Sunday, December 20, 2009

Native Plant of the Month: Winterberry

winterberry picture on 2 green acres, a Maryland garden blog

When most plants have hunkered down to wait out winter, winterberry (ilex verticillata) continues to put on a show. Unlike most hollies, winterberry is decidious. When it loses its leaves in later winter, all that remains are its beautiful red berries.

In addition to being a cheerful bright spot in the winter landscape, these berries serve as a great source of food for song birds in the winter months.

Winterberry at 2 Green Acres, Maryland garden blog

If you are interested in adding a winterberry to your garden, be sure to buy at least two - a male and a female. You only need one male plant for many females, but it should be within 50 feet of the females to ensure good berry production.

winterberry at 2 Green Acres, Maryland garden blog

This holly is native to the eastern half of the U.S., prefers moist, acidic soil, and grows in sun to partial shade. Winterberry bushes can get up to 10 feet tall and wide, but there are a number of varietals in all sizes. For more information on this great plant for winter interest, check out this website.

You might also like:

November native plant of the month: Doll's Eyes
October native plant of the month: Sugar Maple
September native plant of the month: Blueberry
August native plant of the month: Joe Pye Weed

Photo credit: Muffet

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gifts for Gardeners: Beyond books

For the final installment of my gardener gift guide, I want to highlight some gift ideas for gardeners beyond books (for books, see gift guides part 1 and part 2).

1. Rain barrel - Okay, you might want to be cautious with this one. Some people react to a rain barrel the same way they would react to a vacuum under the Christmas tree. But for the right person, this is a great gift. There are lots of different rain barrels you can buy, but they are also pretty easy to make if you are handy.

2. Bluebird house - Help reintroduce bluebirds into your neighborhood with a bluebird house. Or, if you are more interested in other birds, check out this great resource guide from the National Audubon Society.

3. Gardening gloves - Most gardeners can use a new pair of gardening gloves, and I particularly like these. With other gloves, I often end up taking them off when I am trying to do delicate work, but with these, I have sufficient dexterity so I don't need to remove them. I also like how the protect from prickers, but don't make your hands hot.

4. Garden spade - Maybe it is just me, but I used to go through garden spades at a rapid rate. I get a little over-enthusiastic with my use of the spade and end up bending the shaft. My husband got me this spade when I became a Master Gardener (awwww), and I have used it for several years now and no bending!

5. Garden pruners - Every gardener needs good pruners. If you don't have some, put these on your list. The ones I have are an older version, but I love them - had them for years and they are still sharp, still work great.

I hope this gift list has been helpful. I would love to hear about what is on your list; what I have missed.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gifts for gardeners: Books (part 2)

Earlier, I focused on books for gardeners interested in native plants. In this post, I will focus on books for gardeners interested in vegetable gardening and local food.

1. All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. I have to admit it - this is the only book on vegetable gardening that I own. For begining vegetable gardeners, this is a great book. It provides step by step instructions on how to create a vegetable garden that has few weeds and a lot of produce per square foot. My husband and I refer to this book as the "bible".

2. Ominvore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. If you aren't convinced of the benefits of eating locally grown food, this book will convince you. And if you are already a convert, this book will provide new information about industrial food production and the benefits of eating locally.

3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and Plenty by Alisa Smith and J. B. Mackinnon. These two book cover somewhat the same territory. In both, the authors try to live for a year eating only local food. In the Kingsolver book, her family raises a good portion of their food. In Plenty, an urban couple in Vancouver tries to source all of their food within 100 miles of their house. I was inspired by both of these books.

4. Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley and Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison. Once you grow - or buy - all of these vegetables, you need to know how to cook them. These are both great cookbooks for cooking seasonal vegetables. I am not a vegetarian, but I love these vegetarian cook books.

5. Food Matters by Mark Bittman. I have not read this one, but it is on my list. This is a mix of The Omnivore's Dilemma and a cookbook. Mark Bittman is a food writer for the New York Times, and in this book, mixes his own personal food conversion (and weight loss) with recipes.

What have I missed? What books on local food or vegetable gardening do you refer to again and again?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gifts for gardeners: Books (part 1)

With the holidays just around the corner, I thought I would share some of my favorite gardening books (and a few I hope to see under the tree this year).

This list is focused on native gardening. I will post another list focused on vegetable gardening and local food.

1. Noah's Garden and Planting Noah's Garden, by Sara Stein. Noah's Garden is the first book I read that really got me thinking about native plants, their role in the local environment, and their potential role in my yard. Planting Noah's Garden takes the concepts in the first book and gives you practical advice on how to plant a meadow, build a bird house, etc. I refer back to both of these books constantly, to get both inspiration and ideas.

2. Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy. I got this book last year for Christmas and it really opened my eyes to the incredible importance of native plants for our local wildlife. Where Sara Stein is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable lay person, Douglas Tallamy is an entomologist and has a vast understanding about how insects rely on native plants for food, and birds and small mammals rely on insects as a food source, so if we don't feed the insects, the whole food chain collapses. This book includes lists of which plant feed the widest variety of insects and so are most useful in the landscape.

All three of the above books are incredibly readable, but they are not filled with glossy photos like many garden books. If that is what you are looking for, I recommend:

3. Natives Trees, Shrubs and Vines, by William Cullina. This book contains beautiful photos and wonderful descriptions of plants native to the U.S. The author writes in a very conversational style and his passion for native plants shines through. The book also includes helpful information on plant needs (light, moisture, etc), propogation, and interesting varietals. This is not an inexpensive book, but it is a great reference.

