasionally, I’ll interview people about all of the great things that are going on in the gardening world. And instead, I’ve only posted once in the past month. Sigh.

At my full-time job, I took a personality test and the test results concluded that I was a “poet”. That sounds pretty romantic, huh? But a poet doesn’t really describe my personality…the haiku is the only type of poetry that I remember. Then the meaning of poet was defined in this context: many starts and few finishes. Meh.

My brain is like a flittering butterfly. I love to brainstorm and develop new ideas. I love to plan. My favorite part of college was getting all of my syllabi the first week of the new semester and then entering all of the important dates into my day planner. I’m a nerd, I know. My point in all of this is that I don’t want to be a poet. I want to be a dedicated garden blogger who delivers regular content to this website.

I really want to get back to posting on a regular basis but I need your help. What topics are you interested in? Inspire me by letting me know what you’re curious about. Is it organic gardening, vegetables, ornamental trees and shrubs, perennials, improving your soil…please let me know! I find myself being drawn to homesteading and sustainable agriculture blogs like Chism Heritage Farm and The Urban Farming Guys. Does that type of information interest you? Pray tell!

Shoot me some ideas and I’ll get back to this blogging thing. I have a guest post from George Graine, a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, coming later this week. He has more years of gardening experience than I have years on this planet. I know you’ll enjoy George’s post and I hope to hear from you soon!

November 6, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Did You Know? It’s Time for Cool Season Turf Maintenance

Well, it’s official. Summer is over. No more pool visits, boat rides or beach trips. For my family anyway. The temperatures are quite chilly in the morning but the sun warms the air quickly. This is the season that cool season grass like fescue enjoys. If you care about your lawn, now is the time to get hopping on your cool season turf maintenance program. Here’s an abbreviated program for the Richmond, VA area.

  1. Aerate – don’t aerate with the spiky type of aerators; they compact the soil. You need a core type aerator that removes plugs of soil.
  2. Overseed – Labor Day is essentially the target date for sowing fescue but you can still get away with it now if you hurry.
  3. Fertilize – if your soil is like the majority of the country’s, it’s depleted. Organic matter is essential to the health of your plants so topdress with 1/4″ of compost. Your soil will still need fertilizer if you want that perfect lawn. Follow the S-O-N program. Fertlize in September, October and November applying no more than 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet.

 

Don’t know how to figure out how much actual nitrogen a 50# bag of nitrogen contains? Just divide the first number in the X-X-X ratio in half. For example, 24-6-12 contains 12 pounds of nitrogen per 50# bag. That 50# bag will cover 12000 square feet. Pretty simple huh?

Let me know if you have questions about cool season turf maintenance or any other gardening info for that matter. Shoot me an e-mail or ask in the comments section below. Happy gardening!

September 25, 2012Permalink 7 Comments

I’m Still Here!

Just a quick note to let all of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers know that I’m still here! It’s been way too long since I’ve posted and I apologize! Life is pretty busy right now (I know, I’m the only one) and has been for a few weeks. I’ll get back to posting on a regular basis here soon. I have been answering questions from readers in my absence so if you have a question, send it on over. Happy gardening!

September 5, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Did You Know? Homemade Soaker Hoses

homemade soaker hoseHave your watering hoses seen better days? Are they brittle, cracked or otherwise unusable? Consider turning them into homemade soaker hoses. Soaker hoses provide water where the plants need it…at the root zone. Gone are the days of overhead watering with the sprinkler that shoots 20′ in the air. With a small drill bit or even a nail, you can turn those “worthless” piles of plastic into something that actually works for you. Poke a hole (the smaller the better) every few inches or so and repair the major leaks with hose menders. You can even customize your homemade soaker hose so that it only waters where you need it to. If part of your hose is emitting a particularly large geyser, bury it with mulch. Of course, mulching the whole hose would be better anyway since it will help to keep the water where it’s needed. Turn your faucet on a little at the time to adjust the watering rate. If you really want to automate your watering to the point where you barely even have to think about it, consider purchasing this timer. I have used them for over a year in a commercial setting that didn’t already have an irrigation system. The timer hasn’t given us a minute’s trouble and it works like a charm.

