Sunday, October 31, 2010

Celebrating Pumpkin Weekend, Day 2




Halloween!!


In Quebec, we say "Halloween!" and not "Trick-or-Treat!"



As with every Sunday morning at the Donna-Nicolas House, we bake muffins and enjoy a pot or two of tea while reading the Sunday newspaper. For this edition we had pumpkin muffins, a recipe from this wonderful recipe book, because it's Pumpkin Weekend!!!!!!





After enjoying the beautiful fall temperature by raking some leaves and winterizing the drip irrigation system in the garden, it was time to come back to the kitchen for more festive cooking. First, Donna made an acorn squash bisque and the pumpkin butter for the pecan-crusted pork. As for me, I prepared the tomatoes Provencal , some whole roasted tomatoes, and the salad. All the tomatoes are fresh from our garden.


Naturally, some dessert is essential for celebrating Pumpkin Weekend (Day 2). We had in our freezer some unused phyllo sheets, which I used to make a Bulgarian dessert called Tikvenik, or in other words, Pumpkin-filled phyllo. It can be made in a spiral or, like ours, in a long strip.



Tomorrow, Monday, we will go into overtime with roasted pumpkin bits as a side dish. By the way, all our festive feasting this weekend was courtesy of a single pumpkin. An average "big size" field pumpkin, a.k.a "Jack-O-Lantern", will give you north of 6 cups of puree, with some chunks left over for an additional side dish. Oh, and be sure we will be eating pumpkin left overs for a few more days.

Happy Pumpkin Weekend!

Demo garden, late October, winding down

Our second-to-last official workday at the Derwood demo garden was this Thursday.  We hadn't had a serious frost yet, but it had been chilly and wet. After the previous day's rain, the early morning garden, covered with many-hued fallen leaves, looked magical.  Even the ubiquitous and much-maligned fennel had taken on a new look.

We took out most of the summer plants: tomatoes, peppers, basil, etc.  Many green tomatoes were harvested and taken home to fry or make relishes with.  Most of the flowers, and the hot peppers since they look so nice, were left until next time.  We dug out the lemon grass, which was a big job but worth it.  Always add a lemon grass plant to your vegetable garden or landscape if you have a few square feet available!

When we were done the garden looked very empty.  We added compost to the beds we'd cleared, all ready for next spring.


I would have taken out the mouse melons on the arbor, since they are pretty much done producing and the first real frost will kill them, but either the same praying mantis who's been hanging out there since the Harvest Festival, or a relative, was still there... disturbing us by chowing down on a bumblebee.  (As you can see, the mouse melons are still making flowers, and the bees love them.  Fatally, in this case.)  Ria's encouraging example shows us the value of these fascinating insects, but they will eat any bug that gets in their way, not just the ones we don't like.  But we're thrilled to be finding lots of mantis egg cases, and are keeping them safe for the spring.


Another task for next time is harvesting luffas for sponges.  Our crop is almost ready.  If you want to know how to grow your own sponges - and, if you harvest them younger, edible and tasty gourds - visit this site for lots of useful information, and also check out Wendy's Greenish Thumb post on how to process the sponges.

When we're finished with clean-up, all that will be left is to visit occasionally to harvest fall greens.  I took off the remaining row covers this week since the cabbage butterflies and harlequin bugs are gone, and everything we're growing will be fine in the cold (the kale and collards will probably survive being buried in snow).  Broccoli is heading up and will be ready soon.  We have some tasty upland cress, and parsley which I'll leave in the ground to come back next spring.  And we have a charming little row of pak choi under the maple tree!

I hope your fall garden is giving you lots of good things to eat!  On to spring planning - my favorite part of the gardening year, since the possibilities are endless and the problems are easily forgotten.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Celebrating Pumpkin Weekend, Day 1


Happy Pumpkin Weekend to all!

Having come into some pumpkin seedlings courtesy of my young cousin's Halloween fun of smashing a pumpkin on the ground LAST year, Nicolas and I decided to dedicate this entire weekend to pumpkin fun celebrating our harvest. About 5 seedlings yielded the following (plus two pumpkins we already used)...

We kicked off our celebration at lunchtime with an old-favorite comfort food, followed by a festive treat:


Then, we set out to carve our two favorites for the Halloween celebration.

