Bountiful Harvest

While the flowers in the Teaching Garden are feeling the heat and lack of rain, the Cooks’ Garden is producing a bountiful harvest.

wpid-wp-1438097148485.jpg   wpid-wp-1438096763634.jpg
Picked from the garden were Kennebec and Russet potatoes, green beans, cucumbers, shallots, and patty pan squash.  Seeds of Crimson Clover will be spread over the space where the potatoes grew to add nutrients back into the soil and keep weeds at bay.

wpid-wp-1438097045185.jpg   wpid-wp-1438096602814.jpg   wpid-wp-1438097009278.jpg   wpid-wp-1438097086175.jpg   wpid-wp-1438096924434.jpg

Still growing in the garden are:  Yellow squash, Swiss Chard (Rainbow Mix), Tomatillo & Roma tomatoes and spaghetti squash.

Master Gardener Volunteer, Jean, had cut back the spent green bean stalks, leaving their roots still in the soil.  She used “the claw” tool which goes into the soil no more than 4 inches to smooth out the soil.  The roots of the former green bean plant are left in place to help feed the soil.  More green beans will be planted in the same space which will be ready for September picking.

wpid-wp-1438096420987.jpg    wpid-wp-1438096737344.jpg

“The Claw” tool and a fat, happy worm.

wpid-wp-1438097205002.jpg   wpid-wp-1438097345883.jpg  Marigolds are grown in the garden because they help keep bad nematodes from the soil.  If crops are infected with nematodes, crop yield and quality are reduced. Studies have found marigolds can be highly toxic to plant-parasitic nematodes and have the ability to suppress many nematode pests.  Marigolds are good for the soil and are a colorful, cheery sight in the garden.

The pumpkins are growing to an outrageous size.  Amazing!

wpid-wp-1438095689638.jpg   wpid-wp-1438095667189.jpg




Happy Plants – Happy Insects

Everyone is happy to see plants in flower and having insects visit the blossoms is a joy!

wpid-wp-1437493848716.jpg   IMG_5994

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly and Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly on Echinacea (Purple Coneflower).

It is fun to run around the garden trying to capture photos of butterflies. A great way to feel like a kid again!  Many thanks to Harriet, Volunteer Master Gardener, who was able to snap the picture of the Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly.

wpid-wp-1437491073137.jpg   wpid-wp-1437490961870.jpg   wpid-wp-1437493924764.jpg

Getting pictures of caterpillars is easier!  Swallowtail caterpillar is on the top left on Zizia aurea Golden Alexander plant and Monarch caterpillar on the right on his favorite food, Milkweed plant.  Tricky to spot is the Mantid more commonly called Praying Mantis.  Here he looks like a brown flower stem (with legs.)


Another quick insect is the Sphingidae, Hummingbird moth (the orange/brown blur) enjoying Monarda “Bee Balm.”

wpid-wp-1437492660358.jpg  wpid-wp-1437492281270.jpg

Eye-catching plants Formosa Lily, stalk is over 5 feet tall and Clethra Sweet Pepperbush.

wpid-wp-1437564498597.jpg   Believe it or not, Pycnanthemum virginianum Mountain Mint, a native perennial is a bug magnet.  It is amazing how many insects are drawn to it when there is no colorful flower.  It has soft, velvet-like leaves that feel great to the touch.

Of course, with the good comes some bad – –

wpid-wp-1437491140128.jpg   wpid-wp-1437492960296.jpg

The Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar is eating away the leaves of the Common Milkweed, the only food source for the Monarch Butterfly.  You can see the damage to the plant and him hanging upside down on the leaf.  The Cooks’ Garden volunteers are battling squash bugs and cucumber beetles.  Remember to send these bugs to the Bad Bug Swimming Pool.

Sad to report, some Echinacea, Purple Coneflowers, have a disease called Aster Yellows, a viral-like disease caused primarily by leafhopper insects.  wpid-wp-1437494005787.jpgThis can affect not only coneflowers but other plants such as asters, zinnias, marigolds, and petunias to name a few.  Since it is hard to control insects, these infected plants will be removed.


