Maryland Grows

Unintentional Vegetable Philanthropy

In my previous post I talked a little about ‘Vegetable Philanthropy’, which is essentially donating your extra vegetables to those who need it. Today I’m going to talk about Unintentional Vegetable Philanthropy – you’ll see what I mean in a moment.

I’ve had a bit of a rough time getting my cucumbers started this year, because something keeps eating my seedlings. I thought I’d conquered the cutworms years ago when I started to put toilet paper rolls around each plant. This year did I cut the rolls too short? Did I not bury them deep enough? What gives? I started noticing that the seedlings weren’t being cut off completely, but that something was chipping away at the stems just enough for the plant to not be able to sustain itself. You can see the plant on the left is compromised; my Mom suggested maybe I should put aluminum foil around the seedlings because whomever was chipping away probably wouldn’t like foil. What did I have to lose? (My pickling crop, that’s what!)

I called the HGIC (1-800-342-2507, M-F from 8-1!) and described the problem, and the reply was ‘sounds like slugs’. Well, I sure didn’t offer up my seedlings to them! Unintentional Vegetable Philanthropy. There it is.

By the way, the fellow from HGIC suggested I dust around the plants with wood ash or diotomaceous earth because slugs don’t like sooty stuff.

Along similar lines, while my husband was cutting the grass yesterday, he found this in our yard:
Our first thought, as it is each time we see rabbits in our yard is, ‘Dinner!’ But then I remember I don’t like hasenpfeffer. (: I thought about just picking them all up (4 of them!) and taking them down the road, but then I remembered that without Mom they probably wouldn’t survive. So I left them there, fully understanding the future consequences of my actions:
Unintentional Vegetable Philanthropy…

My Turn at Turnips

Turnips in the garden always seemed like so much trouble to me. At planting time I tended to lose sight of those dark shiny seeds in the soil, plant them too thickly, then spend the next month or so on my knees thinning them of greens that were just too tiny to amount to much in the kitchen. If I ever got any to grow beyond the size of an olive I don’t remember. So I was relieved when last summer my husband found a boon of hefty purple-shouldered turnips the size of baseballs that our local land trust was growing for the first time
—quite successfully—and had plenty of. Husband loves pickled turnips and finally had a reliable source to make his own. Admire those imported turnips as I might, I just didn’t see them in my gardening future. But I’m here to say I might be wrong. This year my thinning method has been regular, and I have been rewarded so far with lovely white cherry-size turnips that are really fun to cook.
My favorite recipe is from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Her simple one-pot method is to boil the green tops in a kettle of lightly salted water covered with a steam basket of about a dozen young turnips; both take no more than 12 minutes. After draining the greens, toss them with fresh thyme, a little butter, and salt and pepper, mound them on a serving plate and center the little white beauties on top. Or you could do as I did and just drizzle greens and turnips with a little olive oil and add fresh lemon wedges. Beautiful to look at, yes? And delicious! If I don’t keep eating them this way, some of my turnips just might make it to baseball size yet.

No Rain, No Pain

You’ve probably heard that every week a vegetable garden requires 1 inch of water per square foot. What you have probably not heard — I only calculated this recently, after getting no rain for 10 days, per my rain gauge in the photo — is that this translates into 0.62 gallons of water per square foot. The next calculation (I should stay away from math!) startled me. My 146 square feet of raised vegetable beds require 90 gallons of water per week, which is the capacity of 1.5 of my rain barrels.

I lead a busy life, and don’t have the patience to water for a long time. When I need to water (where are those rains now?), I’ll usually irrigate each bed with a hose, just long enough to ensure that the surface looks pretty wet. It would be better, however, to water deeply once a week than water shallowly several times per week. Deep watering promotes roots that go deep into the soil in search of water and nutrients, therefore stronger and more nutritious plants.

So I asked myself, what would it take to give my garden a deep and satisfying 90 gallon drink?