You know, it actually was more fun knowing that we grew these ourselves!

Thanks to Nicolas' foresight of our Pumpkin Weekend, we were ready to make dinner with the pumpkin puree he'd prepared yesterday. Dinner was courtesy of Martha Stewart: Penne with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce from Everyday Food magazine (we added chicken). Note that the accompanying vegetables also came from our garden (and yes, we did find one cabbage-worm stowaway in the broccoli), as did the rosemary garnish on the pasta.

















To cap off Day 1 of our Pumpkin Weekend, we toasted the seeds from the pumpkins we carved earlier this afternoon. (Of course saving some for growing next year!) Just a little oil, butter, and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon in the oven at 250 degrees for about an hour is all it takes. Indeed, I've been munching on them as I write this post.

And that's Day 1 of our Pumpkin Weekend! Stay tuned tomorrow for Day 2, which brings us pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, and more!!!

Nomination and award

The Grow it! Eat it! blog has been nominated for a Mobbie (Maryland's Outstanding Blog) award!  Visit the Baltimore Sun Mobbie page for more detail (we're under the Foodie section).  Voting is open November 2-12 - please stop by and cast your vote.  We'd love if you voted for us!

In other news, the Montgomery County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden in Derwood (you know, the one I'm always blogging about) has won an Award of Excellence from Keep Montgomery County Beautiful.  We're very proud!

Are you new to vegetable gardening?

If you've started growing vegetables in the last 5 years or so, Penn State Extension educators want to know about your experiences.  Please go to this link and take a brief 15-question survey.  The survey will be open till November 19, 2010.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What are YOU looking at?

There IS some justice!

Just what Maryland gardeners have been waiting for...a brown marmorated stink bug chomping, slurping, eating machine!

This photo of a praying mantis devouring a BMSB was sent to us by Howard County Master Gardener Susan Levi-Goerlich.

What would be a great caption for this photo?

I can't believe I ate the WHOLE thing!
What- you never saw anyone eating a BMSB before?
Don't watch me while I eat.
Oops...caught red handed.
Aaaack - I thought you said marmalade bug!
Please pass the salsa.

Let's see how many captions you can come up with!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Squirrel!

As a gardener, there is much debate about whether or not to till a garden. My answer is why break a sweat when the squirrels can do the job for you! To protect our freshly planted flower bulbs, I needed to use the chicken wire covers from our strawberry beds. This is the result on the very next day: a perfectly tilled soil.




Talking about protection of the newly planted bulbs, if a hole is big enough for a squirrel to pass through, he will! One of the cages didn’t reach the ground correctly and I found one of those buggers inside it!




By the way, for those of you who ask, “no more asparagus?” One, good observation. Two, we relocated the asparagus in the former raspberry/pumpkin bed because we thought it would get better sunlight and drainage. Yes, by prior experience, relocated asparagus will survive, and yes, we now have a forest of asparagus.

New article on bitter gourd

Montgomery County Master Gardener Rani Parker has posted a great article on growing and cooking the taste-challenging vegetable known as bitter gourd.  This is definitely on my list for next year's demo garden!  The plants are beautiful and vigorous and there are lots of options in the article for making the taste a little less bitter, if one wants to do that.  Read the article here.

Photo by Rani Parker
Another article on the same vegetable can be found at Wendy's Greenish Thumb.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Post-frost chore--winterizing your garden tools

We had frost in our neighborhood Saturday morning. Low spots in our lawn were sparkly white just after dawn, as was our neighbor’s hillside. But it was a light, not killing, frost. My tomatoes escaped damage, but I know that one night soon the killer frost will strike here—and your garden too.

And then what? Will you weep for tomatoes lost? Or dance with happiness that another garden year of weeding and watering has ended?

If you’re like most gardeners, instead of weeping or dancing, you probably will be just resigned to your garden’s frosty fate. Tomatoes are here today, gone tomorrow. After cleaning up your gardens, you’ll celebrate “the end” by gathering up your garden tools and stacking them in a corner of your garage to gather dust and to rust until next spring.

Well, I’m usually a tool stacker too. But this year I’m already engaged in one of my New Year 2011 Resolutions: I'm winterizing my garden tools.

