Happy Outcomes

Our cook’s bed has had its fair share of challenges this year and as the season comes to a close it’s exciting to see the positive outcome of everyone’s effort and support.  By far, our biggest challenge is the creeping shade looming over our fenced vegetable garden which has contributed to plants struggling to germinate, grow and thrive. As a team we pondered various ways we might be able to solve this issue. Leslie Paulson listened, brainstormed, and advocated with the monastery. The outcome…our vegetable garden has been approved to relocate to a sun drenched area! This will require more teamwork, but we are motivated by the support we have received from the teaching garden as a whole, from Sister Pat and the monastery, and the public attending the Saturday in the Garden seminars who are eager to learn the best practices being demonstrated.

Another recent happy outcome came in the form of purple sweet potatoes. Early this season we said goodbye to one of our cook’s team volunteers, Dawn Barr, as she embarked on a new adventure to Germany. Before leaving she gifted us with some purple sweet potato slips. These little slips endured an early summer of cool and wet temperatures and a few encounters with wildlife breaching the fencing protection. We were starting to doubt if anything edible would be found in the soil, but I’m happy to report that despite all these challenges we still harvested a generous handful of sweet potatoes. A few MG’s took some home to try this All Purple variety in the kitchen. Dawn, thank you for the gift!

Our current challenge has been the very long spell of hot and dry weather. If reports are correct, a fix in the form of rain should be on its way. It’s always a good outcome when nature decides to side with Team Gardener!

Best,
Amye Foelsch

Leslie Paulson, Master Gardener Extraordinaire!

The season is winding down at the Teaching Garden, and its a great time to honor Leslie who is the coordinator of the program.  I met Leslie last April when I took over as a TG blogger.  Right away I was impressed with her diverse knowledge on just about every topic. She introduced me to everyone, showed me the beds, sent me a list of all the bed leaders and their emails, and answered just about any question I had. I felt at home right away, and this has made my new job so much easier. I still remember that chilly, sunny day in April. Leslie was up on the ladder setting up the Purple Martin house, tending to the Deer Resistant bed, checking on all the beds, pulling weeds, and talking with every bed leader. Throughout the season I heard her voice from the other side of the garden, “Where’s Robin? Come take a picture of this!”  This season has gone so quickly, and I am thankful for the chance to learn from the best.

I asked some of those that have worked with Leslie for many years what their memories of her were. This from Paige Thacker:

“Oh my gosh, where to start!”

“Leslie has volunteered for just about every activity we have.  She has led many activities including running the MG class the year between the transition from Pat Reilly to Nancy Berlin.”

“She has worked the help desk sine probably 2005.  She used to help us  coordinate sign ups, answer questions, manage the MG computer, train new volunteers and answer hundreds of questions coming through the help desk.  She headed up ordering  class tee shirts, cobras and other items MGPW used to sell.  She ran the Basics of Gardening or has hand a hand in supporting the series since 2004.  She for many years camped out in front of the Chinn Park Library in June to reserve class dates for the following year for MGPW and for the office.  (so glad they changed that process.) Since they changed the process she has shown staff how to do this and help us locate rooms and speakers for many educational programs.”

“She has been on the board of MGPW for many years.  She helped for Audubon at Home, she is a volunteer for VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Habitat at Home program, has taught wildlife, coordinated or been a important part of the Teaching Garden since its revamp in 2006.”

“She is an Advanced MG Land Care steward, a tree steward and water steward and has gone through those trainings at MG College.  She has been to MG College almost every year since she became an MG.  I am sure there is more.  She is amazing!”

Nancy Berlin also had a long list of volunteer programs that Leslie has been involved with as a Master Gardener:

“Hours accumulated 808.25 (continuing ed),  9894.25 (service)”

“She has been involved in the following projects:

“DGIF habitat gardens at PWCPS  and Detention Center,  Audubon Ambassador – administrates and teaches, teaches Wildlife for MG training – 10 years?,  attended MG college (all but one? year) organized VMGA auction many of those years, Served as MGPW president (a couple of terms), teaching Garden manager for past (6?) years, taught at Saturday in the Garden on deer, organized highly successful plant sales for MGPW (10 years +) which have made the TG sustainable, interfaces with Monastery on changes to the Teaching Garden,  an advocate for the MG program wherever she goes, mentored me when I started the job 10 years ago,  she handled the job in the interim before I was hired (2007),  serves in her neighborhood as Neighborhood Plant Expert, has taught habitat programs for schools in FX, PWC, others(?) in cooperation with DGIF, runs TGBEES meetings for planning purposes for teaching garden programs, and Leslie teaches wildlife for Fairfax County MGs.   She was also Volunteer of the Quarter with VCE a couple of times and Volunteer of the Quarter with PWC .”

