For Master Gardeners, Every Day is Earth Day!

It’s been quite wet and chilly this week, and we know this won’t last long! Hope everyone got outside this weekend.

Charlene Toloso is putting together a Plant of the Month Recipe Book which will feature a vegetable/fruit from the Cook’s Gardens.  This month is the potato, Solanum tuberosum, first cultivated by the Inca Indians somewhere between 8,000 and 5,000 BC. The potato first arrived in Europe by the Conquistadors returning from Peru and the crop spread quickly because it was easily cultivated and did well in the European climate.  Today, there are 5,000  varieties grown worldwide and it is the fourth largest food crop grown behind rice, wheat and maize. The failure of potato crops in Ireland in the 1840’s from Phytophthoora infestans, or Late Blight of Potatoes, resulted in the immigration of 1.5 million citizens to North America.

According to the book, “Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast” by Ira Wallace, gardeners in the Southeastern US can grow 2 crops of potatoes per year. In early spring they can be started outdoors up to two weeks before the last frost (March 15-April 20). In the fall, early varieties can be planted at least 90 days before the average first frost. It is recommended to “chit” the seed potatoes before planting by spreading them out in a single layer in a cool and well lit room. The potatoes will turn green and the eyes will sprout.

Plant seed potatoes using pieces the size of an egg with at least one eye, in furrows, cut side down. Spacing should be 10-12″ x 24-36″ in well-drained soil. Pull a ridge of soil over the top, and continue to mound as the plants get bigger.  It is important to make sure all growing potatoes are always covered to keep them from turning green and toxic.

(VCE Publication 426-413, Potatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant)

At the Teaching Garden, Amye, Jean, Harriet and Thomas are growing this spring’s potatoes using sustainable techniques. These include growing cereal rye over the winter as a “green manure”, turning it in 2 weeks before planting, and later,  heavy mulching with straw to provide good habitat for toads and spiders, natural predators of  Potato Beetle larvae. The larvae emerge from from the soil in the spring. Instead of spraying insecticides when adult larvae begin to feed, Master Gardeners at the Teaching Garden pick off the adults and drown them in the “bad bud swimming pool”. Home gardeners will probably have to do this daily! (These are Japaneses Beetles, and this is a simple mixture of water and dish detergent)


Charlene is looking for recipes for the Recipe Book, so if you have any favorites, please email her. She has also made wire baskets to discourage deer from eating the succulents in the Drought Resistant Bed.


Other pictures from the week of April 17.  The beds are looking great and they are almost ready for the tour!



Making Time.

Spring is here and every morning we can all hear the birds chirping and hustling to get their breakfast, build their houses, and find their mates. Without a doubt,  we can all relate — if we take a minute to watch them scurry around in their fury to get everything done.

Taking time to smell the roses doesn’t even seem possible, yet all of us gardeners are doing just that.  TG7

I was thinking about this the other day, on the way home from the garden,  feeling a little less rushed than i had all week. There is something about spending time with people who care about the things that they do that slows down the clock a bit for me. I love the teaching garden for creating a community where we can all come together to build something larger than ‘our yard’.

It can sometimes be hard to justify spending mornings for afternoons just getting your hands dirty in the garden weeding and planting; as time is really our only limited resource. Undoubtedly though, our rewards go deeper than a weeded bed or a fresh layer of mulch, some days its a needed conversation, a calming task , or a new friend  and a little bit of that deep rooted satisfaction (but the flowers are great too).

Working Hard to Get Ready for the Plant Sale and Wildflower Tour!

The plant sale and Wildflower Tour are coming up soon and there is still lots of work to do! Please consider coming out to help get ready for both of these events. Leslie is also looking for volunteers for the Wildflower Tour. If you can help please email her. Also, your emergency contact info is needed if you work in the Garden, in case of emergency. Please email with this info.

There are a nesting pair of adult purple martins already at the hotel. They were not overly happy when Leslie and the guys started working on moving it to the correct height.IMG_3401

Interesting stuff going on in the Cook’s Gardens. The ladies are planting whole seed Yukon Gold potatoes in 12″ deep trenches, saving the soil to mound later. After they have sprouted and have been mounded, they will add straw to attract spiders and toads. The predators are fond of Colorado Beetle larvae that will be emerging from overwintering this month from nearby woods, hedgerows, or fields where potatoes were grown last year. Egg laying begins in early May on the undersides of leaves, but will probably be earlier this year.


Potato Beetle Lifecycle

This is Eileen Murphy’s first year as leader in the Fairy Garden. The house is freshly painted. She wants to put in more little, spreading plants as she goes along.



The Children’s Garden is undergoing some renovations. The bridge and stream are gone and this is what it’s starting to look like:


Leader Jean Bennett and Co-leader Marie Scanlon of the Four Seasons Bed are working towards having color all 4 seasons, with some revisions.

The Lavender bed is having a little trouble, just like everywhere else, and Linda plans on improving the drainage possibly with small rocks underneath.


Harriet’s Woodland garden is looking beautiful! Lots of poppies, ginger,

Some other lovelies out Tuesday and Thursday!


Thanks for some the pictures Harriet Carter!



April Showers Bring May Flowers…And Weeds!

Welcome back to a new season at the Teaching Garden. Tatiana and Robin are the new Intern bloggers this year, and it may take us a while to get to know everyone’s name. You’ll be seeing Robin on Tuesday’s and Tatiana on Thursdays. A few announcements from Leslie:


She is seeking Co-leaders for each of the beds. These volunteers will be working with the leaders so each will be familiar with the details of each bed when both can not be there.

Leslie would also like us to remind you  the TG is on the Prince William Wildflower Tour this year. The date for the tour is April 30, from 12-5pm. Much work is needed to get the beds ready, so come on down and help!

The Native Plant sale is May 6, and we also need help getting ready for this event. If you have plants you are donating to the sale, put them in the area near the shed, labelled-there are popsicle sticks/sharpie in the shed. Plants other than natives accepted, but no invasives, please!


Also, don’t forget about Compost Awareness Day on 4/29 at the  Balls Ford Compost Facility.  Joe Ray will be leading this event, and as you know, he loves composting!


Mother Nature has been very kind to our weeds this year. Just the right amount of warmth and moisture gave the garden a bumper crop of Bittercress, Henbit and Chickweed. This means there is plenty more to dig up, so come on down!

Many of the spring wildflowers are up.

IMG_3297    Volunteer Bluebells in the raised bed.


Spring Beauties in the Native bed are always a favorite!

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In the Cook’s Garden, Harriet, Amy and Jean are planning on planting Yukon Gold potatoes, shallots and onions this year. They are also going to try 2 rhubarb plants and are hoping the deer do not like them. They have recently turned over cereal rye which was used as a winter cover crop.


In Raised Bed #1, Janelle is planting Romaine lettuce. Cereal rye and daikon radish were also used as cover crops in this bed and were turned over 3 weeks ago.


We believe we saw an adult female Purple Martin go into the hotel while we were working on Tuesday!

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Praying mantis egg cases on Coppertina ninebark.