Maryland Grows

Not Rain and Plants Out of Place

Hello! Here’s a much belated report from the Derwood Demo Garden in Montgomery County, delayed by the demise of my old computer and the adjustment to a new one. Luckily most of my files were backed up, but I still have to make occasional forays into the old hard drive to retrieve data in the five minute intervals I’m allowed before the machine shuts down on me again, which is sort of like making little runs out into the garden to get something done in between rain storms, though not very much.

We’ve actually been pretty lucky in the demo garden this rainy spring, as most of our work days haven’t exactly been rained out, just dampened slightly… well, during part of the last one what could have been described as mist when we got there turned into something a little more like water forming definite drops and succumbing to the force of gravity pretty hard, but, we kept telling ourselves, those of us who were still there when we looked around, it was Not Rain. And then the Not Rain cleared up, and the sun came out, and it got rather hot and humid, and guess what we’ll be complaining about for the rest of the summer?

Anyway, the weeds are doing very well this year. Both the traditional weeds like thistle and deadnettle and ground ivy and wood sorrel and whatever the tall thing with the white flowers behind the fence is, which are the fault of the universe, and the plants in the wrong place that can’t be blamed on anyone but us. Fennel, first of all. Someone (ahem) has been too indulgent with fennel. But no more. See this little patch of it among the tall bee balm plants I’m putting in?

That’s all we are allowing ourselves this year. It looks harmless enough now, but just wait till August when it is five feet tall and, if we let it have its way, covering the entire garden. It tastes great, it is a great attractor of butterflies and other beneficial insects, and it’s pretty, but I am cutting the tops off before it goes to seed, and we’ll still be digging it out all over for the next few years.

The other one is my fault. We had a Latin American garden last year, and I put in grain amaranth as part of the Central American heritage display, and let it go to seed, and there are little red seedlings everywhere this year. It’s actually very pretty – look at it, glowing in the sun on a day we actually had sun:

And that was after we thought we’d weeded. It looks like that every week. It is not, I note, so pretty when it gets five feet tall (note a theme here?) and turns kind of greeny-red and falls over. Grow it, or its relatives (I, er, actually put in Amaranth ‘Illumination’ last week in the Edible Beauty bed), but let them die young and lovely.

At least we know better than to grow mint.

The basic rules of weeds and other undesirables:

Don’t let plants go to seed if they have a reputation for being promiscuous. If you don’t know, play it safe. Of course your gardening friends will tell you that such-and-such never self-seeds and then it will, all over your garden, laughing, but that just means you have better soil and a more welcoming environment than your friends, so you can feel good about that while you weed for hours.

Also watch out for things with taproots or roots that leave bits of themselves in the soil when pulled (or get chopped up when tilled). Don’t leave them in your garden and don’t put them in your compost. The second part of that is pretty easy.

Cover your soil! There are many options. I like the low-tech newspaper and leaf-mulch method. Don’t be afraid to use full sections of the newspaper at once. This is difficult if you have already switched to the online edition, however.

On a more positive note, I can report that our Grow It Eat It 10×10 foot trial bed has so far produced 5 pounds of spinach, 2 pounds of lettuce, and 4 ounces of snow peas. I didn’t expect any peas at all this spring, since we got started so late, but the cool weather cooperated. You can play along – tell me what prices you’re paying in grocery stores and farmer’s markets for these products, and at the end of the season we’ll have the calculation of how much our little garden saved its supposed owners. (Actually, they would have done much better, since they would have planted their peas in March, harvested their lettuce more frequently, and would be able to keep up with picking, watering, and insect control more regularly over the season than we can, visiting only once a week.)

Speaking of visiting, anyone reading this is more than welcome to visit our garden; it is open at any time the park is open. Directions here. We work Thursday mornings from 8 to noon, but if you would like a tour at another time please email and we’ll see what we can do.

I leave you with a picture of a productive garden bed badly in need of weeding. Next time you get the tidy pictures, but I thought I’d make you feel good today. (Photos by Nick Smith.)

Garden Apocalypse

My name is Dale Johnson and Jon ask me if I would like to contribute to this “Grow It! Eat it!” blog. I jumped at the chance because I love gardening. I am not a Master Gardener (I will be some day) but each year I learn more and I would love to share my experiences – both successes and failures. I also have chickens – layers and broilers – which are a great complement to gardens and I might occasional sneak in an article on them. After all, I grow and eat them too!

I will start off my blogs with both a success and a disaster. My family is proud of our garden. It is productive and beautiful. We were bloated with spring crops – salads, cooking greens, onion, broccoli, cabbage, etc. Our summer crops reach for the sun promising tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, and squash. It all came crashing down last week. Much of it was eaten to the ground. Particularly distressing was the damage to the peas. We were just starting to harvest them. We only got a couple of bowls full from gleaning the remnants.