If you ask around the Teaching Garden, the MG’s have great things to say about Leslie!

“She knows every plant in all the beds”

“She can spot even the most hidden weed anywhere!”

“She has such a wide knowledge of everything! You can ask her any question and if she doesn’t know the answer right away, she gets back to you very quickly!”

“Leslie, along with Ruth, are the soul of the garden. They are the ornamental plant experts”

Her friend Harriet: “Leslie works with Bob and I as part of the Detention Center project, which takes a lot of time. She has a heart of gold!”

From another bed leader: “Leslie is super dedicated and tireless. She takes on any project that others don’t want to do. ”

“Leslie is the force behind the high school wildlife habitats”

“She is a HUGE asset to Prince William County!”

“She is always at the TG with practical and well thought out ideas, for any problem”

Thank you Leslie, for everything!

Signed, your MG/TG Friends

The Deer Resistant Bed

Deer pressure is high on landscapes in Virginia, especially at the Teaching Garden.  Leslie Paulsen, the coordinator of the Teaching Garden, is the bed leader of the Deer Resistant bed, and also a volunteer for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. She has been a Master Gardener since 2004, and the bed leader of this bed since 2008.

The Deer Resistant bed is a triangular shaped garden found in the northeast corner of the TG. Its outer location puts it in the pathway of foraging deer which are common at the Monastery.  Leslie has planted plants, including natives, not attractive to  deer as they forage high protein and high moisture food sources. Feeding pressure on the entire garden is greater in the spring as adults and fawns recover from weight loss in the winter. Foraging slows down a little in the summer, but picks up again in fall. Females especially need to put on weight as they will be pregnant during the winter.

The design of the garden not only uses plants that are unpalatable, but also includes those that offer interesting leaf textures and fall foliage, such as Amsonia and Cut Leaf Sumac.  Leslie has a number of grasses that also provide color and texture, such as red and blue switch grass.  Catnip and Russian sage are examples of plants that have repellent odors, and lambs ear, with its fuzzy leaves are usually ignored. As with any garden, deer may change their minds and start eating a plant they didn’t care for before, so it is important to check often for damage.  Leslie has also selected plants that are drought resistant.

You will find Leslie at the TG Tuesdays and Thursdays. She waters the bed only as needed, and prefers to give longer and less frequent waterings. She loves the Amsonia, especially how it waves in the wind and turns a golden color in the fall. There have been some challenges with invasive plants as with all the beds, and also with aggressive plants. As neighboring pine, oak and crepe myrtle around the bed get larger and create more shade, plants will eventually have to be moved.

List of plants in this bed:   Deer Resistant Plant List 2017

White-tailed deer, (Odocoileus virginianus) native to North and South America, were reintroduced in the 1950’s for sport hunting, to supplement declining populations. Rampant market hunting in the late 1800’s reduced the white-tail population to historic low levels of less then 500,000 in the US. In 1900. the Lacy Act, the first federal wildlife law, was enacted. This law prohibited the interstate trafficking of wild game including venison. As a result of this law and a restocking program, deer populations have steadily increased to record high levels we see today. Combined with a decrease in natural predators and a move away from agricultural land to suburban landscapes, white-tail deer populations have flourished.

Deer prefer the “edge habitats” created by suburban landscapes, as human populations have moved away from agricultural land use. Human created landscapes provide a high concentration of high protein plants close to the ground where they can reach them. Combined with almost no hunting pressure or predators, deer roam almost freely munching on our landscape plants. Well fertilized garden plants provide energy from carbohydrates, minerals and salts, as well as protein. Deer also get 1/3 of their water from moisture in plants, and prefer moist and tender new growth, outer parts of plants, new leaves, buds and immature stems.

