What’s New in the Cooks’ Gardens?

Cook’s Beds Update July 3, 2018

The Teaching Garden has a variety of different themed beds, and one of the most popular are the “Cook’s Gardens”.  Tended by a number of dedicated Master Gardeners who also teach free classes on sustainable vegetable gardening throughout the year, these beds utilize the latest in research from Virginia Tech, Virginia State and other Land Grant universities. Intended to be an educational showcase for the latest in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, crop rotation, and design for small space and urban horticulture, the Cooks’ beds also serve as an outdoor laboratory to try out new cultivars and support native pollinators. The harvest from the gardens is donated to the Benedictine Sisters Monastery kitchen.

Each week throughout the season, Thomas, Amye, Jean, Ellen, Pam, Harriet, Jannell, Charlene, and Stephanie come out to the Teaching Garden on workdays to carefully record information, water, weed, plant, and remove pests by hand. Saturdays in the Garden and the Sustainable Vegetable Gardening series are an excellent free way to learn from the Cooks’ gardeners.  A class on Growing Herbs will be offered on August 11 as part of the Saturdays in the Garden series. (check the calendar at https://mgpw.org for upcoming 2019 classes).

The week of July 3 brought some challenges at the Cooks’ Gardens which homeowners and farmers are also experiencing. The Mid Atlantic had been experiencing a remarkable heat wave last week, with high humidity. These are the conditions that favor bacterial and fungal diseases in a number of crops.  The heavy rains in May and June are conducive to splashing soil borne pathogens on the lower leaves of tomatoes. Some of the cucurbit diseases recently seen in the garden are environmental, and some are vectored by squash bugs. Careful daily observations, good cultural practices and prompt removal of pests are important for successful and sustainable vegetable gardening.

Insect and invertebrate damage was noted in a number of locations including slugs, hornworms, potato beetles, and Japanese beetles which are all actively feeding. When these pests are seen they are physically removed and placed in the “Bad Bug Swimming Pool”. Slugs can be controlled by providing a good mulch layer to create habitat conducive to spiders and predatory beetles. Homeowners can try using slug bait or placing flat boards around the garden, which slugs collect under during the hot part of the day. From here they can be collected and killed.

Mammals have also been actively causing trouble in a number of beds including the Cooks’ Gardens including deer, squirrels and woodchucks. A number of vegetable crops are favorites including sweet potatoes, and it remains a full time job for the gardeners to mend fences and plug entrance holes.  All the beds in the Teaching Garden are routinely sprayed with deer repellent.

Now is the time to rotate out all remaining spring (cool season) crops such as lettuce and peas, and plant the remaining vegetables for the summer season. In the Cooks’ gardens the lettuce has been picked although some has been left bolt and self-seed, the peas have been picked and the plants have been composted, and both varieties of potatoes (Kennebec and Green Mountain) have been harvested.  The potatoes were harvested before there was damage from rot and slugs Thomas noted that “there were more adult slugs than I have ever seen in the soil and they were fairly deep down (8+ inches from the soil line)”. He also noted that the potatoes were smaller this year and this could be due to the earlier harvest time. Also harvested and weighed were 1.05 lbs of yellow onions, 5.6 oz of scallions and 1.12 pounds of garlic.  Japanese eggplant, edamame and zucchini have been planted, Patti-pan and spaghetti squash plant starts have yet to be put in. Tomatoes and peppers were planted in May. If you visit the Cooks’ Gardens you will also see a bed of Sugar Drip Sorghum. This was planted in early May and was intended as a cover crop for the blueberry beds. Sweet sorghum can be used to make syrup and molasses.

The Rule of Thumb for watering is 1 inch/week, but at the Teaching Garden the MG’s water at least twice per week depending on the weather. With fruiting vegetables at fruit set, adequate water is really important. They try to be as consistent as possible to avoid issues like blossom end rot.

For any questions or concerns you have about your vegetable garden or any other landscape plant including turf, call the Horticultural Help Desk at: 703-792-7747


For more information on diseases of tomato and cucurbits (squash, cucumber, pumpkin, etc):


– http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0809/ANR-0809.pdf


Saturdays in the Garden 2018 Schedule:  http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/Saturday-in-the-Garden.aspx

Prince William County Vegetable Planting Guide:

Cook’s Garden Planting Dates (2013)

Maps of the Cooks’ Gardens:





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