The name of this plant is Platycodon Balloon Flower but it doesn’t really look like a balloon when it is in bloom.  Looking closer, it got its name from the unopened buds.  Kids like this plant because they can squeeze the buds and make them pop.  Adults just enjoy their beauty!

Mailbox Garden

Heidi Johnson, Master Gardener Volunteer, manages the Mailbox Garden at The Teaching Garden.  Instead of saying “You’ve got mail” we should say “You’ve got flowers!”  What mail carrier wouldn’t like to see such a lovely garden when delivering mail?

wpid-wp-1433865974671.jpg   Clematis growing around the mailbox.


wpid-wp-1436628496965.jpg   wpid-wp-1436628600927.jpg

Easy to grow lilies.

wpid-wp-1436628755826.jpg   wpid-wp-1436628795909.jpg

Dahlias.  These are tender tubers that can grow nearly six feet tall.  The cut flowers can last from 5-7 days and as you can see are very showy.  They require some work as they generally cannot make it through our winters, so the tubers need to be dug up in the fall after first frost and stored properly and replanted in the spring.

wpid-wp-1436628911090.jpg Rudbeckia with Tiger Lilies.

The Rudbeckia species, include the common names of Black-eyed Susan, Brown-eyed Susan, Green-headed Coneflower and Orange Coneflower, pictured in front were nibbled by deer.   Rudbeckia are generally deer resistant once their leaves become coarse and hairy, but tender young growth may get nibbled as they did here.  Their seedheads are a favorite food source for goldfinches and chickadees.

wpid-wp-1436628829576.jpg  Large marigolds that Heidi grows from seed.

The Cooks’ Garden thought the squash plants were experiencing blossom end rot.  It turns out the rotting squash is due to poor pollination, which is a surprise since there are so many beneficials happily darting among the plants.  We need our pollinators!

wpid-wp-1436627451351.jpg  Leslie picking blueberries protected from deer behind netting.

There is always something magical happening at The Fairy Garden.  A peak revealed a flower swimming pool.  If only it was large enough to take a dip!


“Saturday in the Garden” July 11, 2015

The weather appeared questionable for July’s “Saturday in the Garden” with rain all night but as Nancy Berlin, staff at Prince William County’s Virginia Cooperative Extension stated, it was the best July weather in her memory.  The rain brought less temperature and humidity.  As a result, there were a good number of people for the morning’s program.  Awards were given out by Nancy to those Master Gardeners who have finished their internship and to those who completed milestone hours of volunteer service.  If you’re interested in becoming a Master Gardener, informational classes will be the first week of August. Read more about the program here.

wpid-wp-1436628017245.jpg  In the Zen Garden, Lynne Lanier proudly sits, who just completed her Master Gardener Internship.

Joe Ray, Master Gardener Volunteer, specializing with compost, spoke about backyard composting.  The Teaching Garden does hot composing.  This is the quickest method for making compost.  With hot composting, the pile’s temperature is kept optimally at 122-140°F.  At this temperature your compost can be completed in 2-3 months.  If you use cold composting,  it can take up to six months to two years to complete.

wpid-wp-1436621758014.jpg   wpid-wp-1436621736184.jpg
Joe Ray with Nancy Berlin showing a hot compost pile.


The Teaching Garden uses no fertilizers; only compost is added to improve the soil.  You can compost many items available in your yards such as grass clippings (if not treated with herbicides or other pesticides.  Grass clippings from a golf course is a no-no), leaves, yard trimmings, flowers and house plants, hay and straw can be used.  From your house you can use fruit, vegetable scraps, egg shells (but not yolks), & coffee grounds.  Some animal manures can be used such as chicken, cow, horse, etc. but not dog or cat manure.  With any manure, hay or straw that you use, be sure to ask about any herbicides they may have used on their pastures or fields since some farmers use certain herbicides to kill weeds and these may pass through their animals and not be completely degraded when you apply them to your garden.  These manures could harm or kill many of your plants even year after you put them in your compost and spread onto your garden.   Other materials that should not be used are meat, grease, bones, cheese, sour cream, butter, salad dressing, peanut butter, diseased or insect-ridden plants and reproductive parts of troublesome weeds/invasive plants, weed seed heads, rhizomes, etc.  Some of the above can attract rodents as will bone or blood meal.  You NEVER want to compost coal or charcoal ash, black walnut leaves, twigs or pressure or other treated wood, shavings or sawdust from these items.  Wood ash form fireplaces are okay but only use a small amount.  If you have odors coming from your compost pile, it probably has too much green materials and is rotting – add leaves and turn it.  Keep your pile above the soil by using pallets (make sure they are not treated wood) and cover which will aid in decomposing.  Worms or insects should not be in the pile if it is heating up properly.  Generally the inside of the pile will decompose more quickly than the outside of the pile.  Repeatedly the compost team will move the inside material to the outside.  Also you will occasionally need to water the pile.