4. Native Ferns, Moss, and Grasses and Wildflowers, by William Cullina. I don't own these books; they are both on my Christmas list this year. But based on reviews, and the fact that I love the other book by William Cullina, I can't wait to get my hands on them, and I feel comfortable recommending them without having read them.

5. Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants by Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is sad but true -we are often more familiar with invasive plants such as Bradford Pear or Butterfly Bush, than we are with native plant options. This book is an excellent resource to help us make better plant choices and still get the look we want in the garden. The pictures are not huge, but the book provides a lot of information that can be supplemented by the web or other sources.

What have I missed? Are there other books on native plants that you think are "must read"? If so, I would love to hear about them and add them to my Christmas list!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from 2 Green Acres

Happy Thanksgiving from 2 Green Acres, a Maryland garden blog
Hope that you are with people you enjoy, eating food that you enjoy!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Composting for Lazy Gardeners

Composting is great - it keeps yard and kitchen waste out of landfills and creates cool stuff (technical term) that improves your garden soil.

But if you talk to some people, composting sounds like a lot of work - chopping up everything you put in the pile, layering your materials just so. Then you have to turn the pile weekly, take the temperature of the pile and adjust the moisture level and ingredient mix to keep the composting process going at an optimum rate.

If you have the time and inclination to do all of those things, great. You will get great compost, and you will get it relatively quickly (in a few months).

But for me, it all sounds like too much work. If I am going to spend that much time in the garden, I would rather be doing almost anything else - even weeding.

Composting does not need to be so complicated or so time intensive. All you really need are four things:

- Brown materials (leaves)
- Green materials (grass clippings or food scraps)
- Water
- Time

kitchen scraps for composting from 2 Green Acrescomposting at 2 Green Acres, a Maryland garden

composting and gardening in Maryland from 2 Green Acres
Garden composting at 2 Green Acres in Maryland

Fall is a great time to start a compost pile. And it really can be just a pile. A compost bin helps keep things contained, but are not totally necessary.

To start, rake a portion of your leaves (your "brown" materials) into your pile or bin. Wet them down. Add some of your "green" materials. Cover with more leaves. Water again. The pile should be damp, but not totally soaked.

That's it. I usually add more kitchen scraps when I have them, but you don't even need to do that.

If you want to do multiple layers you can. If you want to water monthly you can. If you want to turn it you can. Doing these things will speed the decomposition process, but they aren't absolutely required. Same with shredding your leaves or chopping up your kitchen scraps - it will speed the process, but it is not necessary.

Just a couple of notes on what not to put in your pile:

1. Don't include any diseased plant material (the pile may not get hot enough to kill the disease)
2. Don't include any meat, dairy or oils (this will attract rodents)
3. Don't include pet waste

Some people have told me that they find composting intimidating. It shouldn't be. Composting is really just harnessing the natural decomposition process that happens without our intervention. Finished compost is such an asset in the garden, everyone should compost - even lazy gardeners.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Native Plant of the Month: Doll’s Eyes

doll's eyes - a native plant on 2 green acres - a maryland garden blog
For my native plant this month, I am picking an odd one. I first saw this plant on a hike in the Adirondacks this past September. I had no idea what it was, but was mesmerized by its white berries on magenta stems.

I came home, did some research and found out that this plant, commonly known as “doll’s eyes” is a member of the buttercup family. The latin name is Actaea pachypoda. In late spring or early summer, it has interesting white flowers – like something that the Star Trek crew would find on a distant planet. But it is the berries that make you do a double take. At their height in early fall, they truly do look like little doll’s eyes, strung together by a mad scientist. Their bright white color really jumps out in a shaded woodland setting.

This is a great specimen for people who love to collect odd plants. It is also a great plant for a woodland garden – nice spring flowers, interesting foliage, and those great berries in the fall. The plants grow about two feet tall and wide. They will self-seed, but are not aggressive. Oh, and deer don’t like these plants!

One note of caution: Don’t be too tempted by the berries. To me, they don’t look appetizing at all – and they aren’t. The whole plant (particularly the berries) are poisonous to humans (and deer) if ingested. It is fine to handle the plant, but don’t try to eat any of it.

You might also like:

October native plant of the month: Sugar Maple
September native plant of the month: Blueberry
August native plant of the month: Joe Pye Weed

Monday, November 16, 2009

A local Thanksgiving feast

It's easy to eat local in the summer. But for many of us, it gets harder in the fall and winter. This is especially true if you don't can or preserve food some other way. I preserve a few things, but not enough to last all winter.

However, it is pretty easy to get the main components of your Thanksgiving meal locally. Farmers markets have potatoes, yams, and squash. And in Maryland we have a number of local, humane meat producers who sell turkeys, lamb, beef and almost any other meats you might want.

Two of my favorites are Springfield Farm and Roseda Farm. Springfield Farm sell eggs, butter and almost any kind of meat or poultry you would want - except beef. Beef is Roseda Farm's specialty. For the past several years we have purchased a lot of meet and poultry from the two farms. To the best of my knowledge, neither farm fits the strict, government definition of "organic", but both limit the use of antibiotics and raise their animal humanely.

