Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Native Plant of the Month: White Oak

White oak from 2 green acres a mid-atlantic garden blogOkay, this month's plant is a big one, and I really debated if I should include it. I know many people have small yards and are never going to be able to plant such a big tree. However, I wanted to highlight what I have learned about oaks, and this is the most impressive oak that grows in my region (the mid-Atlantic).

According to Douglas Tallamy (author of Bringing Nature Home), oak trees are the single most important plant to grow if you want to support animal diversity. Oaks support over 500 species of moths and butterflies (which, in his studies serve as a proxy for all insects). In addition, its nuts provide food for a number of small mammals.

So why the White Oak (quercus alba)? Well first, it is a beautiful, majestic tree that has beautiful color in fall. It is the Maryland State Tree and many Maryland gardeners are familiar with Maryland's most beloved tree, the Wye Oak, over 450 years old when it was felled by a storm in 2002.
As for growing conditions - first, the White Oak needs room. It will grow to 75-100 feet tall, with a spread the same size. It does well in sun or part shade and does not need a lot of moisture.

These are fairly slow growing trees and they have a long-tap root, so it is best to transplant them when they are small. A lot of traditional nurseries do not sell oaks, but they are available at native plant nurseries. Here is a source of a seedling from the Wye Oak.

Even if a white oak is too big for your yard, consider some of the smaller oaks like bear oak (quercus ilicifolia) or blackjack oak (quercus marilandica).
You might also like:
December plant of the month: winterberry
November plant of the month: doll's eyes
October plant of the month: sugar maple
September plant of the month: blueberry
August plant of the month: joe pye weed

Photo credit: Anosmia

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Farmers Market in January

2 Green Acres visits a Maryland Farmers Market
One local farmers market stays open all year round and I have always wondered what you can buy at the farmers market in winter and who goes to the market this time of year.

This Saturday was one of the first nice days we have had in a while, so I headed off to the market to check things out. It was surprisingly crowded (perhaps because of the nice weather) and also offered a decent variety of fruit, vegetables, meats, and cheeses.

A mid Atlantic farmers market
So what did I buy? Turnips, rutabagas, shallots, savoy cabbage, and some local apples. There were also plenty of greens for sale, some hydroponic tomatoes, onions lots of varieties of squash and, for some reason, lots of red peppers.

As for who was there - it was the regular contingent - a wide variety of races, ages, income levels, etc. In addition to the great produce, I have always loved this farmers market because it seems to represent a microcosm of the city. It is a great place for people watching.

Mid-Atlantic Farmers Market - 2 Green Acres
Tonight I will be using the cabbage in a gratin and some of the rutabagas in a mixture of roasted vegetables. Both are new recipes that I can't wait to try!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Analysis paralysis

I love to think about garden projects, love to plan garden projects. Love, love, LOVE.

Especially in winter.

Is there anything better than sitting down with a bunch of gardening books, a computer, and a garden notebook? Researching plants, looking up pictures, sketching out plans, cross referencing height, water requirements, deer resistance, etc?

I love this so much that my husband will tease me that I like to think about gardening more than I actually like to garden. Sometimes I think he might be right.

But the other reason I spend so much time on planning is that I have such a hard time making choices about the garden. Should I put a row of blueberries here? Or would river birch look better? Or maybe this area should be incorporated into the meadow I am thinking about (key word: thinking!). By deciding on one option, I have to reject all the others. And for me, that is hard to do!

Another problem I have is that sometime I over plan. I develop a plan that includes every plant I need, down to the varietal. Then, if I cannot find these exact plants, the whole plan falls apart and I start all over. It is a wonder I ever get anything planted.

I don't have this problem in the vegetable garden, for a couple of reasons. First, I am not making a long term commitment to anything - I only have to live with the plants for a year. And as important, if I don't make a decision by a certain date, I lose my opportunity to grow vegetables. So, while I may dither a bit about the exact plants in the vegetable garden, in the end, it does get planted each year.

It is the more permanent plants that cause me the most anxiety. Right now, I am in full planning mode for spring planting and I am trying something a little different which I hope will make it easier for me to actually get something in the ground. When looking at how to plant an area, I am trying to find a few alternatives that would work well for the site. So, if I need some medium (3-5) bushes that work in a sunny, dry spot in my yard, I am trying not to get caught up in the one "best" bush, but instead to find 2 or 3 that I like so that I might have more luck actually finding one. I will let you know how it turns out.

Do you have any tricks to help you move from planning to action? I would appreciate any advice!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A not so great garden pumpkin soup

This year we had a volunteer pumpkin plant that we let grow. It produced those small pumpkins that people use for decorating. We harvested about a dozen of them and had them all around the house for some nice fall decoration.

It seemed sort of silly to just throw them out when we were done with them, but I didn't want to throw them in the compost since that is how I got the volunteer in the first place. So I started looking around for pumpkin recipes. I have never really been a fan of pumpkin, but I thought I should give it a try. I finally decided on a soup recipe from Epicurious that looked easy and got good reviews.

The first problem was that there was very little "meat" on these pumpkins. As a result, I was perhaps not as vigilant in pulling out all the stringy stuff for fear I wouldn't have anything left.

mini pumpkins from 2 green acres a maryland garden blog
Although the recipe did not specifically call for roasted the pumpkin, I decided to do so because I was concerned that these might not be the most flavorful pumpkins in the world and that roasting would help. I also decided to roast the seeds while I was at it.

Once done, I scooped out all of the pumpkin and made the soup. It was a disappointing mess. The flavor was okay, but the consistency was stringy which I really did not care for. Mr. 2 Green Acres actually liked the soup (and yes, I think he really meant it), but I won't be making that again.pumpkin soup at 2 green acres, a maryland garden blog

The pumpkin seeds were fine, but they are miniature, just like the pumpkins, so they are a bit of a pain to eat. All in all, a bit of a bust. But at least I tried, right?

I still have more pumpkins and have an interesting recipe for cheese stuffed pumpkins. But I am not commited to making it. I think I might be done with the pumpkin thing.