With any pest including foraging animals, it is important to use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system. For deer management,  homeowners should consider the following options.

  • accept the damage
  • choose deer resistant and native plants
  • erect fencing (8 feet or more)
  • pick safe locations close to the house
  • use scare devices, including pets
  • use repellents

Deer are creatures of habit and a low impact way to control them is to disrupt their feeding patterns. This can be done in several ways including erecting barrier fencing in their pathways, moving containers plants, scaring with loud noises, or letting  dogs out at feeding times.

Scare devices such as lights, whistles, loud noisemakers  and scarecrows work well for a while. Deer adapt quickly (habituation) and will begin to ignore these devices very quickly. It is important to consider neighbors and HOA rules before using such devices.

Repellents have limitations since they need to be reapplied every 4-5 weeks, and after rain and snow. Deer become used to repellents within 2-3 applications, and completely ignore them if the plant is highly desirable.  There are two categories of repellents: Taste and odor. Odor-based compounds are either biological or chemical and mimic scents of predators.  These include fermented blood, feather meals, human hair, and urine from predators such as coyote or wolf.  Chemical odor-based (and toxic) repellents include mothballs, lime sulfur, creosote, nicotine and ammonia.  Taste-based repellents include hot sauce, garlic, rotten eggs and pepper oil. There has been much research on which formulations work the best in different areas, and it is best to check with your local Extension office. Since deer become habituated quickly,  it is recommended to use multiple repellents and change them often.  It is important to note that any repellent can only reduce browsing, not prevent it. They can be costly since frequent applications are needed, and your neighbors may not appreciate the smell.

There are many suggestions in gardening books on how to reduce browsing through psychological means. Two examples are stringing 3 or 4 strands of monofilament line around the garden, or planting small shrubs just inside deer fencing.  You can find many references about hanging bars of soap from trees and putting human hair in mesh bags hung from stakes 3 feet from the ground. Deer fencing has been proven to be effective but must be at least 8 feet or more. You can find suggestions such as these and more about repellents in the links below.

The best way to reduce deer browsing of your valuable landscape is to use native plants that deer avoid. They will not usually browse plants that are poisonous or that make them sick, ones with milky sap, or fuzzy leaves. They also will avoid plants that have a strong smell, prickly leaves, bitter or alkaloid tastes. As with the designs of many of the Teaching Garden beds, gardeners can interplant undesirable plants with desirable ones to reduce browsing.  Examples: Lambs ear, Daffodil, Foxglove, Prickly Pear, Barberry, evergreen Holly, Yarrow, Catmint, Sage, Thyme, and Lavender.

Plant NOVA Natives: Deer and Native Plants: http://www.plantnovanatives.org/deer—native-plants.html

Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance: Rutgers NJAES: https://njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistance/

Native Plants for Northern Virginia   https://www.novaregion.org/DocumentCenter/View/10615

Deer: A Garden Pest, VCE Pub: https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/HORT/HORT-62/HORT-62-PDF.pdf

Home Grounds and Animals: 2017 Pest Management Guide, VCE:

https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/456/456-018/456-018-17-home-grounds.pdf

Prince William Conservation Alliance:

http://www.pwconserve.org/wildlife/mammals/deer/deer.html

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, White-tailed Deer

https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/

Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station; Deer Damage Management Options.

http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/biographies/williams/williams,_ward,_and_ramakrishnan_(color)_2006.pdf

 

A Beautiful Evening for the Autumn Equinox

It’s officially the autumnal equinox, and what a wonderful way to celebrate it’s arrival than a beautiful evening party at the Benedictine Sisters Monastery Teaching Garden! Last Friday we were treated to a lavish spread of delicious food, violin music by Michael Francis Haley, and a very informative and entertaining class (by flashlight) with Capital Naturalist Alonso Abugettas.  The evening was so lovely; you could here an orchestra of a of chirping insects and croaking amphibians, bats were busy keeping the mosquitoes at bay and the hundreds of tea lights and candles made for perfect lightening. The tables were elegantly set with flower arrangements by Nancy Berlin (and others), tables of savory and homemade appetizers, and scrumptious desserts. There was so much attention to detail and it was evident that many people worked hard planning  and  setting everything up. Most of all, it was a delight not only to see people from your own MG class, but also meet others that you had not met before.  It really was a splendid evening in the beautiful setting of the Teaching Garden, and true to it’s description, the White bed was in full “moon glow”.