At Springfield, I particularly like their eggs - big, beautiful yolks and so delicious. They also make great ice cream. I am not a huge ice cream lover (my husband is), but even I look forward to the Jack Daniel's flavored ice cream. As for Roseda, all they sell is beef, and the quality is terrific. I am not sure if you can buy individual cuts directly at the farm, but they sell their meat at a number of local grocery stores, including Graul's.

For more information on local farms where you can buy a Thanksgiving turkey, check out this article in The Baltimore Sun.

Also, if you are interested in an eye-opening look at how big agriculture is trying to take advantage of the local food trend, read this.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Final Harvest of 2009

Local vegetables from the Maryland garden of Two Green Acres
After a couple of weeks of ignoring the garden completely, I ventured in this weekend to harvest anything that remains. The haul? Two butternut squash, a jalepeno, a green pepper, a forgotten carrot and lots of chard. In fact, the chard might keep going, but except for that, the only thing that remains in the garden is oregano and sage.

I always feel a bit sad when cleaning up the garden for fall. I hate the shorter days and colder weather. Even though I love the food of fall and winter, and I like cozy days and evenings in front of the fire, I really mourn the end of long, warm days.

That said, I do like the change of seasons, and winter reminds us of the beauty of spring, summer and fall.

Besides general garden clean up, I also planted garlic this weekend. This is my first time growing garlic. I bought a head of organic garlic when I was in Vermont this fall. Unfortunately, it only had 4 cloves (believe me, they were huge). So, I’ll have, at best, 4 garlic plants. I’ll let you know how it goes.Swiss chard from the Maryland Garden of Two Green Acres

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Vegetable Garden: Harvest Totals

This weekend, I harvested my last eggplants and peppers. I still have two butternut squash on the vine, and some chard that may continue to produce, but I am ready to do the final tally for my garden.

From my 32 square foot garden (two 4x4 raised beds) I harvested:

  • Spinach: 12 servings*
  • Leaf Lettuce: 16 servings
  • Boy Choy: 6 servings
  • Romaine: 2 heads
  • Chard: 22 servings
  • Radishes: 3 servings
  • Green beans: 18 servings
  • Carrots: 1 serving (and a small one at that!)
  • Pickling cucumber: 7
  • Regular cucumber: 19
  • Japanese eggplant: 11
  • Regular eggplant: 7
  • Jalepeno pepper: 15
  • Green pepper: 16
  • Tomatoes: 190
  • Butternut squash: 3
  • Mini pumpkins: 10

*I am too lazy to weigh my produce, so I either count by item (if large) or by "serving" meaning the amount needed for a side dish for one person.

Also in my square foot garden, I had tons of sage and oregano, and a bit of basil.

In addition, I also harvested 4 servings of snow peas from pots on my deck.

Not bad for a small garden. I am getting better at planting a series of crops in the same space, although there is still room for improvement. I tried to put a crop of beans in after the snow peas, but waited too long. As a result I got very few beans in the pots on my deck.

For more on my harvest, check out what worked and what didn't in my vegetable garden this year.

What was your harvest like this year?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Native of the month: Sugar Maple

Sugar maple, a native plant for the Maryland garden
This month, I wanted to pick a native that has amazing fall color. Although there are a number of native trees that provide great color, including birch and hickory, in my mind, nothing compares to the sugar maple (acer saccharum). These trees have incredible leaves that vary from orange, to red, to scarlet.

In addition to their beautiful fall color, they make a wonderful shade tree and have high wildlife value. A number of songbird varieties nest in sugar maples. The only bad thing about these trees is that they can get BIG - up to 75 feet tall. So you need a lot of room for one of these guys. Also, they are not very tolerant of urban conditions - they need lots of room for their roots, and don't tolerate salt.

Sugar maples are native to the northeastern and north-central part of the U.S. and extend up in to Canada. The sugar maple is so important in Canada, they put it on the flag!

If you have room in your yard, you should consider this tree. It is beautiful year round, but especially in the fall.

By the way - fall is a great time to plant trees. If you decide to plant, consider planting a native, like the sugar maple or other native trees in your area.

You might also like:

September Native of the Month: Blueberry
August Native of the Month: Joe Pye Weed

Photo credit:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Growing Garlic

Growing garlic in Maryland garden - Two Green Acres
Garlic in the grocery store has become more and more disappointing. Apparently, at least part of the reason for this is because there is very little commercial production of garlic in the US any more. Most garlic we eat in the US is produced in China. As a result, by the time it reaches our stores, it is often old and starting to rot or sprout.

I decide to look into growing my own garlic. It is supposed to be pretty easy to grow, as long as you have well draining soil.

Garlic can be grown from garlic cloves. However, since most garlic in the grocery store is treated with an anti-sprouting agent, you might not be successful using garlic from the store. For my garden, I bought organic garlic at the farmers market in Vermont.

When to plant seems a little confusing - some sites say that garlic is traditionally planted on the shortest day of the year. However, most suggest planting garlic after the first major frost, which for my Maryland garden will probably be some time in late October.

Have you planted garlic? If so, I would appreciated any tips!

Photo credit: Muffet

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This Year's Vegetable Garden: What didn't work

Tiny carrots from the 2 Green Acres vegetable garden
Despite our success with a number of vegetables, we still had some that didn't produce. It is often hard to know why this happened. Was it the weather? The soil? Old seed?

Last week I wrote about my vegetable garden success stories. Now, here are the disappointments of our growing season:
  1. Carrots – these were the biggest (littlest?) disappointment. It was my first year growing carrots and I am not sure what I did wrong, but as you can see, I only got tiny little carrots. One thing I will do different next year is plant them a bit earlier. I got them in a bit late this year and that might have been the problem.