Winterizing my shovels, rakes, hoes, and pruners takes a little effort, but not much. If I winterize each tool when I finish using it for the season, the job may take 5 minutes. If I do three or four tools at a time, the job may take 20 minutes. If I do all my tools at one time, I suppose it would take an hour at most. I’ll confess: I winterize my tools when I think I’m done with them—one today, three or four next week.

Here’s how I winterize my tools.

I begin by cleaning my simplest tools—those without moving parts, such as my shovel, spade, hoe, and rake. If any tool is extremely dirty, I hose it off first and wipe it dry with an old rag. Then I use a wire brush with a scraper—available wherever paint is sold—to remove any remaining soil. If any metal is rusted, I bring it to a shine with steel wool and some WD-40 plus some elbow grease. If the handle is wooden and seems “rough” to my feel, I sand it with fine sandpaper.

When the metal parts are clean and the wooden handles smooth, I spray the metal parts with some WD-40 and wipe them down with an old rag. I wipe wooden handles with a mixture of boiled linseed oil diluted with a mineral spirits or turpentine, which improves penetration and drying. I eyeball the mix so it’s about one part linseed oil and two parts mineral spirits. On the Internet I’ve read recommendations to use vegetable oil on the metal and paste wax on the wooden handles, but I’ve never tried them.

And then I pay special attention to tools with moving parts—clippers, shears, scissors, things like that. I clean all the sap and other gunk that has built up on the blades and which I should have removed periodically during the growing season, but didn’t. Lazy Bob. A little mineral spirits or WD-40 on a rag or piece of fine steel wool usually finishes the job in short order.

I’ve not taken the time to figure out how to sharpen such tools, so I don’t do that, though I know I should. If you know how, please post a Comment telling us how you do it. Sharp tools are efficient because they cut and don’t crush.

Last week I winterized three of my tools: a small “tomato spade,” a large garden spade, and a hoe, each of which had metal and wooden parts. I didn’t have a stop watch, but I probably did the job in 20 minutes max.

The first photo shows the small tomato spade before I cleaned it and the cleaning aides I used. The second photo shows the cleaned tomato spade. It was my grandfather’s spade, and he died in 1946. But with an occasional cleaning and oiling, the spade carries its age—70 years or more—quite well, don’t you think? My grandfather used it to replace tomato transplants that had not survived their first week in his tomato field. I use it for edging and other miscellaneous chores, and when I do I always remember those who gardened with it before me, Poppy in his bib-jeans and Dad in his work khakis and plaid shirt.

Gardening moral: Buy quality tools and take care of them. They’ll last a lifetime or two and you’ll have the satisfaction of handing them on to the next generation of your family’s gardeners, who will have fond memories when they use your heirloom tools.

Post-frost garden cleaned up? Yes.

Gardening tools winterized? Yes.

Now bring on the hard freeze and the 2011 seed catalogs.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cabbage Worm Armageddon, Pt II - Death by Garbage Disposal

Warning: The following true account is not for the faint of heart. It is presented here solely as a cautionary tale for those who would grow and harvest their own broccoli.

Tonight we harvested our first head of broccoli from our first fall crop! Despite the ongoing damage by those pesky worms, all 8 of our plants are forming heads. In fact, I was rejoicing because I hadn't recently found any contestants to play my previously described 'Cabbage Worm Armageddon' game. And now I know why.

I prefer my veggies steamed, and I have a whiz-bang microwave steamer. So tonight I washed my freshly-harvested head of broccoli, and cut about half of it into mini-heads for nuking. Two minutes in the microwave, and voila! I put the broccoli on a serving plate, and my husband, Nicolas, and I sat down to dinner.

Shortly thereafter I noticed a light-green worm-like thing in the middle of the serving plate. No, could it be? Ewwwwww!!!!! It was. It was a very dead cabbage worm. Ewwww!!! I spied another (very dead) worm poking out of another piece of broccoli. Ewww!!!! After disposing of the corpses and a careful inspection, Nicolas and I determined that the rest of our dinner was worm free.

But then I thought, 'gee, maybe I should check the rest of the broccoli in the fridge'. Ewwwww!!!! Good thing I did!!!! I found about another half-a-dozen worms happily hanging out on the little stems under the crown of the head. No wonder I haven't seen any worms outside on my plants, they're all hidden under the crowns!

