Maryland Grows

I’ve planted "Self-Enclosing Trout"

When I finished planting some “cool weather” veggies—chard, beets, carrots, and lettuce—my tee-shirt was soaked. The simple reason was that the temperature last Wednesday was 89° F when I finished planting, and in the sun it felt like 99°.

Cool-weather veggies, of course, refer to those that don’t mind cool, even crisp, nights and often bolt, or go to seed, when the really hot weather arrives. I suspect the seeds of the five veggies I planted today will have short-term memory loss and won’t recall the abnormally warm weather on the day I seeded them in one of our veggie plots.

I planted two 3-foot rows of Ruby Red Swiss Chard, which should supply this household of two nicely through the summer and even into early winter. The chard won’t die back until the November or December temperatures drop into the 20s.

And next to the chard I planted two short rows of Cylindra Beets. After these rows are up and growing, I’ll plant a couple more to get us through the summer. If I remember, I’ll plant even more rows in late summer to supply us through the fall months. Why did I choose Cylindra, rather than my customary Detroit Dark Red? Was I bored with the traditional globes and intrigued by the longer shape? I don’t have the slightest recollection. Let’s call it short-term memory loss.

And I planted a single row, about 4’, of each Simpson’s Curled and Forellenschuss lettuce, and I’ll plant more as the season progresses so we will have a continuing supply. Simpson’s Curled is one of the popular loose-leaf types, but Forellenschuss?

“It’s got my name in the middle of it,” wife Ellen said as she examined the Forellenschuss packet. Sure enough. And I noted later that the name also proclaims, “For Ellen.” Maybe there’s a good motto there: “Forellenschuss—as welcome as a dozen roses.” Why not give it a try? Second thought, that’s not a truly great idea.

Simpson’s Curled is a dependable variety that we will enjoy in May and into June, maybe July. Forellenschuss is one of my “yearly experiments.” It captivated me when I saw it in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog. It’s an Austrian heirloom with medium-green leaves with splotches of maroon. The description on the packet explains the German: “Translates literally as ‘trout, self-enclosing,’ meaning it’s a speckled romaine.” Betcha the person who named it was also a fisherman.

I think I won’t broadcast to friends that I’m raising “Self-Enclosing Trout lettuce, also called Forellenschuss.” Really, now, where does any conversation go after that announcement? Downhill, I guess, straight to the trout stream. Or to puzzled silence.

And the carrot I planted is the traditional Chantenay, a medium length variety. Root veggies, such as carrots, of course, find it tough growing in heavy soils, such as our basic Howard County clay, but I’m hoping the soil I’ve improved over the last dozen years will yield some crunchy, sweet carrots.

I should tie a string around a finger to remind me to keep the bed moist for the next couple of weeks, until the lettuces, then the chard, then the carrots and beets start reaching for the sun.

More baby plants

It occurred to me finally that I might have a lot of seedlings in the house (and a few on the back deck). So I counted them.

287. Two hundred and eighty-seven. I do not, mind you, own a greenhouse. And that doesn’t count the several dozen already transplanted to the demo garden, or the seeds I planted this weekend, which are meant to yield another 60-70 seedlings.

This seed-starting thing gets addictive. Just warning you.

But look! Baby mouse melons!

(Marigolds to the left, cucumbers to the right.) And here’s a young passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, unfortunately the only one to germinate):

Some perennials start easily from seed, others are more challenging, but I love being able to walk around my garden and point out the ornamental perennials I grew from seed myself (and everyone else paid $9.95 for, just saying). Now, perennial vegetables: I think that’s the subject of my next post.

I have a few plants to water first, though…

Potato planting day

Yesterday was potato planting day at the Derwood Demo Garden. You can find lots of information on potatoes under Vegetable Profiles at the Grow It Eat It website, but here are the basics for planting day.

Potato tubers (the part you eat) grow underground above the seed potato you plant, so you want that seed potato planted low. Start by digging a trench; this will make covering the potato plants with soil as they grow easier.

Here’s MG intern Sam Black finishing his trenches:

How deep your trenches are depends on how far apart you can place them. Allow enough space in between for temporary dirt storage and walking space.

Potatoes are then placed about 8 inches apart and covered with a few inches of soil. Here’s MG Barbara Knapp covering her potatoes.