  2. Cucumbers – we got some, but not nearly as many as last year. Perhaps it was not hot enough for them? Unlike the carrots, I might have started these too early. Right after I but the plants in the ground, we had a late, light frost. It did not kill them, but they took a long time to recover and that may have impacted their yield.

  3. Fall spinach – our spring spinach was great, but I could not get fall spinach growing. I have blogged previously about my lack of luck with fall gardening. I thought I finally got some established, but then I went on vacation. When I came back, there was no trace of the little plants - victims of insufficient watering. Perhaps I should give up on the fall gardening.

Overall, it was a pretty good year. Although I want everything to flourish, part of the fun is experimenting with new things. I will definitely try the carrots again, but unless I plan to be around to water it, I will probably skip the Fall crops.

What were the disappointments in your garden?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change and the Home Garden

Today is Blog Action Day. Once a year, bloggers around the world write about a single topic. This year, the issue is climate change.

I can hear it now - "don't lecture us about climate change - we just want to talk about gardening." But here's the thing - our gardens are impacted by climate change, and we can impact climate change with our gardens.

For example, climate change can impact what plants will thrive in your area. The USDA plant hardiness zones are slowly creeping north. Check out this great map from the Arbor Day Foundation that illustrates this point. New weather patterns are forcing some trees, such as sugar maples north out of the U.S. This has severe impacts to the maple sugar industry, but it also impacts our beloved trees in our backyards.

Climate change also has an impact on birds - causing many species to move north and some to disappear. The Audubon website cleary demonstrates the impact of climate change on our native bird populations.

Finally, there is concern among scientists that global warming will make many plants, especially food crops, more suseptible to pests and disease.

So what can we, as home gardeners do?

Several things:

1. Plant a tree (or two, or three, or....): Trees absorb carbon dioxide, the most prevelant greenhouse gas. So the more trees you have in your yard, the better for the environment. No room for more trees? Donate trees to organizaitons like the Arbor Day Foundation to be planted on public sites.

2. Grow your own food: Food that travels fewer miles from farm to plate is better for the environment. No room for a garden? Visit your local farmer's market on a regular basis.

3. Ban all chemical fertilizers in your garden: Many fertilizers are made from petroleum products, which directly contribute to global warming. Start a compost pile and break the fertilizer habit.

3. Go meatless one day a week: The production of meat creates more carbon dioxide emissions than all the cars in the world. And, as living standards around the world rise, meat consumption is increasing dramatically. Use the bounty from your garden to eat meatless at least one day a week.

Climate change is a big problem, and there is no single solution. But if we all do our part, with efforts large and small, we can prevent the worst impacts from becoming a reality.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

This Year's Vegetable Garden - What worked

The growing season is not quite over, but it is certainly winding down (at least in my garden). So this is a good time to talk about what worked and what didn't in the vegetable garden. I will start with what worked:
  1. Swiss Chard – this year, with cool temps and lots of rain, was great for the Swiss chard. We had tons.

  2. Tomatoes – fortunately, we did not get the late blight until late, and our tomato plans were prolific. We have 4 plants and have harvested more than 190 tomatoes – a lot for 2 people.

  3. Bok Choy – this was a bit of a gamble for us, but it really paid off – grew great and was delicious.

  4. Pumpkins – we did not plant them, but let a volunteer seed run wild and got 10 baby pumpkins.

  5. Green beans – after I planted them, my husband told me that he did not really like green beans. That was a problem, since we had tons of green beans.
Chard from the 2 Green Acres vegetable gardenTomatoes from the 2 Green Acres vegetable garden Pumpkins from the 2 Green Acres vegetable garden

How about you? What worked in your garden?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I've been hit! Late blight on the tomatoes.

tomato plant with late blight - from the vegtable garden of 2 Green AcresOf course, it happens when you start to feel sure you are immune. After all, my tomatoes had been doing so well - the best year ever.

Then one day I walk into the garden and things aren't looking too good. The next day, it is a massacre. Today I tried to harvest what I could, but it was not much.

In the meantime, the tomatoes that I picked earlier in the week were fast deteriorating on the counter.

Roasted tomatoes from the vegetable garden of 2 Green Acres
I did the only thing I could think of - roasted all the tomatoes I had left, and then threw them in the freezer.

I consider myself fortunate. I was able to harvest about 190 tomatoes from 4 plants before the late blight hit. However, last year, I was harvesting tomatoes through mid-November.

After you get late blight, the common advice is to plant your tomatoes in a different spot next year. That can be hard to do with a Square Foot Garden. Oh well, I have until spring to figure it out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Native Plant of the Month: Blueberry

Native plant from 2 Green Acres - Blueberry
Sneaking this one in on the last day of September....

Now is the time to think about planting bushes. Blueberries are a great bush that should be considered in every yard. They are beautiful and provide great berries to birds and humans. In addition to their berries, blueberries have nice white flowers in the spring, and also offer wonderful color in the fall.

In Noah's Garden, Sara Stein said it best when she said about blueberries,
"They have the common touch. They're chummy with evergreens, comfy among flowers, at ease in tall grass, as much at home in a foundation planting as a hedgerow. No one could ask for a less demanding friend. Blueberries are happy in full sun, relaxed in dappled shade, uncomplaining of drought, but just as pleased to grow in damp. No blueberry pal of mine has ever asked for pruning, wanted my protection from pests or weather, or even expressed the slightest appetite for food."
There are two main types of blueberries, high bush (vaccinium corymbosum) which can grow to 12 feet and low bush (vaccinum pallidum) which grow to about 2 feet.