I'm not really sure how to inspect under the broccoli heads while they're still attached to the plants (without destroying them), so I guess I'll just have to be extra-vigilant when I bring the harvest inside. Lesson learned!

By the way, for those who are wondering what became of the invaders I found in my kitchen, I'll let the title of this post speak for itself.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Mind your peas & their cues": Damrosch

Thinking about planting peas next year? Then you must read Barbara Damrosch’s “A Cook’s Garden” column, “In the fall, you must mind your peas and their cues,” from today’s Local Living section of the Washington Post. She gives tips on growing peas and recommends varieties that produce well. To read her column, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why I Grow "Exotics"

People often ask me why instead of sticking with the tried-and-true "American" vegetables, I fill up space in the demo garden and my own garden with plants like molokheya, mouse melons and misome (and no, it's not because they begin with M).  You know, those exotic vegetables.  The ones you're not sure you're going to like, the ones grandma and grandpa didn't grow or that you've never heard of - the ones I probably never heard of until the seed catalogs arrived!


Armenian cucumber at Monticello
I have a few reasons.  First, while these vegetables may be unfamiliar to those of us whose forebears came to North America a long time ago, some are standard fare for our fellow Americans whose families have more recently arrived from all over the globe.  Maryland has a wonderful multicultural society and I feel that part of the mission in my county's Master Gardener demonstration garden is to demonstrate what's available in that society.  This may mean stepping a little out of my comfort zone or my personal heritage - and that's fun and educational.  I also appreciate advice from those to whom these plants are more familiar!  But the more I grow new plants, the more I find that while incorporating them into my cuisine requires flexibility, there's nothing especially "exotic" about growing them.  It's the same routine of finding out when to plant, how to protect from insects and disease, when to harvest, and so forth.


West India Gherkin at Monticello
Secondly, just about all the plants we grow in vegetable gardens are exotic.  Very few of our edibles (especially when you discount fruit and nuts) are native to North America, never mind Maryland.  The rest, including our most standard vegetable fare like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, were all brought here from somewhere else, often by complicated routes that took seeds and plants through several continents and produced new varieties along the way.  (I'll be writing a lot more about this in the next year, since the 2011 demo veggie garden will be arranged geographically.)  Every new wave of immigrants has brought immigrant plants along; there's no reason to declare a moratorium on additions to our dinner plates or our gardens.  And many of the vegetables eaten by the early North American colonists (or their descendants for centuries afterwards) are no longer part of our regular diet, because they have become less popular with time, or because they don't ship well and so are not sold in supermarkets.  When's the last time you had salsify or Good King Henry?

Another reason for trying new plants has to do with the principal purpose of our demonstration garden, all of it and not just the vegetable part: to show what plants grow well in Maryland, specifically in Montgomery County, and to teach visitors something about how to grow them and why.  You can visit our garden to learn why native plants work well in your landscape, why it's important to attract pollinators, and which vegetables will be most likely to survive stresses and make it to your kitchen.  Some of the "exotics" are prime examples of what does well here, including a lot of tropical perennials that prosper as annuals in our nearly tropical summers.  Malabar spinach is one of these.


As our climate changes, with warmer temperatures and more extreme weather events such as droughts and heavy rains, we're going to need to be flexible about what we grow in our gardens (and I think more of us are going to be depending in part on growing our own food).  The plants and varieties that have been tried-and-true, the ones our grandparents grew, may continue to be reliable or they may fail to produce as well as they once did.  In the demo garden and at home, I'm going to continue to experiment and stretch boundaries, to find out which new hybrids, which old heirlooms, which vegetables from the other side of the globe do the best and produce the most reliable, nutritious and delicious food.  I'll make mistakes (okay, pepino melons just do not grow to maturity here, though I'll try again in ten years or so) but with the help of lots of other people I'll make some discoveries and pass them on.

There are other reasons to grow certain food plants.  I am all for the idea of making food gardens pretty so we can enjoy them and might be allowed to put them in our front yards, and the larger a palette that we have to design from the better.  Some vegetables appeal more to children and may help them toward healthier diets.  Sometimes you don't want a multicultural garden; you want a garden that expresses pride in one heritage or culture:  depth rather than breadth.  And of course small gardens force some choices, and make growers want to stick to what they know will work.  But unless you have a specific reason to limit what you grow - why not try something you haven't grown before?  It might turn into your new tried-and-true!