Thanks to Tina Chappell (chair of event), the MGPW board provided funding, Paige Thacker (who did SO much),  Nancy Berlin and the support of Brenda Hallam, Linda Ligon (and her husband Tom), Terri Anderson, Sally Peterson, Val Chappell (Tina’s husband). If I have forgotten anyone, let me know! I will add their names. I also would like to give a HUGE shout out to all the Master Gardeners that faithfully come out every week to keep this beautiful garden and  composting going. Please come out and see us more often!

 

Alonso Abugettas was the guest speaker and he has agreed to speak again on June (details coming later…..) Alonso is a well-known local naturalist, environmental educator and storyteller in the Washington, D.C. area. He is the natural resources manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation and the co-chair for the Beltway Chapter of Region 2 of the National Association for Interpretation. He has been trained as a master gardener, was made an honorary Virginia Master Naturalist for his role in starting two chapters and serves as an instructor for both. He is a co-founder of the Washington Area Butterfly Club and has held several offices, including president, for the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society.

He invites you to check out his personal blog “Capital Naturalist” and Facebook group where he posts regular nature notes using his own photography.

Alonso took us out into the garden after dark and found lots of interesting things going on in the Lesley’s Deer Resistant bed.  The Teaching Garden is designed to support pollinators in all of the beds, but special attention is paid to Monarchs. Throughout the season we find all stages of metamorphosis and for the last several weeks the generation that leaves on the long migration to Mexico has been emerging from their chrysalis’. Monarch catepillars have been munching away on the many milkweed plants planted to attract them. Alonso found them of course, busy consuming as much as they can. He also found many other stages in the life cycle of beneficial insects we have been supporting, as well as the sticky aphids that supply honey dew.  Some of the things that Alonso talked about: There are 13 species of milkweed found in Northern Virginia, aphids found on milkweed are not native, but are native to oleander bush, and the Monarch caterpillars that we saw that evening are probably at least, the 3rd or 4th generation this season.   We learned to cut back the milkweed in late August to encourage a new flush of leaves to feed the last generation before migration, to wash the aphids we find off with fresh water, and that young milkweed leaves are edible. Alonso also found plenty of milkweed bugs and lace wing nymphs eating aphids. One interesting we also learned is that if a catepillar bites directly into a vein of the milkweed, the latex can glue its moth shut!

Please come again! We love to see everyone. Thanks again to all that worked hard to make this a special evening!

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Scarlet Runner Beans

There is a story that’s been growing in raised bed four. It contains all the good elements of storytelling; a dynamic and beautiful main character that has the ability to heal and provide nourishment for the hungry, while remaining trapped in a 4×6 fenced space in the middle of a beautiful garden setting with the unfortunate problem of being mostly forgotten. In her desperate need to be noticed, she creates beautiful, brilliantly colored flowers, grabbing the attention of all who enter the garden, but as these flowers fade, so does the attention she receives. Alone again, she produces long, green pods which over time begin to fade to brown and crackle in the wind, as she herself comes to the end of her season. Yet, she leaves one last gift—jewels! These purple-speckled jewels are edible and contain a nutrient packed inside.

Who is this heroine that gave so much, in return for so little? Her name is Scarlet Runner Bean, and she became part of the Teaching Garden story in late May when we still had an empty raised bed in need of planting. In 2016 this bed grew tomatoes and okra, something we did not want to repeat in the same area. After spending all spring prepping and planting the bio beds and other raised beds, we were mostly looking for a plant that would keep the soil covered during the summer months and not be something we would have to fuss over. Thomas had Scarlet Runner Bean seeds available, and it was quickly decided we would grow these beans for its legume nitrogen fixing soil benefits, and not necessarily for the harvest of beans.

As the above story goes, we truly did plant and forget…okay, we did water, but that has been the extent of our efforts. This plant has thrived, filled, and spilled over its caged area. There have been many happy pollinators zipping in for visits, but no bad bugs to be found threatening its welfare. By mid-summer it burst into flames of brilliant, crimson colored flowers, which I imagine would look beautiful in a vase arrangement.  Green pods followed, but most of us were not fans of eating them raw.  So we left the plant alone again, only to come back and find gorgeously colored dried beans inside the now brown pods. This story will end after we have harvested enough of the dried beans to use in a recipe. Fortunately, there are a couple of Master Gardeners with some amazing cooking talents who might be willing to help write the last delicious chapter.

