April 2010

Eric Liskey

The Onion Field

Sorry for that macabre reference. If you’re a movie buff (and a fairly old one, at that) you know what I mean.

Also sorry for the uninspiring photo. But that’s what newly planted onions look like. And that’s what you might think about doing right about now, because although these little onion sets don’t look like much, they’ll turn into some some of tastiest veggies in the garden, harvestable in July or August.

These are Texas sweet onions (also known as 1015). Other sweet onions I’ve seen (for sale to plant in the garden) are Oso and Walla Walla. You’ve probably heard of them. They taste about the same as Vidalia onions, as far as I’m concerned. (Which is a good thing.) And if I’m not mistaken, the name “Vidalia” refers not merely to a variety, but also to that place in Georgia where they’re grown. So, theoretically you can’ t grow Vidalias even if you have the same kind of onion! But I’m wandering here…..

Onions are about the easiest thing you’ll ever grow. Plant in early spring, let ‘em go through mid/late summer until the tops start flopping, and they should be ready to eat. My favorite way: cut a small hole in the onion, insert a bullion cube, then wrap completely in foil. Put it on the barbecue (or an oven works, too) for 30-45 minutes and out comes the tenderest, tastiest delicacy ever. I’m gettin’ hungry right now, just writin’ about it.

Onions

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Justin W. Hancock

What’s Hot? Mandevilla!

sStreamAssetContentI have a feeling, based on casual conversations I’ve had with friends (as well as from the questions we’ve been getting in our Garden Doctor application) that mandevilla is going to be one of the hot plants this year.

And for good reason! It sports gorgeous red, pink, or white flowers (look for Sun Parasol Stars and Stripes, which features red blooms streaked in white); it blooms well even in the hottest summer weather; it’s not invasive like some vines; and if you have a bright enough spot inside, you can treat it like a foliage houseplant for winter, then bring it outside again next spring.

Our friends at Costa Farms in Florida are excited about mandevilla, too! They’re so excited they even made a cool event out of the spring shipping season! See a fun video of it here.

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Everyday Gardeners

Saving Heirloom Apples

It’s ironic, but heirloom apples are becoming endangered at the very same time they’re regaining popularity.

That’s why the RAFT alliance (an acronym for Renewing America’s Food Traditions) has christened 2010 as “Year of the Heirloom Apple.” Their hope is to earmark at least 90 endangered apple varieties in each region for recovery so they can once again be grown in orchards and backyards.

How severly have heirloom apples declined in America the past century? RAFT provides these telling statistics:

• Of the 15,000 to 16,000 apple varieties named, grown and eaten in North American, only about 3,000 remain accessible through nurseries.

• Roughly nine out of ten apple varieties historically grown in the U.S. are at risk of falling out of cultivation and falling off our tables.

•  One variety, Red Delicious, now comprises 41 percent of the entire American apple crop.

• Eleven common varieties comprise 90 percent of all apples sold in chain grocery stores.

• Much of the apple juice, puree and sauce consumed in the U.S. are now produced in other countries.

•  As the overall number of apple trees in cultivation declines to a fourth of what it was a century ago, the number of apple varieties considered threatened or endangered has peaked at 94 percent.

A key component of RAFT’s apple initiative is release of The Forgotten Fruits Manual & Manifesto – APPLES, a brochure that builds upon the collective knowledge of more than a dozen of America’s most experienced heirloom apple experts. The brochure is now available as a free download here.

To find out ways you can support and celebrate the Year of the Heirloom Apple, click here.

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Everyday Gardeners

pick of the crop: pets are gardeners too

Pets are a big part of gardening

Pets are a big part of gardening

Your pets will probably be accompanying you back to the garden this spring. The ASPCA has these tips to remind us that it takes just a little thought to create a pet-safe space. While you’re at it, take a look at our slideshow: 20 tips for gardening with dogs.

The Summit Daily News defines 15 common gardening terms.

The Daily Green asks, “What do beginning gardeners need to know most?” Their answers are here.

A little game of hide-and-seek in the garden can add a lot to your landscape’s design.

The LAist suggests seven things you can do to celebrate National Garden Month.

And the DIS Unplugged blog takes us behind the scenes at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.

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Everyday Gardeners

First blooms in our Test Garden

Sandra Gerdes, manager of the Better Homes and Gardens® Test Garden, got some great pictures of this year’s first blooms.

Chionodoxa and Narcissus ‘Little Gem’

Chionodoxa and Narcissus ‘Little Gem’

Chionodoxa and Narcissus ‘Little Gem’ are small flowering bulbs that grow only 5 inches tall, but they bloom so bright that a mass planting gives a real color splash in the early spring. They make a super combo — one of the earliest to bloom in the Test Garden – because they grow to about the same height and bloom at same time.

Hellebore ‘Golden Sunshine’

Hellebore ‘Golden Sunshine’

Hellebore ‘Golden Sunshine’ is one of several new hellebore varieties that Sandra planted last year.  This one really glows in the spring sunshine.

Helebore 'Pink Frost'

Helebore 'Pink Frost'

Hellebore ‘Pink Frost’ is another new one in the Test Garden. This one displays dusty rose flowers and stems.