Butternut Squash and Portobello Mushroom Pasta

Well, since Erica did it, I can too. I just don't even think about taking a picture of what I'm cooking until after it's eaten. This one got rave reviews so I thought I'd share.

Butternut Squash and Portobello Mushroom Pasta

1 medium butternut squash (or any other flavorful squash)
1 medium sweet onion, sliced
2-3 sprigs of fresh sage leaves (about 12)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
sea salt
pepper
fresh ground nutmeg or about 1/8 teaspoon
1/2 - 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 25 oz pkg frozen portobello mushroom ravioli
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Pierce squash a few times and microwave on high for 4-5 minutes or until it can easily be peeled, but the flesh is still firm. Cut off and compost the skin, seeds and stringy stuff. Cut the flesh into about 1 inch sized chunks.

Heat olive oil on medium - medium high heat in a heavy skillet and add sage leaves. Quickly fry them. Remove to paper towel to drain. They should be somewhat crispy when cooled.

Turn down heat to medium low and saute onions until soft but not browned.

Heat water in saucepan for the pasta.

Add chunks of the squash and saute with the onion. Add butter or more olive oil if it begins to stick to the pan.

Salt and pepper to taste and add nutmeg.

Add chicken or vegetable broth and heat through. Add more broth if you want more or thinner sauce for the pasta.

Add ravioli, a few at a time, to boiling water. They only need to cook for 2-3 minutes or until they float to the top.

Add cream to squash mixture and heat through but don't boil.

As pasta floats to the top, drain with slotted spoon and transfer to the skillet with the squash mixture.

Combine all of the pasta with the squash, remove from heat. Add the reserved sage leaves, stir.

Pass freshly grated parmesan cheese to each serving.

5-6 servings.

Serve with a fresh salad and call it dinner!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Season to taste

Most of my cooking is the sort where I throw together stuff that has to be used up, trying to keep healthy, palatable and fast.  Sometimes it works!  Tonight's dinner did, and since it's seasonable I thought I'd share.  The recipe (which shows its improvisatory quality; forgive the vagueness) balances sweet, bitter and savory - maybe heavy on the sweet, but that's where my taste buds go in the fall.  Vary to your own taste; add or subtract ingredients.  Bad blogger: no pictures.

Serves 4-5; about 40 minutes.

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion
1 medium (or 2 very small) sweet potato
2-3 carrots
1 1/2 cups brussels sprouts
about 1/3 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 slices bacon
1 large peach
handful of pecans
honey
maple syrup
soy sauce
black pepper
cinnamon
ground coriander

Slice the onion and saute in olive oil, medium heat.  Stir occasionally while peeling and thinly slicing the sweet potato and carrots.  Add these to the pan and keep stirring occasionally (you want them to caramelize but not burn).  Cut the bottoms off the brussels sprouts, remove any outside leaves you don't like the look of, and slice thinly.  Add to the pan and stir for a bit.  Put in broth, cover pan, turn down heat to low.

Fry bacon in a separate pan.  While bacon is cooking, add to vegetable mixture a nice drizzle of honey (I used buckwheat honey, dark and strong), a dash or two of maple syrup, and a bit of soy sauce, plus a few grinds of black pepper and a dash or three of cinnamon and coriander.  Peel and pit the peach; cut into chunks and add to the veggies.

When bacon is done, take out of pan and chop into small pieces.  Add a drizzle of honey to the pan of bacon drippings, and toss in the pecans.  Stir pecans until well coated, and continue to stir until toasted.  Don't let them burn; turn off the heat if necessary.  Add pecans and bacon to vegetables.  Serve over brown rice, roasted potatoes, or Jerusalem artichokes roasted or steamed (which is totally what I should have done considering I still have lots left, but I used rice).