If you would like to recreate this story in your own garden, here is a link to a good read with more detailed information.

https://wimastergardener.org/article/scarlet-runner-bean-phaseolus-coccineus/

Best,
Amye

The White Garden

The White Bed is a very unique and beautiful garden tended by Master Gardeners Nancy Hanrahan and Spencer Williams.  Nancy is on sabbatical this season, so Spencer has been taking great care of it, in addition to the Rock Garden.

The White garden provides four seasons of interest using a combination of perennials, annuals and bulbs. Using a monochromatic color scheme, the overall effect is achieved with contrasting flower form and leaf shape, color and texture. A White garden is also a clever way to brighten a shady area and works well as a “moon garden” with flowers that are open and fragrant at night. This garden is a symmetrical oval, with pairs of identical species on adjacent sides. This design has been a study in how differing microclimates can affect individuals of the same species, as the sides receive differing amounts of light and shade.

When you look at the White Bed you see this oval and plants arranged symmetrically.  In the center there is a white Clematis and white Lilies. White Phlox, white Daisies, and white Echinacea are next to the Clematis on both sides, also giving height to the center area. One side of the center piece side is a tall, variegated Euphorbia, that may eventually thought be removed since it self seeds, and is aggressive. It does add very distinctive foliage and texture to the bed. Other perennials and annuals moving outward from the center and in a symmetrical pattern include white mums (a favorite of the deer), Stokes aster, white Roses, white Iris, Mule grass, tall white Salvia, dwarf white Salvia, white Catnip, and at the ends, Lambs Ear.  Spencer has added white flowering annuals such as Snow Globe throughout the summer.

This bed is considered a full sun garden, but there is some shading at different times of the day from trees. What is interesting to observe is the different growth habits of identical plants receiving differing amounts of sunlight, in this symmetrical design.

Since this season has had a fair amount of rainfall, Spencer has not watered it much. The deer have been consistent visitors to all the beds, but in the White bed, they mainly dine on the flowers of the mums. They prefer some of the tasty treats in the other beds next door!

White Garden 2017 Plant List (1)

Laudable Legumes!

Legumes are found in the plant family, Fabaceae,  (also called Leguminosae) the third largest plant family on Earth. An enormous and incredibly diverse family, these plants are the most common family found in the tropical rain forests in the Americas and Africa. They range from rain forest to deserts, lowland to alpine habitats. There are even some aquatic species. Legumes are grown worldwide and are a rich protein source for human and livestock consumption.

In agriculture, legumes are grown for the grain seed, called the “pulse“, and these dried seeds are harvested for livestock, forage or silage. Legumes are also grown for human consumption and green manure. Important legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, mesquite, carob, soybeans and peanuts.  Lupines, a famous wildflower in Texas, and a common  landscape plant, is also a legume. There are also some undesirable legumes which are invasive species such as kudzu and wisteria vine as well as poisonous legumes to cattle.  Legumes are not always an herbaceous plant and can also be trees. The Brazilian Rosewood, Honey Locust, Black Locust, Acacia, Red Bud and Honey Mesquite are examples of legume trees.

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Types of Agricultural Legumes

Leguminosae is divided into three major subfamilies, each having a huge range of biodiversity. They can be identified by the pinnately or palmately compound leaves, (although some have simple leaves), flower parts are usually in 5”s, but some are in 4’s, they have axillary branches, they may be covered with small hairs, or no hairs (glabrous), and most have dry, seed “pods” that split into two pieces.

The vast majority of legumes have symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria in structures called root nodules. This important bacteria (Rhizobium) fixes atmospheric, molecular nitrogen (N2) into ammonia (NH3), then into ammonium (NH4), a usable form by the legume plant. This form of nitrogen is used by the plant to make amino acids, which are combined to make protein. Important in the ecosystem as well as agriculture, ammonium is then converted into nitrate (NO3) by aerobic soil bacteria, a usable form by all other plants. In agricultural practice, legumes are used as an organic way to amend the soil and reduce crop nutrient deficiency. Planted as green manure, they used as cover crops and are tilled into the soil in fall and spring. The plant material breaks down quickly and releases valuable nitrogen back to the soil.  High in protein, legumes are the second most important source of human food and animal forage.