The Backyard Composting handout provided is also available online from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.  The compost bin recommended is available from Prince William County for $25.  Check out the other LINKS at the top of the page for more sites on composting.

Paul Gibson, Master Gardener Volunteer, spoke about the Cooks’ Garden which practices sustainable, organic gardening.

wpid-wp-1436627032733.jpgPaul said “If you feed the soil, the soil will take care of the plants.”  Compost and cover crop are the two sources that amend and improve the soil.  Never step in your garden.  If you do so, you will lose 50% of space as you compact the soil with your weight losing the space necessary for air and water to provide nutrients to your plants.  Every plant has a window of time when it is optimal to plant.  People should refer to the Planting Schedule for our area.   Now is the time to start planting for a fall crop.  You should try not to leave any section of your garden empty.  If a vegetable is done, plant a cover crop.  If you leave it empty, you’ll most likely have weeds so do a cover crop and put nutrients back into your soil.  Row covers are recommended as they let moisture and light in but gives your crop bug protection.  Be sure to leave the covers on until the plants need to be germinated.  Don’t forget about crop rotation.  Paul said most of the garlic we buy in the store comes from China.  We can get better varieties and tastes by planting them ourselves.  One clove planted will yield one head of garlic.  We’ve had 50% more rainfall than normal so there is abundant fungal disease and great foliage growth.    Tomatoes are showing early blight due to the excess rain so do remove the infected leaves and throw them out in the trash – do not compost the diseased leaves.  Remember to leave the Tomato Hornworms on your plants if they have tiny white eggs sticking on them. These would be the eggs of the Brachonid wasps and these wasps are beneficial to the garden.  The infected hornworm is now a host for the eggs so leave them alone so the wasps can emerge.  Good flowers for the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects would be marigold, nasturtiums, anise hyssop, buckwheat as cover crop in the summer (it takes 30 days from seed to flower), cilantro, and carrots (they will go to seed in their second year and send up flowers similar to Queen Anne’s Lace.)   wpid-wp-1436627520869.jpg  Pictured is Cleome also known as Spider Flower Cleome hasslerana

Grow the annual flower, cleome outside your garden to attract Harlequin bugs –Murgantia histrionica  so they keep off your Cole crops (a.k.a. crucifers or brassicas) such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, collards, horseradish, arugula.  Other crops that may be affected by this bug are: asparagus, bean, cantaloupe, onion, pea, potato, squash, and tomato, as well as fruits such as grape, peach, pear, and raspberry.  Row covers will also discourage this bug from your plants.   Newspapers were set underneath the pumpkins to protect them from the abundant moisture we’ve been having which may cause rot and bugs nibbling on the fruit from the soil.


So much information was given out it is impossible to repeat here.  Next “Saturday in the Garden” will be August 8.  Come and learn from these knowledgeable people.

Tomorrow “Saturday in the Garden” reminder

Saturday in the Garden –  July 11

Taught by VCE – Prince William Master Gardener Volunteers
Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, 20136.
All programs are free and run from 9:00 am – Noon.
Registration is requested so enough handouts can be provided.
Call 703-792-7747 or email

  • Composting – Learn how to make “black gold” by turning  grass, leaves and clippings into dark brown, crumbly, sweet-smelling soil conditioner.  Compost also holds moisture and nutrients for the garden so flowers and vegetables are more beautiful and abundant. Join Joe and the Master Gardener Compost team for the full story on compost.

  • Starting Fall Vegetable Garden – Now is the time to plan to have fall salad greens and sweet root crops growing for weeks beyond the first frost. Get tips from Cooks’ Garden Master Gardener Volunteers to help you extend your vegetable season long beyond the heat of summer.