The culprit? Deer. The herd that roams our neighborhood has never bothered us before. We thought the deer were afraid of the horses in pastures that surround the garden. Not so. It’s more likely that our old Labrador retriever that died last fall did her job and chased them off in previous years. The family is lobbying for a new dog but until I give in we have baited and charged the garden fence. We painted a peanut butter/vegetable oil mixture at intervals on the polywire rope. When the deer go up to check it out, they get a 4000 volt jolt in the nose or tongue. I get satisfaction just thinking about it. For more information on deer control see:

I am optimistic that our garden will rise from this apocalypse. I will eat tomato and cucumber salad, green beans with bacon, and squash frittata. We will have a successful garden in 2009.

Peanut butter/vegetable oil deer attractant on polywire rope.
Notice the bare wires that carry a 4000 volt charge.

Bermuda Grass – Public Enemy Number One

I grow food at the Master Peace Community Farm in Prince George’s County. We have sandy coastal soils, which is often the case for most Marylanders east of Interstate 95. Starting about the middle of June (right now!), these sandy soils can harbor my arch rival and gardening nemesis: Bermuda grass. I want to share with you how to rid your garden of this horrible weed without relying on herbicides, and how to keep it out of your garden so that you can get on to better things in life, like growing food!

Bermuda grass is an especially feared weed because it reproduces by underground runners that poke out the ground elsewhere, creating a network that can quickly take over a garden. Unless you get it all up and out of your soil, you’re just buying yourself time until it comes back. There isn’t one product that you can buy or one way to deal with Bermuda grass, you have to understand its weaknesses and get ‘em where it hurts. With these simple steps, though, you will prevail over one of our most feared weeds.

Bermuda grass loves full sun, and won’t thrive in the shade. Also, you learned that it reproduces not with seeds but with underground runners. Therefore, dealing with Bermuda grass can be broken into two areas: 1) Get it up, and 2) Keep it covered.

Get it up Most weeds you pull and, well, they’re gone. Not with Bermuda grass. I suggest that you dig into the ground where it is, preferably with a digging fork, and loosen all the ground around the weed. Then, pulling up all the soil around it, you can then shake off the roots and get it out of your garden. If you leave any bit of root in your garden, it will continue to grow. While we like to encourage composting of all your garden waste, you may want to throw it away in the trash instead. Unless your compost bin is very hot and well managed, it can often survive the process and be put back in your garden when you spread your finished compost.

Keep it covered Once you have it up and out of your garden, you want to keep it that way. Immediately mulch the area. If it’s a path, use high-quality contractor-grade landscaping fabric under the mulch. If its in a garden bed, use non-glossy newspaper, whole sections at a time, overlapping, which will decompose over the growing season. Then, cover the area with lots of leaves or wood mulch.

The best way to keep it from coming back it to shade the area. We do this at the Master Peace Community Farm by growing plants in that area. Plants like beans are great, they grow quickly and within two or three weeks create a thick shaded area. Marigolds also do a great job. We use plants like these on the boarders of garden beds and grass to prevent it from creeping in from the sides.

Bermuda grass might seem like an impossible barrier between now and harvesting, but it can be overcome. Be persistent and proactive, it can be done!

Weed or Seed?

What happens when you turn a group of kids loose in your garden with packs of seeds? A lot of seedlings! The question becomes, is it a seedling or a weed?

It is helpful if you know what a carrot seedling, turnip seedling, etc looks like in it’s early stages. Otherwise, you have to wait until they grow into something you recognize before you thin them out.

Had this been my garden at home, I would have made a slight impression in the soil with a stick, ruler or what ever I found lying around the potting shed. I would have planted the seeds in a row and I would know for sure that they were seeds and not weeds. On the positive side, look at the great germination rate we achieved!

Speaking of success, even though we had about 3 inches of rain here in the Annapolis area, the lettuce is thriving. Maybe I should plant lettuce in my rain garden?

Welcome to the Derwood Demo Garden

My name is Erica Smith, and I’ll be blogging over the growing season to keep you updated on the progress of the Montgomery County Master Gardeners’ demonstration garden at the Agricultural Farm History Park in Derwood. The garden is run by MGs Martha Fisher and Maria Wortman, and I am vegetable garden leader (as well as Montgomery Grow It Eat It chair).

May is a great time of the year, as we move out of the spring planting season and into summer. The soil is warming, slowly but surely despite the chilly nights and rain, and we’re ready to sow beans and squash and transplant tomatoes and peppers. April is anticipation time for us at the demo garden. We start work too late in the season (April 9 this year) to count on much in the way of spring crops, especially in a cloudy spring like this one. All our peas and lettuce are still tiny and about to be blasted by May heat. We do use April to get the garden well-weeded and tidy, to get our signs in place, to mark off planting beds, and to tend our perennial plants.
This is what we start with (I’ll show you photos through the season to compare; these are all by MG photographer and demo garden worker Katharine Lambert):

We also plant seeds for salad greens and other spring crops, always hoping we’ll get to harvest them, and sometimes we transplant seedlings:

I wouldn’t normally grow lettuce or beets as transplants, but these were planted out carefully arranged in a special bed we’re calling Edible Beauty, illustrating particularly attractive vegetables that counteract the notion that food gardens have to be utilitarian and scruffy. I think our whole garden ends up looking beautiful every year, but homeowners’ associations often have other ideas – show them our edible beauties and maybe they’ll change their minds! I’ll post photos of the bed when it’s underway.

