Maryland Grows

I’ve replaced a monster horse

Wow, I could hardly wait. Each spring I hoped that I would be home when Jim Aborn arrived with his horse to plow our neighbor’s garden. I always wished I could have been over in Mr. Rau’s yard to hear him strike the deal for the work. But I was too little. I had to stay on our side of the fence.

Mr. Aborn and Mr. Rau would put their heads together. Mr. Rau would point here and there at his garden area. Mr. Aborn would nod. And I was all but falling over the fence, trying to hear at least a word or two. But at some point, Mr. Aborn would walk down the drive and come back with his horse and plow.

What a monster horse with clanging chains and snorts—and sometimes, I almost imagined, fire flashing from its nostrils. But soon the horse and plow were in the garden and Mr. Aborn, reins draped over a shoulder, would “talk” his horse through the small garden area fenced on two sides. I soon learned that “gee” told the horse to turn right and “haw” to the left. Since the garden was only about 35’ x 20’ or so, Mr. Aborn had to struggle to turn the plow at the garden ends to avoid the fences and Mr. Rau’s well-tended lawn. My young ears soon picked up words other than “gee” and “haw,” words that I learned could lead to a soapy mouth, so I won’t risk mentioning any of them here.

But this morning the sun, moon, and stars all aligned, and the day finally arrived for me to do some spring veggie planting. But first I had to till my garden. Alas, Mr. Aborn and his horse have long been resting in peace. In fact, our veggie gardens, eight of them, are so small that a horse would have a difficult time standing in most of them, let alone plow and turn and plow and turn.

But I don’t need a horse to plow our veggie patches. Over the last 14 summers I’ve added compost and other soil improvements to our basic Howard County clay, so the soil is reasonably good. At least it’s good enough for me to serve as horse and my warren hoe as the plow.

A warren hoe is a hoe that features a fairly large, triangular head. See photo. But it is not a plow. A plow turns the soil in one direction, generally to the right. My warren hoe moves the soil left and right at the same time, making a central furrow of sorts.

So when I plow one of our plots with my warren hoe, I pull the hoe through the soil in one direction, say east to west, each pass fairly close to the previous one. When I’ve finished in that direction, then I do the same at right angles, say north to south. With reasonable effort for someone who’s celebrated the traditional “three score and ten years,” I can turn a small plot in 15 minutes, with minimal strain on back or muscles. Then I rake it level—and break up any large clods that catch my attention.

As I turn the soil, I think of how times have changed. I’ve, well, I’ve replaced a horse. As I turn over the soil, I sometimes smile as I think of “gee and haw” and the clanging of chains and the snorting of the horse.

No, this horse doesn’t snort fire. But on a warm spring day, I’m sweating like Mr. Aborn’s horse used to “lather up.” I’m sure glad I went to the Glenwood Community Center four times a week all winter to keep my muscles in shape and to walk each morning.

I’ve plowed. I’ve raked. It’s time to plant some seeds. Until next time….

Minty fresh!!!

I decided to try and grow my favorite plant from seed this year: chocolate mint. The seeds looked like VERY tiny mustard seeds that came in a little plastic tube. They crushed VERY easily (ahem…yes I crushed one….whoops!)

The seeds sprouted after about a week. I have been nursing them along and this morning the true leaves are starting to show the variegation!!!! The picture on the top is of my beautiful little mints. The one on the bottom is the picture from the Burpee catalog of how they will look when fully grown.

My little babies are SO cute. This has just made my morning. I must admit I was tempted to smell them to see if they have that addictive aroma yet…but I resisted….really, I did!

Ahhhh, another success in my little garden (yet miles to go before I rest)!

Goooooo mint!

Spreading my roots

Yes, the time has come to move on….into bigger pots, that is. My little baby seedlings have matured quite a bit.

I had to transfer them to larger plant trays because they are just growing up so nicely!

When I was transferring my carrots, I noticed that the leaves on one of the plants had not completely released from the seed. It is in the shape of a perfect heart!

I see it as God’s way of telling me He loves me so much. It really touched my heart.

You’ll be happy to know that the seedlings are doing very well and growing just as they should. I am getting ready to begin my second planting of everything to extend my growing season throughout the summer.

Now that I am going to be selling at the Cheverly Community market, I want to be sure to have enough produce for my family and the market! Well, this is all for now garden gals and guys!

Until next time….happy gardening!

Chinese broccoli and other spring veggies

At our Montgomery County Master Gardener meeting yesterday, we had a great talk by Cindy Brown of Green Spring Gardens about unusual edibles. She brought some sample plants along and was generous enough to donate some of them to our demo garden. I look forward to planting them soon!

