Friday Free for All: What’s in the News


Happy Friday everyone! I had Monday off of work but those 4 days of work sure felt like 5! I have some exciting news to share. Clayton Jacobs of Deeply Rooted Organics has been generous enough to send me a Soil Cube to review for you all. I am hoping that I will be able to get to it this weekend and post the full review in the next few days. Super exciting!

There seems to be quite a bit of news as it relates to gardening so I thought that we would take a step back and examine some of these items. Let me know if this type of post is interesting to you; if I don’t receive positive feedback from you all then this may be the one and only post of its type! ūüôā

You may or may not have heard about The Senator in Florida. No, it’s not a real person but it was a 3500-year-old bald cypress tree that burned to the ground on Monday. It’s believed to have been struck by lightning in the upper part of the tree and then the fire spread to the rest of it over the course of a couple of weeks. While it is devastating, I’d rather lightning take out the tree than the arson that people suspected soon after the fire. You can read more about it here.

While this isn’t fresh off the wire, I wanted to make sure that everyone knew about the dangers of Imprelis, a DuPont turf herbicide that was touted as being environmentally friendly while killing weeds in cool season lawns. It turns out that Imprelis was also capable of killing trees whose roots were in the lawn. This has turned into a class action lawsuit against DuPont…read more about it here.

February seems to be THE month for gardeners of all types to come together for meetings. Here is a sampling of events that are going on in the Mid-Atlantic region next month:

  1. Virginia Biological Farming Conference – February 10-11 – Richmond, VA
  2. Central Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association Short Course – February 8-10 – Richmond, VA
  3. Brookside Gardens presents Green Matters: Urban Farming Pioneers – February 24 – Wheaton, MD
  4. Horticultural Society of Maryland presents Perennially Inspired – February 25 – Towson, MD
  5. Today’s Horticulture at Longwood Gardens – February 3 – Kennett Square, PA
  6. Pennsylvania Garden Expo – February 24-26 – Harrisburg, PA
  7. New Jersey Flower and Garden Show – February 16-19 – Edison, NJ


I know that I haven’t even scratched the surface of all of the exciting gardening events that are scheduled for the next couple of months. If you know of an event that is coming up in your area, post it in the comments section below. Happy gardening!



Did You Know? Heirloom vs. Hybrid Seeds


In today’s Did You Know? post, I thought that we would look at the difference in heirloom and hybrid seeds. With all of the concern over GMOs, some people are under the impression that all hybrid seeds are genetically modified. I want to dispel that myth so that when you are browsing through your seed catalogs, you won’t be discouraged to see that the tomato that most appeals to you is a hybrid.

Black Krim Tomato

Heirloom seeds are often referred to as “open pollinated” varieties. Open pollinated refers to the fact that they are pollinated by nature (bees, other insects, ants, etc.) and if allowed to go to seed, they will produce an exact replica of the parent plants. Let me put a disclaimer in here: if you have a Black Krim tomato and a Mortgage Lifter tomato, they will cross to produce seeds that are not like either of the parents. To produce Black Krim seeds, two Black Krim tomatoes need to pollinate each other. Tomatoes require a separation distance of at least 35′ to ensure that the seed you collect at the end of the season has not been crossed with a different variety. Some varieties of plants, like corn, require a separation distance of 600′.

Hybrid seeds are plants that have been bred for increased vigor, disease resistance, pest resistance, etc. A hybrid¬†is what would result from saving the seeds of the Black Krim and Mortgage Lifter tomatoes used in the example above. Many of the most popular tomatoes such as Better Boy and Early Girl are hybrids. Again, it doesn’t mean that have been genetically modified…it simply means that two different cultivars of plants were bred together to produce a superior plant. With hybrids, there is something known as F1 vigor. It refers to the first generation cross of two different plants which is almost always more vigorous than subsequent generations. This means that if you plant Better Boy tomato which is an F1 hybrid, you will not produce Better Boys if they are allowed to go to seed. The way you get Better Boy seeds is by crossing the parents and most of the parents’ names¬†of these popular plants are a trade secret.

If you would like to save your own seeds, then you need to grow heirloom or open pollinated varieties. If you are more interested in just eating delicious tomatoes, then either heirloom or hybrid seeds will work for you. I personally like to grow heirloom tomatoes because there are so many different varieties available…plus it keeps new genes in the gene pool. Let me know if you prefer heirloom or hybrids by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at Happy gardening!

January 16, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Did You Know? Soil Erosion


On Saturday, I posted about organic vs. conventional gardening. I also spoke about permaculture, which essentially boils down to looking at the system as a whole instead of merely looking at the parts. I thought that I would give you a couple of horrifying, although intriguing, facts about soil erosion and then give you some ideas as to what you can do to prevent losing yours.

Did You Know?