Hellebore 'Ivory Prince'

Hellebore 'Ivory Prince'

Hellebore ‘Ivory Prince’, with it’s toothed foliage, has been in the Test Garden for a few years now and just keeps getting better. Sandra says hellebore flowers last two months or more in our garden.

Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’ with Scilla siberica

Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’ with Scilla siberica

Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’ with Scilla sibirica make an intense blue duet in the garden. This petite pair grow only 4-5 inches tall.

Viola ‘Penny Marlies’

Viola ‘Penny Marlies’

Sandra says, “Oooh-la-la! My favorite viola this year.”

Viola ‘Penny Mickey’

Viola ‘Penny Mickey’

This cheery little wonder — Viola ‘Penny Mickey’ — never fails to bring a smile to the gardener’s face.

Violas ‘Penny Orange’, ‘Penny Peach Jump Up’, and ‘Penny Orange Jump Up’

Violas ‘Penny Orange’, ‘Penny Peach Jump Up’, and ‘Penny Orange Jump Up’

Violas ‘Penny Orange’, ‘Penny Peach Jump Up’, and ‘Penny Orange Jump Up’ combine to make a bright, juicy-colored combination. Sandra says violas make a great carpet under larger bulbs like narcissus and tulips in the early spring garden.

Tulip ‘Stressa’

Tulip ‘Stressa’

‘Stressa’ is a Kaufmanniana type tulip with early flowers in red and gold.

Hyacinth ‘L’Innocence’

Hyacinth ‘L’Innocence’

These bright white flowers of Hyacinth ‘L’Innocence’ push up through rose canes and lamb’s ear in the Test Garden. And they smell wonderful.

Narcissus ‘Replete’

Narcissus ‘Replete’

Narcissus ‘Replete’ — a double daffodil — holds up blossoms that are fluffy and full of petals.

Narcissus ‘Cassata’

Narcissus ‘Cassata’

Narcissus ‘Cassata’ — a split corona type daffodil — produces blossoms that have a cup the color of lemon chiffon. The cups split open and lay flat against white petals.  They are usually the first of the Test Garden’s large daffodils to open.

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James A. Baggett

Amazing Grace

My friend Grace never ceases to amaze me. Never mind that she’s smart and beautiful and athletic and plays saxophone (inspired by Lisa Simpson) in the marching band, she also just so happens to be the 18-year-old daughter of my closest friends, Steve and Julie. Grace and I have been friends her whole life. A couple of weeks ago, Grace won an essay-writing contest by the Virginia Outdoor Writers Association. She wrote about her experiences studying the invasive giant reed grass in the Northern Neck of Chesapeake Bay. But Grace is an articulate young woman, so I’ll let her fine writing speak for itself. Here—with her permission—is her award-winning essay.

Phragmites australis

Phragmites australis. I could hardly pronounce it, and I knew I did not want to spend my summer vacation studying it. However, the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine and Environmental Science requires a two-year investigative project. Having learned to curse P. australis’ very existence in class, I decided a relevant yet simple study would be a comparison of the effects of this invasive non-native marsh grass versus those of a native grass on the fish population of a Chesapeake Bay salt marsh.

My first mistake was believing this would be a leisurely undertaking. Field studies are intense, especially those dealing with tides. The second mistake was choosing a site forty minutes from my house. The tide cycles must be Mother Nature’s practical joke. To cast my seine nets at low tide, I rose before sunrise and reached the marsh by daybreak. Then, I returned home and, six hours later, drove back to the marsh to pull in the nets. While my classmates woke up at noon, loaded the toaster with Pop-Tarts, and logged onto Facebook, I was in my maroon pick-up truck, dressed in old t-shirts, shorts, and water shoes (the ugliest article of clothing ever invented) on my way to wade in cold, brackish water. Despite weeks of sinking up to my knees in the darkest, slimiest mud imaginable, slapping at mosquitoes, and watching out for spiders and cottonmouths, I repeatedly reeled in empty nets in the P. australis marsh. It was disheartening, but I redesigned my experiment and it has since produced meaningful results.

This summer, I learned firsthand how P. australis can devastate a marsh. As importantly, however, I experienced the Chesapeake Bay in a new way. Although I have grown up in a small, rural area where many of my classmates’ families depend on the menhaden and oyster industries, I only knew the Bay through tubing and jet skiing. For ten years, I have lived a short distance from the waterfront, but until this summer, I had never experienced its natural rhythms and beauty. I can now say I have watched the pinks and oranges of the rising sun paint the sky over Rockhole Creek. I have cast a net in cool water up to my ankles and caught marsh killifish and fiddler crabs. A blue heron has shared the mornings with me, and at the time, we seemed like the only living things in the world. I have driven with the windows down, the salty air blowing my hair around and big band music from the only available radio station turned all the way up. I felt infinite, like I was a part of something larger than myself.

This project taught me that science is not always the neat, controlled labs conducted in school. It can involve hard, even smelly, work. Experiments may require revision or redesign, and they do not always produce the intended results. These unlooked-for findings can lead to new ideas and experiences. Sometimes, unexpected results become the most important lessons of all.

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