We also started a new asparagus bed this year, and it’s great to see the baby stalks emerging:
No eating those stalks until year three! It’s hard to resist.
Another one of our first tasks for the season is planting potatoes. Here’s MG Barbara Knapp putting the starts in the newly-dug trench and covering them with soil:

And here she is two weeks later covering over the new potato plants:

(Why does it seem to have gotten colder in the meantime?) The plants continue to be covered as they grow, until we can’t cover them any more. The deeper the potatoes are planted, the more tubers will grow on the spreading roots; think of them as growing up from the original sprouting potato section. (Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, you have to think of as growing down. But more on those later – they belong to May.) We can start harvesting the potatoes when the plants die back (or earlier), though we always let some stay in the ground until the first weekend in October for the big Harvest Festival at the park. The kids coming through the garden love to see the potatoes emerge from the soil.
I like seeing the structure of the garden built up over this anticipatory month: the trenches, the paths, the strings and stakes, and the still-empty cages and trellises. Here are MG interns Tracey Nadonley and Nancy Rudnick constructing a bean teepee:
We’ll plant those beans this week!
After some quiet weeks of anticipation and weeding and toting mulch around, we’ll have a fury of activity this Thursday morning, with lots of seeds and seedlings going into the ground. It’ll look like a growing garden instead of a framework. Watch this space to see the transition.

Thirsty Feeders

Squash is one of my favorite summer vegetables. They are easy to grow and and don’t require as much care throughout the season as other garden inhabitants can. They are also easy to incorporate into many existing recipes which is a good thing because just a few transplants can bring squash into the kitchen every day.

To extend our summer season, we put our first planting of squash in raised beds. These beds heat up quicker than the surrounding soil. As cool as this spring has been, this may put us 3 or 4 weeks ahead of the game. The downside of using raised beds is that the soil tends to dry out much quicker. Squash needs about 1-1/2” of water per week. To get the healthiest plants possible you need to keep the soil moist in the 10-20” zone below the surface.

To solve this problem we plant our squash around containers that are buried to within 1” or so from the top rim. This ensures that we are watering to the proper depth in a quick manner.

Before planting we prepare the bed as we would regardless of where we are planting squash. First we use a garden fork or a spade to loosen the soil to a depth of 4-6” without turning the soil over.

Next we rake the soil out to remove as many clumps as possible.Then we bury a container left over from a previous landscaping project. We only dig a hole about half the height of the container. The remainder is buried by hilling soil up around the sides of the container to create a mound.

If you don’t have one available almost any container with holes in the bottom will do. Another one of my favorite containers to use are old milk jugs. The old nursery containers we use are just large enough to place a milk jug inside. This gives us the option of providing a slow application of water should we go away for several days.

Because we have ample stores of compost, we then mix in a few shovels full around the container. If you prefer to use a slow-release fertilizer, such as a 5-10-10, you could do that now as well. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommended application rate.Now all that is left is to plant our seedlings, apply some mulch and water them in. We will water once a week now and twice a week when the weather becomes hot.Using our containers we can apply a compost tea or a liquid fertilizer if needed. By not applying water in an overhead manner, we reduce the chance of diseases such as mildew. Like with soaker hoses or drip irrigation, we are conserving water without the expense of extra equipment or return trips to the garden to shut off hoses. You can use this approach for most thirsty feeders such as tomatoes, cucumbers and melons too.

Hello from the Governor’s Mansion

Here I am with Suzanne Lewis. We are going to give you a little tour of the mansion’s vegetable garden and show you how it all came together.

This is the layout of the garden. As you can see, you don’t have to be limited to squares and rectangles. We followed the natural curve of the bed and allowed the shape to match the other planting areas around it. What you see is mostly greens; lettuces, kale, collards and chard. If you notice, there is an oak tree in the background which gave us a few shade issues. The more shady area and the time of year naturally lent itself to planting greens.

Once we established the rows, we placed the plants around to get an idea of spacing and what plants we wanted where. This is Suzanne putting the first plant in the soil. That is always an exciting time, full of great expectations!

I just thought I would let you see Mrs. O’Malley and Chef Canby getting in on the action.

For the finishing touches, we spread newspaper in the walkways and covered it with mulch. This will help prevent weeds and establish permanent places to walk to avoid compacting the planting area.

Because we had a limited area that gets full sun, we planted tomatoes and herbs in pots and placed them in the sun around the fountain. If you have limited sun or space, you too can garden in a pot.

Well, that concludes our tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Join us throughout the summer to see our progress.