Plants are Enjoying the Rain and Heat!

The weather is not what humans like but the plants sure do.  They are thriving in The Teaching Garden.  Here are some showy flowers along with appreciative insects.

wpid-wp-1436283101683.jpg   wpid-wp-1436282695784.jpg

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly on the Butterfly Bush, Buckeye butterfly on Liatris spicata ‘gay feather’

wpid-wp-1436283520457.jpg   wpid-wp-1436283548667.jpg

and on Echinacea purpurea, white Coneflowers – on right – Nymphalidae butterfly, possibly a “Painted Lady.”

wpid-wp-1436284056008.jpg      wpid-wp-1436283814068.jpg
Items harvested from the Cooks’ Garden included a huge zucchini that was hiding beneath the leaves and overlooked.  The plants in pots are under the protection of the fenced garden and will be sold at the upcoming County Fair.  The Master Gardeners Volunteers will be manning a booth at the Prince William County (PWC) Fair, August 14-22 2015.  Their booth will be in the Agriculture Barn. Be sure to stop by and say hello.

Other items growing in the garden are

wpid-wp-1436282527037.jpg   wpid-wp-1436283862093.jpg   wpid-wp-1436284157799.jpg

Pumpkin, Spaghetti Squash and Anise Hyssop.  Master Gardener Volunteer, Jean, picks the smaller leaves of the Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and puts them in her salad for a tasty treat, flavor of anise or fennel.  The purple plant attracts many  pollinators.  Unfortunately the camera could not capture all the honeybees darting to each flower.

Here is an eye-catching plant – Rudbeckia maxima.  This plant stands over six feet tall.  Humans and small birds love these giant coneflowers in the garden!

wpid-wp-1436282420733.jpg   wpid-wp-1436282385058.jpg




Free to Roam

The Teaching Garden’s tribute to Red, White and Blue!

wpid-wp-1433260629352.jpg wpid-wp-1432050509410.jpg  wpid-wp-1430840541921.jpg

As we all enjoy our nation’s celebration of our freedom this July 4th holiday weekend, let’s reflect and think what the Teaching Garden is about and try to emulate it.  You can create a native plant habitat in your own gardens and yards that will attract beneficial insects and wildlife.  If enough people/neighbors had these types of habitats, our wildlife, insects, etc. would be able to travel a larger area visiting environmentally friendly landscapes.  The Virginia Cooperative Extension has a program “Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary.”  It is a certification program that you can participate in qualifying your property has a habitat that will attract and shelter beneficial wildlife plus you get the fancy title of an Audubon at Home Ambassador.  You need only need to have 10 different Sanctuary Species visit your property to qualify.

Sanctuary Species would be:

  • Amphibians (frogs and salamanders)
  • Birds (American Goldfinch, Baltimore Oriole, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Cooper’s Hawk, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Towhee, Green Heron, Gray Catbird, Pileated Woodpecker, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Tree Swallow, Warblers)
  • Butterflies (Fritillaries, Monarchs, and Swallowtails)
  • Insects (dragonflies, damselflies, Giant Silk Moths, Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, lady beetles (aka lady bugs), native bees, Six-spotted Tiger Beetles)
  • Mammals (Little Brown Bat, Southern Flying Squirrel)
  • Reptiles (Eastern Box Turtle, Five-lined Skink, snakes)

Unsure what the above species look like or what would invite them to your yard?  The Audubon Society of Northern  Virginia has links to each Sanctuary Species with helpful advice what would attract them and their needs for food, breeding and shelter.

Their hope is to motivate Northern Virginia property owners to practice environmentally-responsible landscaping, including the five Audubon at Home principals:

  • Protect and conserve water,
  • Use native plants and remove invasive exotics,
  • Create space for native wildlife,
  • Reduce use of pesticides and fertilizers,
  • Preserve public and private natural areas.

You don’t need acres of land to attract these species, even apartment dwellings have qualified.  Create the habitat and they will come.  Give them the freedom to enjoy nature as much as we enjoy them.  Want to join or know more, contact a volunteer coordinator for your county or the Prince William County Horticulture Help Desk at (703) 792-7747 or email both groups would be happy to advise you.

Happy July 4th!