Native Plant from 2 Green Acres - Blueberry

I want to plant a hedgerow in my yard, and high bush blueberries will figure prominently in my hedgerow. I was all ready to plant blueberries this fall. Unfortunately, I did not do my homework - I did not do my soil test. Blueberries need acidic (ph between 4-6.5) soil, and if you need to amend your soil, it takes some time. Based on other soil tests around my yard, I doubt I have the appropriate ph. So, no blueberries for me this fall. Instead, I will get my soil tested, modify as needed, and then plant in the spring.

A lot of native plant experts suggest that you test your soil, but not modify it – instead you should plant what works in your soil. In general, I agree with this advice. But I REALLY want some blueberries - so I will test and modify.

Don't miss the native plant sale at Herring Run Watershed Association. The dates are October 3 and October 18. Check it out!
Also take a look at last month's Native Plant of the Month.

Photo credits: Rockinfree and Photofarmer

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vegetable Gardens: A smart financial move?

A lot has been written this year about more and more people turning to gardening as a way to reduce food costs. The idea – buy some inexpensive seeds, throw them in the ground and voila – abundant, fresh food. We all know it isn’t quite that easy, but intuitively, we believe that vegetable gardening can be cost-effective.

A couple weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an article in the Sunday business section that argued against gardening as a money saving strategy.

While the National Gardening Association claims that the average gardener saves more than $500 a year, the author thinks that the association has inflated the price of purchased vegetables (they assume an average of $2/pound). The author argues that $1/pound is more reasonable. I'm not so sure. While I certainly can get some vegetables for $1/pound; good tomatoes are NEVER that cheap where I live, and I certainly can’t get organic food for that price.

Her second argument is that vegetable gardeners are not saving money because they are growing more vegetables than they actually eat. Apparently, the average garden produces more vegetables than the average American family would consume over the growing season. The author thinks very few people are canning or preserving vegetables in another way, so people must either be giving away some vegetables, or wasting them.

I think a better explanation is that families with a vegetable garden eat more vegetables than the "average American family". I know that our vegetable consumption has gone up significantly since we started our garden. We eat about 80% of our harvest, give away about 15% and waste maybe 5%. And because we are eating so many vegetables, there is less room for meat on our plate, further lowering our food costs.

Does home gardening save money? I think so. But there are lots of other reasons to start your garden – a connection to nature and the seasons, access to the freshest food possible, the chance to reduce your carbon footprint – and many more I am sure I have forgotten.

For another perspective on the home vegetable gardening trend, check out this recent blog entry at Garden Rant.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Local Food: The Vermont Edition

I just returned from a short visit to Vermont. While there, I got to sample a lot of great local food. In one day, we were able to attend to several cool local food events in Vermont.

Raw Milk Farm Tour – one day a year, a number of dairy farms open their farms to visitors, offering tastings of raw milk, cheese, and other dairy product. Raw milk (which is neither pasteurized nor homogenized) supposedly tastes better and contains beneficial bacteria. I am not much of a milk drinker, but I was interested in trying the raw milk. I could not really taste a difference between this milk and the milk I buy at the store, although significantly creamier than the 1% milk I drink. At the farm that was offering raw milk, we also tried several cheeses including a nice aged gouda.
local food - cheese from Vermont
Cheese Farm Tour – this tour is one weekend a year in northern New York and southern Vermont. It was designed to offer a view in to small-scale cheese making operations. This was a bit of a bust. The one farm we went to was extremely unprepared for the number of people that visited. There were not a lot of people there when we stopped by, but they were out of most cheese samples, and were low on cheese to buy. Still we had a beautiful drive in the country and got to see a see a small goat farm.

Dorset Farmer’s Market - our first stop of the day was at the farmer’s market in Dorset. I know, every town has a farmer’s market, but every market has a different mix of products and has its own personality. This one had a great small town vibe. Lots of people at the market knew each other, yet people were also very friendly to strangers as well. One vendor even brought their pet baby goat. This goat, who was blind, was obviously a regular at the market. A man selling apples was giving out samples of a sweet crab apple (I think it is called a Hawthorne crab apple). Wonderful flavor.

Local food from the Dorset Farmers Market, Vermont
At our three stops we bought:

  • Locally baked bread
  • Three kinds of cheese
  • Apples
  • Lots of local vegetables, including onions, peppers, heirloom zucchini, and French fingerling potatoes
Baby Goat at Farmers Marketet, Dorset, Vermont

That night, we had a great dinner using all of these local products. Although I love the fact that our purchases support local farmers, my main motivation in buying all the food was the fun of sampling the local food of the area we were visiting.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Native Plant Seminar: Woods in your backyard

At the recent Native Plant Seminar at The Irvine Nature Center, I attended an afternoon session entitled “The Woods in Your Backyard”. The purpose of the seminar was to teach homeowners with relatively small lots how to manage the woodlands on their property.

In Maryland, 78% of all woodlands are owned by private landowners, and 80% of those holdings are under 10 acres. So what we do in our yards can have a significant impact on the health of the eco-system in the state.

Here are three important things that we can each have in our backyard, no matter how small:

Mast trees – These are trees that produce fruit or nuts to feed local wildlife. Examples are oak trees, hickory, dogwood, or black cherry.