Some of the plants, like bunching onions and purple kohlrabi, I’d grown before, but here’s one that I haven’t tried: Chinese broccoli.

It’s another plant from the Brassica family, so related to regular broccoli, and to kale (it’s also sometimes called Chinese kale, as well as gai lun and other names). The stem, leaves and flower buds are all edible, and can be cut from the plant which will then continue to produce new side shoots. Chinese broccoli is grown from seed either early in the spring or in the summer for a fall crop, so maybe I’ll get some seed and look forward to a fall harvest.

Seed catalogs are a good source of information about edibles you’re trying for the first time, and you can also search on the Internet for both growing information and recipes. One regional source (meant for farmers in the U.S. Northeast) is World Crops, which sorts by continent and country of origin or use, and is searchable. A great local resource is the Asian vegetables series that Wendy of the Greenish Thumb blog is putting together about growing, buying and cooking vegetables frequently used in Asian cooking. Please pass on resources as you find them – we like information here at Grow It Eat It!

Cindy and her Green Spring garden are featured regularly on Adrian Higgins’ Washington Post blog about vegetable gardening (the “Groundwork” subsection of “All You Can Eat”). I liked this recent entry on kale – check out the soup recipe, too. We’ll be growing Nero di Toscana and Red Russian kale this spring in the demo garden, and then I’ll try some other kinds in the fall. Let’s hope the harlequin bugs stay away! I’ve also got some Jersey cow cabbage (also called walking stick kale) started and hope to grow it to a substantial height. If it works you will of course see photos.

Ba-a-a-aby plants

I love this time of year, both getting the garden ready outside when the weather cooperates, and spending hours inside getting seeds started, exclaiming in pleasant surprise when they actually germinate and grow, and just visiting with my baby plants. Have you got enough water? Too much? Are you close enough to the light? Is it time to put you in a bigger pot or give you some fertilizer?

Yes, I am one of those people who has trouble thinning seedlings. Why do you ask?

Here’s some of what’s taking up space in my laundry room and bathroom right now:

Basil seedlings, with the first true leaves just showing between the cotyledons. The differing shapes of each type of leaf never cease to amaze me.

Kale and Chinese cabbage seedlings, about ready to be hardened off outside; we should be able to plant them in the demo garden next week.

Sea kale (Crambe maritima), a perennial member of the Brassica family. I’m so glad I got it to germinate this year; the secret is removing the hard seed cover before planting. More on this plant later in the season!

Cosmos, because we need flowers in our vegetable garden too. There’s a striking difference between seed leaf and true leaf for you.

A fish pepper seedling, not yet showing variegation in leaf color.

Hey! Only cute baby PLANTS allowed here!

Winter Hardened Greens

Last September I planted some curly kale in a pot on my patio with the intention of getting a head start with seedlings in the spring. In early December I moved the pot up against a sunny south-facing house wall. Even the snow of the early February blizzard didn’t seem to harm the seedlings and by late February they were putting out additional leaves. In mid-March, I transplanted them to the garden and they are now thriving.

A surprise was the endive seedlings which also over-wintered in a container. I had expected they would be killed by frost, but in late November they were still alive. So I put that container near the house wall as well. In early March the endive seedlings were a bit ragged, but definitely still alive. I transplanted them into a sunny, south-facing raised bed on March 12 and they are also now putting out new leaves.

The world according to Mike McGrath

This past Saturday was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my garden career! I got to meet Mike McGrath, host of the national public radio show “You Bet Your Garden“. He lectured on the seven secrets to successful organic gardening. But if you are thinking “a lecture…how boring” you haven’t heard him speak. He is full of knowledge and makes you laugh–hard–while imparting his garden wisdom.

I was afraid to approach him for a picture, but I did it anyway and he was so very happy to oblige! His lecture confirmed some practices I was already using and gave me some tips for things I also need to add to my repertoire to enhance my organic practices. To sum it all up, use raised beds, feed your soil (I’m talkin‘ compost yaul), invite beneficial insects into your garden, birds are your friends, have something in constant bloom all the time, mulch against weeds, water wisely and (the most important tip) HAVE FUN!

Mike has two great books out. One is called You Bet Your Tomatoes and the other is Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost. He autographed both books for me and even said I was “quite a tomato”….awww thanks, Mike, I’m blushing!

If you want more nuggets on each of these tips, leave a comment and I will be glad to share!

Until next time happy garden thoughts!!