I think those are the Kennebec potatoes (bought as seed potatoes from a source that guarantees them disease-free; don’t plant potatoes from the store as they may harbor disease). We also planted Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac, and a few Blue Adirondack that I had left over from my home planting.

Notice that Barbara is planting whole potatoes (which you can see have started sprouting; this is just fine). You can also cut your potatoes into pieces with about 3 buds or eyes each, and expose them to air for at least 24 hours before planting. This is especially fun when planting blue potatoes, as I discovered:

I’ll show you the progress of our potatoes as they grow. This year we are planning to use row covers to try to hold off the potato beetles and corn borers.

As an extra, here’s a photo from my trip a couple of years ago to Peru (the original home of the potato). These are potatoes left on the ground to freeze-dry (August, so winter, and about 10,000 foot altitude). Potatoes used as a staple food in Peru are often stored dried.

This is a mix of just a few of the more than 5000 varieties that have been raised in Peru.

Another growing note: potatoes can be grown in containers. Large containers work best: the black plastic compost bins with holes that Montgomery County gives out free are excellent. Put seed potatoes on a few inches of good soil at the bottom, cover, and fill in as the plants grow.

Asparagus Is Up

Asparagus season is upon us! I noticed the first stalk tops emerge just a week ago and now it’s a lovely counting game as the number of spears increases daily. I planted my first asparagus bed ten years ago, and even though I erred by digging the two trenches too deeply (yes, there are trenches), the plants have been surprisingly forgiving and have been producing reliably ever since. A new bed planted some five years ago has us in asparagus until about June. If you’ve not grown this elegant edible before, check out the HGIC website for recommended cultivars, as well as the GIEI site’s vegetable profile for some ingenious ways to extend your own personal asparagus season. Yes, there’s a little delayed gratification, but those three years pass quickly and are well worth the wait!

Open Pollinated Corn – Part 4

How do I get started?

Now that I may have convinced at least some of you that you want to try some open pollinated corn, how does one get started?

First of all, you need space for planting. Corn takes a lot and you need to provide enough plants to get good pollination. I recommend at least 5 rows (rows 20 – 30 inches apart) with 2 plants per foot within the row, rows at least 10 feet long. If you do the calculation you will see that you will need at least 100 seeds. This is the minimum size packet that most seed companies provide. If you are planting small plots like this you will need to plant by hand or use a hand seeder. I recommend the seeds be planted about 1 inch deep in a well prepared seedbed to get good seed to soil contact.

Things get a little complicated if you want to save seed for replanting next year. In that case you want to make sure that you don’t get pollination from other varieties. If you are only growing one variety or you are growing varieties which don’t overlap pollination, it is not so difficult. But if you are in a community garden and there are other corn varieties nearby you should probably not try to save seed for replanting. If you do save seed in those situations I would use only ears from the middle rows of a plot and away from the edges. You can also do things like planting tall varieties as border rows around a seed plot and removing tassels from the borders if they are a different variety from the seed plot.

Where can we get seed? Fortunately for us there are a number of good possibilities. I have prepared a fact sheet on seed sources with brief variety descriptions which I will be happy to email to anyone who requests it. ( If you wish to do your own research the following links will get you started:

Links to Seed Sources

Sustainable Seeds

Johnny’s Seeds

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Heirloom Seeds

Victory Seeds

Green Haven (Field size bulk seed quantities)

Also, I have ordered some seed which I am willing to share with a few gardeners in Maryland in order to conduct trials of several of these varieties around the state(sorry, Maryland residents only). The conditions are as follows:
I need a brief description of who you are, your gardening experience (It helps to be a Maryland Master Gardener but is not required), and your access to a suitable plot of land at least 10 ft by 10 ft, full sun exposure, reasonably level, well drained and hopefully protected from varmints, particularly deer. Also you will need to agree to plant and maintain the plot according to my guidelines, as well as take notes on growth and maturity stages of the corn, according to a growth stage guide which I will provide. Note that these will be field corn types (dent or gourdseed) or sweet corn. If you are interested in participating in this project please email me at and indicate which type of corn you would like to try. I will do my best to accommodate everyone who wants to participate but I want to get a good representation of the state and I also want to make sure that the plots will be taken care of in a way which will provide useful data. Please indicate your interest by April 20 if you wish to participate. Herbivore Reed

Next: The rich histories of some open pollinated corn varieties

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!