The peach is optional (I had one going bad) but a nice addition.  Try an apple instead (cook it longer).  For vegetarian recipe, use fake bacon or omit it altogether, with a little butter or oil for the pecans.  Just about everything is optional, in fact:  try different combinations of sweet and bitter vegetables, and sweet/spicy seasonings you prefer.  Improvisation can be fun, and before you know it, it's time for dinner.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Saving money on a balcony

Here's another link for you to check out:  Vertical Veg and its account of British gardener Mark's attempt to grow as much food this year on his 6x9' balcony (and windowboxes) as could be grown in a typical 150-square yard London allotment (which we would call a community garden plot).  So far he's well over £600's worth.  The site includes a diary, growing advice, interviews with other small-space gardeners, and resources.

For more advice on gardening in constrained spaces, visit Life on the Balcony.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Eggplant and chard in today's Post

The front page of the Food Section of today’s (October 13) Washington Post contains a banner headline, “Vegetables with issues” with two veggie articles—one about eggplant and one about chard.

The longer article is “The common eggplants are the most problematic,” by Bonnie S. Benwick, who writes about the many varieties now available and about such issues as bitterness and alkaloid content. You can link to three eggplant recipes at the end of the article: (1) roasted eggplant soup with goat cheese, (2) marinated eggplant with oregano, and (3) quick eggplant soup. To read the eggplant article, CLICK HERE.

The shorter article is “If only Swiss chard could assert itself,” by Vered Guttman, a Chevy Chase caterer. Her focus is on cooking the leafy veggie. You can link to two chard recipes at the end of the article: (1) bulgar and beef-stuffed Swiss chard rolls and (2) Swiss chard and fava bean dip. To read the chard article, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Underground Food

No, not a countercultural movement about what we eat (though maybe that's what we're all doing here, huh?).  Food that's grown underground.  Tubers, rhizomes, corms, bulbs, taproots, and so forth.

There are too many underground vegetables to discuss all in one post, so I'll just mention a few I've harvested in the last week.  Today was Sunchoke Sunday.  Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), are North American natives in the sunflower family (as you can see in the photo).  The edible part is the tuberous root.  They don't have anything to do with Jerusalem; that common name is probably a corruption of the Italian girasole for sunflower.

This spring we dug up a bunch of tubers from our ever-expanding sunchoke patch at the demo garden, and I planted 4 or 5 of them in a corner of a raised bed at home, fully intending to move them elsewhere when I'd cleared a space.  Guess what?  They grew up in that corner, got tall and bloomed, and today I gathered them out of the earth - all of them (so I claim, but that never happens) because I mean to start over again next year somewhere else.  Here's today's harvest:

 
I didn't count them; all I can say is they took me over an  hour to clean.  Here's one typical tuber (three inches long):

Sunchokes can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of ways (I am steaming some for dinner right now).  They are not artichokes any more than they're from Jerusalem, but the taste is a bit similar; I think of them more as starchy and earthy.

The plants are almost too easy to grow, and will get weedy if you let them.

Another crop we've been enjoying this week (after the marathon dig at the Harvest Festival) is sweet potatoes.  I've written on them before and you can look up posts using the label "sweet potatoes."  A nice seasonal recipe for Curried Sweet Potatoes and Apples can be found at the Washington Post site.

I also harvested my peanut crop, such as it was.  Not very exciting for two pots' worth, but at least I proved I could grow peanuts in a pot.  I'd say if you care more about experimenting and growing a fascinating plant than getting a big harvest, try it!  Peanuts do grow underground, but they are nuts and not roots.  The flowers, which grow low on the stems, turn into "pegs" that burrow under the soil and grow the nuts.  Here's a photo of my plants in August that shows how the pegs branch from the stems:

Underground crops are particularly fascinating to kids, though I think everyone enjoys the surprise of seeing a potato or a beet or a carrot emerge from the soil - it's kind of magical.  With fruit or leaf crops we get to watch what's happening, wait for the tomato to turn red or the lettuce to head up.  Underground crops are a mystery until it's time to pull or dig them.  And usually the surprise is a good one (though these crops do have their pests and diseases too).  What are your favorite underground crops and how are you using them?

Cabbage Worm Armageddon!!!

I wish I'd gone back and read Bob Nixon's Aug 7 post about covering broccoli transplants with tulle, because the cabbage moths sure did visit my broccoli patch this year (see right). Still, I have developed a somewhat effective tactic for dealing with cabbage worms once they emerge onto the scene. It's a new game I like to call 'Cabbage Worm Armageddon'.