I chose to use a 2-gallon watering can instead of the hose, and calculated how many cans each bed requires. 45 times I emptied the can, rotating among my several beds so that water could seep down before I returned.

It took me two hours.

Surprisingly, it was a delightful experience, not a chore! Standing over each square foot and mindfully LOOKING at it while I watered allowed me to experience each plant in a new way. The second and third times I returned to the same bed I was able to notice weeds that had escaped me earlier. I did some thinning of seedlings while watering. I checked for egg masses on the underside of leaves, and for signs of disease on leaves and stems. I pruned tomato suckers, and properly trellised new tomato growth. I had time to think about re-planting seeds that hadn’t germinated and of interplanting different kinds of seeds.

On the next day, all plants had a renewed vitality and vigor. I could actually feel it!

Next step? As enjoyable as this experience was, I don’t intend to repeat it many times. I plan to install a drip irrigation system, which will enable a gentler deep watering than I performed with the watering can. I will also continue to take the time to bond with my plants and get to know them… but without having to worry about lugging watering cans and dealing with hoses!

Open Pollinated Corn Part 6

Corn from the “Trail of Tears”

What has become known as the “Trail of Tears” is a particularly dishonorable episode in the long history of displacement of aboriginal people to make room for European settlers. In the case of the Cherokee, the saga began with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which provided for resettlement of the “five civilized tribes” (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, and Seminole) from their homelands in the Southern states to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) west of the Mississippi River. The Cherokee were removed in 1838 from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. The homes and farms of the Cherokee were burned and plundered as 15,000 men, women and children were rounded up by a military force made up of state militias, regular army, and volunteers under the command of General Winfield Scott. The Cherokee were imprisoned in concentration camps in Tennessee before beginning a 1000 mile march as winter approached. Most of the Cherokee had to walk, many without shoes or moccasins and little winter clothing except for used blankets from a hospital in Tennessee which had experienced a smallpox epidemic. Some 4,000 Cherokee died either in the camps or on the march from disease, starvation or exposure.

Legend has it that the Cherokee White Eagle Corn was a beloved staple food which survived the trail of tears to Oklahoma, rivaling another tale of starvation and saving valuable seed, the starvation deaths of plant breeders in Russia during the siege of Leningrad.


From the name one might expect that Cherokee White Eagle Corn is a white corn. However it is actually a white and blue corn with a red cob and occasionally an all-blue ear. The name comes from the fact that some people claim to see an image of a white eagle on some of the kernals. Judge for yourself. Cherokee White Eagle corn is a good choice for a “Three Sisters Garden” because the plants grow 8-10’ tall and provide a good climbing structure for pole beans.

Cherokee White Eagle Corn is a dent corn which matures in 110 days. It is suitable for use as roasting ears, corn bread, and hominy. It is also suitable for feeding backyard chickens and other animals.

Another variety of corn carried on the trail of tears is a popcorn variety, Cherokee Long Ear Small. This variety is very ornamental with red, blue, orange, white and yellow kernels. Kernels are small and yield large “pops”, giving a low hull/corn ratio and great flavor. Plants are 6-8’ tall.

Herbivore Reed

Next: Heirloom Sweet Corn Varieties Your Grandfather Enjoyed

Eggplant Protection

In my view, the two keys to eggplant success in home gardens are strong, early plant growth and protection from pesky flea beetles. If flea beetles find your plants AND the plants are weak, you will be buying local eggplant instead of growing local eggplant!

Here are some proven techniques for managing flea beetles and growing strong plants:

Jane Hayes is a Howard Co. Master Gardener who grows big eggplant crops each summer with her husband. They built a simple plastic-covered box with removable lid that encourages early growth and excludes flea beetles. They remove the frame when plants really start to take off- right before flowering. At that point flea beetles are not such a threat.