Snags – Unless they are a hazard, don’t cut those dead trees down! Standing dead trees provide food and habitat for many species, including woodpeckers.

Brush piles – These piles provide shelter for small mammals and other wildlife. One important thing to note – the base of the pile should be larger items (tree branches, for example) and then be covered with smaller pieces. This creates nooks for small mammals and birds.

For some great online resources go to The Woods in Your Backyard website.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beware the invasive plant:Knotweed

There are at least three kinds of invasive knotweeds – Bohemian, giant, and Japanese knotweed. (latin names: Polygonum x bohemicum, P. cuspidatum, P. sachalinense). All have similar characteristics – they are incredibly invasive and incredibly hard to kill.

This time of year, knotweed is particularly noticeable in the native landscape because it is flowering. I am not sure which type of knotweed this is. The picture was taken on a recent hike on the MA & PA trail in Harford County, Maryland.

Because these plants are so prolific, they crowd out native species. And because they spread by runners, they are hard to contain.

Here is some great information on how to eradicate.

Believe it or not, this plant is still sometimes sold as Fallopia japonica. Growers indicated that this is a hybrid and does not have the invasive qualities that traditional knotweed does. However, a quick review of the garden boards shows that people have problems keep control of the hybrid as well.

I admit, this plant is somewhat attractive, but there is no need to plant it! There are plenty of great, non-invasive alternatives. One idea from the great book Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants is Aruncus dioicus, commonly known as Goatsbeard.

photo credit: Gideon Strauss

For more information on Goatsbeard, check out this site. And here are some more ideas for native alternatives to knotweed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Preserving Tomatoes, part 2

As I mentioned in my first post about preserving tomatoes, I am overwhelmed by all the tomatoes I have this year from my vegetable garden. I am determined not to let any go to waste. And, since I am afraid of canning and have limited freezer space, I need to be smart about my preservation methods.

Oven-drying tomatoes is, hands down, the best way to save a lot of tomatoes in a small amount of space. But I need to be realistic – there are only so many oven dried tomatoes two people can eat in a winter.

So my second method for saving tomatoes is freezing them. This is a fast, simple way to save tomatoes. And, although it takes up more space in the freezer than the oven-dried, it still takes a lot less space than freezing whole tomatoes.

Here is the process:

After washing the tomatoes and cutting away any bad parts, place them in boiling water for a minute. Then remove and place in an iced water bath.

preserving tomatoes - local food from my vegetable garden
preserving tomatoes, local food from my vegetable garden
This will make it easy to remove the skins – do so.

preserving tomatoes, local food from my vegetable garden
Then, grab the tomato and squeeze it over the sink. Lots of juice will come out. Some people save the juice and use it for another purpose, I did not.

preserving tomatoes, local food from my vegetable garden
Once you have a big pile of tomatoes, throw them in a zip-lock bag. Label the bag, remove as much air as possible, and pop it in the freezer! You now have crushed tomatoes waiting to be thawed.
preserving tomatoes, local food from my vegetable garden
That’s it! The whole process takes less than 30 minutes.

The only other thing you might want to consider is using a series of small bags and putting a cup or two of tomatoes in each bag – that way you have pre-measured portions that you can pull out of the freezer when you need them. I did not do this, but probably will next time.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Native Plant Seminar: Creating a meadow

For me, the highlight of the recent Native Plant Seminar at Irvine Nature Seminar was a talk by Larry Weaner on Creating Native Meadows. Larry Weaner is a landscape architect focused on native plants and natural landscapes.

As I mentioned before, I have never really been that interested in a creating a meadow. They are beautiful, of course, but that carefree look always seemed like it took a lot of work.

Mr. Weaner started his talk by saying nature has always been influenced by humans and it is wrong to say that the best thing we can do is go away, leave things alone. A book that demonstrates this point is: Tending the Wild by M. Kat Anderson.

I thought this was a great point, and one that often gets lost in the native plant community. Often, people equate “native plants” with “let nature take its course.” But in reality, humans have always impacted nature and continue to do so. The very idea of actively planting natives and trying to restore habitats is an act of human intervention.

That said, Mr. Weaner also made a real distinction between developing habitats and creating gardens. Gardens are areas that are actively managed, weeded, watered. Habitats, on the other hand are lower (but still some) maintenance and focus on planting plant communities that are adapted to a specific areas. Plant communities (and not just plants) are key – it is important to plant different species that each play a role in the environment. Mono cultures, however beautiful, are difficult to maintain.

So, interesting theoretical info, but what does that mean in terms of creating a Native Plant a meadow in Maryland? Unfortunately, I am not really sure, because I did not sign up for the afternoon session!

However, I now have a mini-obsession with meadows, so I am trying to learn more. When I do, I will share it here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Native Plant Seminar: Lots to learn

American Lotus at Native Plant Sale and Seminar
This past weekend, I went to my first Native Plants Seminar at Irvine Nature Center. Although it was my first time attending, it was the 18th annual event, and there were a few people in the audience that had been to all 18!

The morning started with a great native plant sale, including this beautiful American Lotus, apparently the only lotus plant native to the U.S. I don’t have a pond, so did not have anywhere to put the lotus, but I did pick up a few maidenhair fern.

The plant sale continued all day, but for seminar participants, the morning was filled with two general sessions – Creating Native Meadows and The Seldom Scene: Little Known Plants with Landscape Potential.