homemade soaker hose

What other ideas do you have for reusing or re-purposing items that are lying around besides homemade soaker hoses? Share your ideas with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers by leaving me a comment below or shooting me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

Friday Free For All: Preserving Herbs

preserving herbsHere’s a simple and easy tip for preserving herbs from your garden. If you’re overrun with basil, sage, oregano, chives or any other herb, chop them up as you would to use them in your favorite recipes. Place some of your chopped herbs into ice cube trays, fill them with water and freeze. When you’re ready to use your herbs, you can either thaw them or add the whole ice cube to a soup or other hot dish. Yum! I love easy and common sense tips, whether they be for gardening, cooking or just everyday life. What are your favorite tips? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. Enjoy your weekend! Happy gardening!

Canning Tomatoes Made Easy Part 2

canning tomatoesIn yesterday’s post, we looked at how to make canning tomatoes easy. It involved the use of my beloved KitchenAid and the Fruit and Vegetable Strainer attachment. Today, we’ll follow up with actually canning the tomatoes. I decided to use Mrs. Wages Pizza Sauce mix with this batch of tomatoes. Yes, I know that I should be whipping up my own blend of spices to make my own authentic pizza sauce but remember the title of this post is “Canning Tomatoes Made Easy”. I was so excited to get started that I forgot to take a picture before I ripped the top off of the package.

While the mix may not be homemade, it doesn’t contain too many bad ingredients. Here’s a really poor quality picture for proof:

canning tomatoes

 

After you mix the Mrs. Wages packet with your tomatoes and the combo has come to a boil, you simmer the ingredients together for 25 minutes. This gives you the perfect opportunity to get your lids, bands and jars together. All of the pieces for canning need to be hot when you’re ready to put the product in the jars.

 

canning tomatoes

 

I used pints as it’s really hard for us to use a quart of pizza sauce before it goes bad. The slowest portion of the whole canning process (for me) is bringing the water in the canner to a boil. I like to can a bunch of things at the same time to save on the energy of bringing the water to boil but life’s not always perfect. Today, it’s 5 pints of pizza sauce. Here’s a picture of the 5 pint jars warming up in the canner.

canning tomatoes

 

Once the water in the canner starts to boil, it’s time to add the pizza sauce to the jars. A canning funnel makes this a ton easier…and neater. Be sure to leave headspace at the top of the jar. Each product is different but I never fill the jar any higher than the bottom of the neck. To make filling the jars easier, I use a measuring cup to dip the tomatoes out of the saucepan…or a coffee mug; whichever’s closest at the time.

canning tomatoes

 

Once the jars are filled, you have to add a lid and a band. The lids have to be new but the bands can be reused over and over. Since they’ve been sitting in simmering hot water, you need something to get them out of the pan. I love the little magnet on a stick that is included with the canning kit. It grabs the lids and bands so quickly and you don’t end up with burnt fingertips.

canning tomatoes

 

After the lid is put on and the band is hand tightened, it’s time to put the jar back into the canner. Enter another cool canning tool…the jar lifter. Grab the jar beneath the band and insert it back into the canner.

canning tomatoes

 

After all of the jars are put in the canner, put the lid on the canner (if you have one) and wait for the water to boil again if it has slowed down. Once the water starts boiling again, start timing. These particular jars needed to be processed for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, you end up with these beauties.

canning tomatoes

Set them on a towel that you can cover them with and wait for one of the most beautiful sounds ever…”PING”. I love that sound…it’s so gratifying knowing that you just successfully made delicious food for your family…even if you did it the easy way.

What is your favorite food to can? Or are you just learning about the ins-and-outs of canning? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me with your thoughts. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening…and canning!