    • That soil erosion, combined with a severe drought, was the reason behind the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s? Do you know why the soil eroded as quickly as it did? It was from overgrazing animals¬†and conventional agriculture that removed the deep rooted grasses from the Great Plains. When the roots were gone, so was the “glue” that held the topsoil in place. Pictures like these were common.¬†


  • That the Chesapeake Bay is where¬†most of the soil that erodes from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia ends up? Below are two pictures that show the Bay…the one on the¬†top shows the Bay on August 23, 2011 and the one on the¬†bottom shows the Bay on September 13 after Tropical Storm Lee passed through the area. Notice how much sediment is polluting the water.¬†


  • Cover the soil…whether it be with mulch or plants,¬†covered soil is much more difficult to wash away than is bare soil.
  • Consider putting in swales on contour to allow the water that flows across your land to infiltrate slowly rather than washing quickly through your landscape. This method also enables you to turn¬†your land from your average, run-of-the-mill land into productive land that is more valuable. Check out this website for more information.

I feel compelled to tell you about a video on YouTube called Greening the Desert. It tells the story about land that was turned into desert by overgrazing but then it shows the transformation that can result from planning and more importantly, planting. Check it out if you need to be inspired in your own garden! Let me know what you think of these amazing references in the comment section below or e-mail me at

December 12, 2011Permalink Leave a comment

Organic Gardening vs. Conventional Gardening


Sorry that I didn’t post yesterday…my son had a birthday party to go to and we didn’t make it home until late. I thought that I would make it up by posting today instead.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about organic gardening versus the conventional way of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. My personal philosophy revolves around working with the natural cycles that Ma Nature has laid down well before my existence on this planet. I am an environmentalist with a little e, not an Environmentalist with a big E. To me, the difference between the two is that the big E folks tend to¬†treat the earth almost like a religion. I prefer to put my belief system in God and his Son Jesus Christ. If you’re thinking that perhaps I’ve gone off on a tangent, you’re right…the more you get to know me, the more you’ll understand that’s a tendency of mine. My environmental stance is that we should leave the world a better place than we found it for our children and grandchildren. That means that we shouldn’t carelessly apply fertilizers and chemicals without realizing their repercussions.

Many gardeners will apply nitrogen based fertilizer in the spring and then wonder why they have aphids literally sucking the life out of their plants. Or they’ll treat their plants with imidacloprid and then wonder why they have an explosion of spider mites. The answer to both of these problems is that there is an imbalance. In the fertilizer example, the plants are growing at such a fast rate that they invite aphids to take them over. Aphids love fresh new succulent growth and by applying high nitrogen fertilizer, you have pushed the plants past their normal level of growth which triggers the aphid infestation. With the imidacloprid, you have successfully killed off the insects (six legs)¬†that were troublesome but you have opened Pandora’s box for spider mites (eight legs) because there are no longer any natural predators to keep the mite population in check.

What would have happened if you wouldn’t have put down any more nitrogen in the spring? Unless you have very poor soil, the plants would have flushed out from their winter dormancy and probably done very well. If there was a nutritional deficiency, there’s a magic soil amendment that would have taken care of it…COMPOST! If we as gardeners would focus more on feeding the soil instead of feeding the plants, our results would be amazing. But instead, we see that the plant looks a little yellow so we put down fertilizer on everything. Or worse, we fertilize every spring because that’s what we’ve always done. Another thing that we could do instead of fertilizing is take a soil sample and determine the pH of the soil. Many nutrients, including iron, are unavailable at certain pHs and that can make your plants look chlorotic.

What would have happened if you didn’t¬†apply imidacloprid¬†to your willow oaks to treat for scale? If you noticed the problem before the temperatures were above 80 degrees, you could have applied dormant horticultural oil which would have smothered the scale. One of the attractive features¬†of imidacloprid is that it has residual activity since it is taken up by the tree into the phloem. If an insect feeds on it after the chemical has been applied, then the insect is also consuming the insecticide. But on the flip side of things, can you see the problem that this presents? All of the predatory insects are also killed and as a result, you have an explosion of spider mites that you now have to contend with.

Now I have to admit, I spray glyposhate based products such as RoundUp or RazorPro to deal with weeds and I’ll use MiracleGro on plants that are showing nitrogen deficiencies.¬†But I only do these things after I have determined that the real problem isn’t something else that is manifesting itself as a deficiency. And I’ll add compost to the soil to try to fix the real problem…soil fertility. Again, it’s not a plant fertility problem, it’s a soil fertility problem.

I’ve been learning a lot about permaculture lately and Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast has been my primary source of education. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a daily podcast that he produces on a wide array of topics from gardening to food storage to prepping. The founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison has described permaculture as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single project system”. I think that’s a pretty accurate description of how we should see any gardening that we do. Whether you enjoy vegetable gardening, woody plants, herbaceous perennials or annuals, we need to see the system as a whole, instead of just its parts. By doing this, we can ensure that our children and grandchildren are left with a planet that can sustain them and many generations to come.

I’d love to hear how you’ve incorporated organic gardening principles into your landscapes. Or perhaps you haven’t and can’t see a reason to start doing so…I love a good debate and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comment section below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

December 10, 2011Permalink 2 Comments