Following the general sessions, there were workshops on topics such as Native Meadow Design, Tree Branch Anatomy, Confusing Fall Wildflowers and the Woods in Your Backyard. I attended the Woods in Your Backyard, which was a great session, but I almost wished I had attended the workshop on meadows.

I have never really thought about creating a meadow in my own yard, primarily because they seem incredibly difficult to establish, and even the maintenance does not seem so easy (Hello? Do you really think I am going to set a fire in my yard?). But this speaker was so inspiring and, while he did not make it sound easy, he did make it sound do-able.

I am working on separate blog posts on creating a meadow and the woods in your backyard. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Preserving Tomatoes, part 1

This year, I have been overly blessed with tomatoes. Although I only have 4 plants in my home vegetable garden, they are all prolific producers. We are eating tomatoes every day, giving them away, and still I have mounds of tomatoes on my kitchen counter. I can't let these tomatoes go to waste, so I had to figure out how to preserve them.

Some day I want to learn how to can, and I have heard that tomatoes are an easy place to start (something about their acidity means less of a chance for botulism). But canning intimidates me. It seems hot, difficult, and time consuming. And I am just a bit too lazy to work that hard on something that, in the end, might make me sick.

I have a friend who freezes whole tomatoes, and although I like the simplicity of that approach, I don't have enough freezer space for it to be practical. So my first foray into preserving tomatoes is by oven drying the tomatoes.

There are endless variations on the recipe to oven dry tomatoes, but they all come down to this: cut up tomatoes, put them on a cookie sheet, turn the oven on as low as it will go, and cook them for 8 or more hours. Last year I made oven dried tomatoes by slicing the tomatoes into rings and lying them on the cookie sheet. This worked great, but it I was only able to dry about 4 tomatoes at a time (on 2 cookie sheets). This year I tried a different method.
Instead of slicing the tomatoes, I cut them into wedges. This allowed me to get a lot more tomatoes on my two cookie sheets (11 tomatoes total). I also put a little salt and olive oil on the tomatoes. Some recipes also suggest a little thyme or other herbs, but I did not try this.

tomatoes from the 2 Green Acres vegetable garden
The bad thing about the wedge method is that it takes longer for the tomatoes to cook. I had my oven set at 180 for about 8 hours, and then turned it up to 190 for the final 2 hours. This is not required, I was just trying to hurry things along. By the end of 10 hours, the tomatoes had lost most of their moisture and shrunk significantly.

Preserving tomatoes, local food from the home vegetable garden

After letting them cool, I put what had been 2 cookies sheets worth of tomatoes into a single sandwich bag and then popped it into the freezer.

Oven-dried tomatoes, grown in the 2 Green Acres vegetable garden
And in case you are wondering what to do with those oven-dried tomatoes, here is one really great appetizer recipe that uses tomatoes as well as some pesto from the garden
(which is also easy to freeze).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Garden Pests: Web Worms and Bag Worms

Two common garden pests that make their presence known this time of year are bag worms and fall web worms.

In the Baltimore area, the fall web worms are out in full force this year. You see their huge webs hanging from almost every tree in some parts of the county. The good news is that as ugly as they are, fall web worms are not particularly destructive. They will eat all of the leaves within their web, but they don’t threaten the overall health of the tree.

Still, they are incredibly disgusting:
fall web worm, garden pest and gardening tips from 2 Green Acres
Fortunately, control is pretty easy and does not require chemicals. One option is to remove the branch with the web on it, put in a garbage bag, seal the bag, and throw it in the trash. A better option lets nature do most of the work and does not require the use of plastic trash bags. Simply tear open the web and let birds and animals feast on a tasty snack! I used this approach last year and it worked great – my yard has very few webs this year. For more information on web worms, check out this useful guide.

Bag worms are another pest that is making its presence felt right now. Unlike web worms, these guys are hard to spot because they are small and their “bags” look sort of like little pine cones.
bag worm, garden pest and gardening tips from 2 Green Acres
Although these worms are often found on pines and other evergreen trees, I found one on a crape myrtle. They can do significant damage, so it is important to remove them if you see them. The best method for getting rid of bag worms is to remove them by hand and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag. Bag worms are about to start their mating season (sounds exciting doesn't it?), so now is a great time remove them, before they have time to reproduce. More information on the fascinating life of a web worm can be found here.

Bag worm photo credit: Justin D Miller

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fall Vegetable Gardening Failures

Maybe I am not cut out for Fall vegetable gardening. I am not sure I have the right personality for it.

I am a bit of a procrastinator. Or, perhaps a nicer way to put it is, I spend a lot of time thinking before I actually get to the doing.

That is not as much of a problem in the Spring. First, I am so excited to finally get outside again, I can’t wait to get to planting. And, if for some reason, I am slow to get moving, I have a lot of time ahead of me. Who cares if the peppers go in a couple weeks late? There is still plenty of growing season left and I will get my peppers sooner or later.

Not so with Fall gardening. Now, I am racing against time. Get the plants in the ground early enough so that you can harvest before the first major frost. If you delay a couple of weeks, you better hope for a late frost.

In early August, I decided I needed to start thinking about my fall garden. By then, I was already overdue to plant broccoli and some other plants. Oh well, no matter, I don’t really like broccoli that much anyway. So I put together a list of vegetables I would plant. On that list was peas, which I have never grown, but my husband loves.