Howard Co. Master Gardener Linda Branagan runs the small demo garden at the Home and garden Information Center. She created a low tunnel using #9 wire hoops draped with a floating row cover. Here again, you get a double benefit of enhanced growth and no flea beetle access. The hoops are essential because eggplant foliage is sensitive and may burn if the fabric lays directly on plants.

Particle barriers can be applied to foliage to inhibit flea beetle feeding. These can be very effective but do require re-application after heavy rainfall. Below is a shot of leaves covered with wood ash. I shook some from a coffee can with holes punched in the bottom. I’ve tried this in past years with success. Below that photo is a plant sprayed with Surround, a commercial kaolin clay product that you mix with water. (Clean your sprayer parts after applying Surround to avoid clogs.) Yes, it looks weird- as if whitewashed, but the plants grow just fine. Here are links to more info on physical barriers:

http://mdvegetables.umd.edu/Entomology/Flea%20Beetle%20Control.cfm

http://www.hgic.umd.edu/content/whatsnew.cfm (click May/June 2010 newsletter)

Plant with caution

I’m confessing to a gardening sin. I planted mint in my vegetable garden.

Not in the beds, mind you. I have raised beds, and I planted the mint in the pathways, thinking it would smell nice underfoot (it does) and that it would spread itself around as mint does but stay nicely where it was meant to outside of the beds. It doesn’t. Big surprise. It’s insinuated itself into every bed it’s near, sending runners under the board sides and into the soft rich soil where vegetables will struggle to compete with it.

So I have to rip it all out. (And the lemon balm, too, but let’s not mention that.)

I may replant some of it in an area next to my house that’s all weedy grass now – and I will likely be sorry – but most of it has to go, and since I hate wasting food, I’m trying to find ways to use it. We’ll have dried mint to brew tea for an army. I can only make so much tabbouli (and I don’t have a lot of parsley right now), and other recipes call for a few tablespoons of chopped mint at a time. So I’ve been looking for other ways to use it.

Via Montgomery Victory Gardens I got a recipe from CookEatShare for basil-mint pesto – it’s tasty, but it uses much more basil than mint. Then I found a mint pesto recipe in Mark Bittman’s great cookbook How to Cook Everything:

2 cups loosely packed mint leaves
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 canola or other neutral oil

Combine everything in a food processor or blender and let it do its thing. I found that this quantity of oil was way too much (same thing with the other recipe) and reduced it by about half, but try it and see what you think. Use quickly or freeze. I’ve used it on leftover potatoes and veggies, and it would be good on meat too, or on pasta.

By the way, this is how you should grow mint, the way we do it in the demo garden:

And still: watch it. There are some kinds of mint that are less vigorous than the usual peppermint – I have repeatedly killed chocolate mint, apple mint, orange mint, etc. – but you never know. Plant (everyone should have a mint plant), but plant with caution.

While I’m at it, let me warn you against another mistake I made: planting elderberries right outside the garden fence. They sucker like mad, and I am still rooting the suckers up a year and a half after cutting down the original plants and several yards away from where they grew.

Elderberries are lovely shrubs, and you can make jam from the berries (with some tedious labor) or wine from either flowers or berries, or just attract beneficial insects and distract the birds from your blackberries. But do yourself a favor and plant them where you can mow all the way around.

Companion Planting

Swiss chard is tasty sauted with onions and garlic, but how about combining colorful-stemmed chard with flowers in your annual or perennial bed? I was inspired to do just that when I saw how attractive a single large yellow-stemmed Swiss chard plant looked among the flowers at the Master Gardeners demonstration garden at the County Fair Grounds last year. Having limited sun in my yard is another reason to combine chard with sun loving annuals such as marigolds. I also poked a curly-leafed, purple basil plant into the same bed for added interest.

In another bed devoted to kohlrabi, a hollyhock appeared, so I left it to add a bit of color to that bed. And soon when the kohlrabi are all harvested, the blooming hollyhock can tower over whatever succession vegetables I plant.