Since I only have a few plants, I favor mechanical control methods; namely, hand-picking them off the stems each morning. If you only have a few plants this doesn't tend to take too long, though cabbage worms are a little challenging to spot:
Isn't it convenient for them that they're exactly 'broccoli-colored'? Still, not to be outdone, I pull the little buggers off and compile them in my driveway:





And a close up:















So once I get them all rounded up, here's where the game comes in:

CABBAGE WORM ARMAGEDDON!!!!!

Due to the graphic nature of subsequent activities, visuals of what happens next not included...

I'd like to say that 'no cabbage worms were harmed in the making of this blog post', but, well, I guess that's not really true. Still, I'm happy to report that while my broccoli plants have sustained some worm damage, they're just starting to form heads and so there's hope for a fall harvest yet!!!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Demo garden interactive map!

New feature on the Montgomery County Master Gardeners website:  an interactive map of the Derwood demo garden, created by MG Barbara Dunn with the help of the garden leaders for IDing plants.  Click on a section for details; mouse over for plant names and click on them to go to an outside webpage for description.  Plant lists are also available.

For the vegetable garden, we decided all we could do this year was represent a snapshot of one time, which is late July.  Next year everything will change, which is the nature of that garden (crop rotation, seasonal plantings, me always needing to be different).  Some of the other sections are more stable and perennial!

More soon - we had a wonderful day at the Harvest Festival last Saturday, with many hundreds of visitors carrying their tussie-mussies and painted pots, watching as we dug up huge bunches of sweet potatoes, venturing into the tunnel of mouse melons, enjoying conveniently participating caterpillars and praying mantises, finding Peter Rabbit in Mr. McGregor's Garden, and so forth.  I forgot my camera so will have to wait on someone else's photos.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do stink bugs stink?


Does the name “stink bug” have it all wrong?

I’ve wondered about that recently. It all started when I was “soaping” brown marmorated stink bugs in a tall plastic jar containing a couple of inches of water and a squirt of dishwashing liquid, a.k.a. soap. As the stink bugs dropped or flew into the suds, a fragrance wafted up.

I the eternal optimist joyfully assumed the fragrance was that of the soap, which is described on the label of the container as “citrus burst,” not, I hasten to point out, “burst citrus,” which might indicate a less than wholesome smell.

And today I was merrily “soaping” stink bugs again—say 20 on the inside of our front storm door and 125 on the outside. From time to time a target would miss the mouth of the jar and fall or fly to the concrete porch and decide to scamper to safety. I had other ideas and decided to “take out” a few speedy NASCAR types with the sole of my garden shoes.

That’s when I suddenly realized that the odor of “stink bugs”—often described as like that of “dirty socks”—was, well, the fragrance I had been smelling while “soaping” the critters. To confirm my finding, I knelt and sniffed, my nose within a millimeter of a squished corpse.

Yes, the odor really was the fragrance I had experienced. “Stink bugs” really are “citrus burst bugs,” at least according to my smeller.

Bob has finally flipped, you may be thinking. Have I? There’s only one way to tell for sure—do a smell test on a brown marmorated stink bug.

I hasten to assist this citizen-scientist experiment by suggesting a procedure: Rip one square from the nearest roll of toilet paper and take the square and a sandwich-size baggie on a hunt for a brown marmorated stink bug. When you find a bug, gently catch it with the square of paper. Quickly and carefully fold the paper around the bug and insert the gift package into the baggie. From the outside of the baggie, squish the stink bug with your fingers until you feel a terminal crunch or see a terminal ooze.

Yuck! Eewwww! Disgusting! Yes, I know, but, really, get hold of yourself and do it. This is science at its most basic. Besides, the paper and the baggie will protect you from the mess inside.

Once you know the bug is Code Blue and no nurses or physicians are running to assist, carefully open the baggie and take a whiff—or two.

Ok, what do you think?

Is what you smell closer to the odor of “dirty socks”? Or closer to the fragrance of “citrus burst”?

Or do you have another descriptive word or phrase—one that you feel comfortable posting on the Grow It Eat It blog?

Squish away. Sniff away. And do post your Comment, please.

Maybe our research findings will be the basis of a whole new movement: Friends of the Brown Marmorated Citrus Burst Bug—or perhaps an even more “fragrant” name that you suggest.