So on the day that the peas are to go into the ground, I go to my local nursery. Guess what? The middle of August is not the best time to buy vegetable seeds. So no peas this year.

Still, I planted lots of spinach, some lettuce and some radishes.

Last year, I also tried a Fall garden. The seeds would sprout, but then would die because of the brutal August heat combined with not enough watering (the mature plants were fine, but the seedlings were much more sensitive).

Now we get to my second personality defect – laziness. I can water the garden once a day, but more than that? I just don’t have it in me. And these little seeds need more than that. Unlike last year, the seeds didn't even seem to sprout (except the radishes – thank goodness for radishes). After a couple of weeks, it was clear that they weren't going sprout. So what happened? Laziness and procrastination got together and let things go for a couple more weeks.

No seedlings in the fall vegetable garden at 2 Green Acres

Finally, this weekend, I decided to try starting the seeds indoors. I had all the supplies, so there was no reason not to wait so long, but….

When I looked at the planting charts again, I realized I have now missed the window for lettuce, and so now, I am down to planting spinach. My hope is to grow the seedlings inside for a few weeks and then transplant them. It will be my last chance at a fall vegetable crop this year.

Second attempt at seedlings for the 2 Green Acres fall vegetable garden

Wish me luck.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bay-wise garden tour - September 19

native plants and native flowers in the garden
Bad gardening practices can have a significant (negative) impact on the Chesapeake Bay. To address these issues, the Maryland Cooperative Extension developed a "bay-wise" gardening program that is designed to teach people how to garden in a way that helps protect the bay.

Individual homeowners can have their yard certified as bay-wise, gaining points for employing appropriate watering and fertilizing practices, using native plants, etc.

On Saturday, September 19, a Howard County family will open their bay-wise certified garden to the public. While touring this 5 acre property, you will learn principles of low-impact, bay friendly gardening. In addition, Chesapeake Natives will be on-site selling native plants.

And did I mention it is free? I think it will be a great event - here are the details of the tour and more information on bay-wise gardening.

Be sure to check it out. And don't forget the Native Plant Seminars at Irvine Nature Center later this month.

Photo credit: Randy OHC

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dinners from my garden

This is a great time of year for eating local food. I thought I would share some of the recent dinners we have made from vegetables that came from our garden. Although none of these dinners was entirely from our garden, all of the main ingedients were grown right here at 2 Green Acres.

First up is Baingan Bharta, an Indian Dish made primarily of eggplant, tomato and onion. The eggplant and tomato are from our garden. I look forward to making this dish every summer. Delish!
Next is a tomato onion tart that we took to a neighbor's house for a mid-week potluck. It was a huge hit! The tomato and basil are from our garden.

We also took a cucumber salad to the potluck. Unfortuantely, I don't have link to the recipe, but it is from the cookbook, Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley

And finally (do you sense a tomato theme in this post?), we made gazpacho. No specific recipe here - we started with a recipe from Jaleo, a great restuarant in D.C. and then improvised from there. Terrific!

What are you making with the produce from your garden?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Got cucumbers? Make pickles!

cucumbers from the vegetable garden
This is a great recipe, courtesy of my husband:

If you like good crispy pickles, the kind you find in a good Jewish deli (that are never found in grocery stores), here is a fantastic recipe. It is super easy, and they are great with just about any sandwich. Pickling cucumbers are best but regular cukes work great, too.

The recipe is based on a 32oz jar that you have already eaten the just ok pickles already. Make sure the jar and top is clean.

1. Fill the jar just less than halfway with water.

2. Put in the microwave for 1.5 minutes or so just to get the water hot.
3. Meanwhile cut your cukes the long way into 4 sections. Make sure they are not too long to fit into the jar!

4. Peel and crush 3 garlic cloves.

5. Add 1 and a half tablespoons of kosher salt to the water and stir until it is dissolved.

6. Add ice cubes to the salt water in the jar and stir until the water is cool. The jar should be just less than 2/3 full.

7. Add the garlic, and if you like, fresh dill to the water.

8. Then put the cukes in and put the top on. The jar may overflow somewhat when you put the cukes in depending on how many you put in, so you may want to do this in the sink.
Local food - cucumbersPut the jar in the refrigerator for 2 days and give them a try. They will keep for at least a week. Let me know how you like them!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Native Plant of the Month - Joe Pye Weed

Maryland native Flower - Joe Pye Weed I want to start profiling native plants that are great for use in a backyard and also have wildlife value. August isn't the best month to start such a profile - there are few plants that shine in the dog days of August.

However, Joe Pye Weed is an exception. A tall, graceful plant, Joe Pye Weed has beautiful purple flowers, and is loved by birds and butterflies. Some varieties of Joe Pye Weed can grow up to 10 feet tall, but there are smaller varietals (such as "Little Joe") that are only 3 feet in height.

When I see Joe Pye Weed in its natural setting, it is usually on the edge of woodlands, in partial shade. However, it also grows well in full sun. Different varieties can have different water requirements - pick the one that works for your yard.

Maryland Native Plant - Joe Pye Weed
These pictures were taken at a golf course, illustrating that Joe Pye Weed (despite it's unfortunate name) can be perfectly at home in a manicured yard.

I want to include Latin names with all of my native plant recommendations, because the same plants might have more than one common name. Of course, the first plant I pick has a complicated and evolving naming structure. Most commonly, Joe Pye Weed is any purple flowering plant that starts with Eupatorium. For more details on its Latin names, check out this article.