It is believed that legumes evolved somewhere around 35-54 mya, with “nodulation” (infection with nitrogen fixing Rhizobium) evolving shortly after. It is believed early humans foraged on the rich source of plant protein from legumes growing in Africa. Legumes have been cultivated by man for thousands of years. Archaeologists have found evidence of pulse production in the Punjab region of India dating circa 3,000 BC. Evidence of lentil cultivation as been found in the pyramids of Egypt and dry seed pods have been found in a Swiss village dating back to the Stone age.

As an excellent food source, seeds from legumes are typically low in fat, have no cholesterol, and are high in folate and thiamin. Seeds from legumes are an excellent source of essential minerals such as phosphorus, copper, manganese, magnesium and iron, and are also a good source of riboflavin and vitamin B6. They contain beneficial fats, soluble and insoluble fiber, and are an excellent plant-based protein source and healthy substitute for meat. They contain a small quantity of mostly unsaturated (healthy) fats, and contain complex carbohydrates giving them a low glycemic index.  The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating about 3 cups of legumes, including beans, per week. If you eat about ½ cup of beans every day, you’ll meet the weekly Dietary Guidelines for legumes.

At the Teaching Garden, Hairy Vetch and Crimson clover are used as a winter cover crops in the Cooks’ Garden beds and are turned over in the spring as green manure. Other legumes  grown throughout the season are Scarlet Runner bean, Provider bean, sugar snap pea, and chick pea.

September is Legume Month and Charlene Toloso has put together some fabulous recipes which can be found here, downloaded and printed: Legume recipes

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Charlene with her delicious Lentil Balls. Check out her monthly recipe collection for Legumes!

Publications of interest:

Northharvest Bean Growers, including The Bean Institute:

http://northarvestbean.org/html/info2.cfm?ID=17

No-Till Seeding of Forage Grasses and Legumes (VCE Pub):

https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/418/418-007/418-007.html

Planting Cover Crops (VCE Pub):

https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-334/426-344table.html

Building Soil Organic Matter with Cover Crops (VCE Pub):

https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/2906/2906-1381/2906-1381_pdf.pdf

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage, Native Plants:

http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/nativeplants

 

Treats in the Garden

Today we continued the garden ritual of harvesting, weeding, and watering. We also took a peek under the sweet potato protection fencing to see how things are growing. We were surprised to see there were no big tubers bursting from the soil, and concluded this is most likely the result of the wet and cooler summer; sweet potatoes like it hot! So this prompted the decision to change the vegetable topic for the October 21st Saturday in the Garden (SIG) from sweet potatoes to garlic and brassicas. Charlene will be putting together another recipe book, so make sure to send any favorite recipes that include garlic or the brassica family her way. This past SIG was especially sweet with getting to sample Charlene’s chocolate pea pods. I think every child would eat up their legumes if they grew like that.

Visual treats around the garden included: monarch caterpillars in Jannell and Karen’s native bed; a honeybee taking in the menu on the Bee, Butterfly and Hummingbird garden sign; and beautiful, unblemished eggplant dripping off the plants in Jannell’s raised bed.

Enjoy your week and all the visual treats it has to offer.

Best,
Amye

 

Signs of Fall in the Vegetable Garden

A change in season can be just the pick-me-up needed to renew one’s spirit, outlook and feel invigorated to tackle new tasks. Out at the Teaching Garden there has been a lot of talk about nature’s way of showing the gardener that fall is approaching. Master Gardener Robin Finehout wrote and posted an excellent write up on this very subject. Her shared research has me noticing signs of fall in my own garden.

In the vegetable garden one of the biggest signs fall is approaching stems from the activities of the gardener. Row covers and trellis are erected for cool loving crops like broccoli, cabbage, and snow peas. Seed packets of lettuce, spinach, turnips and kale once again share a spot with the garden tools. The dying vines of squash and cucumber plants are removed and those areas are prepped with rich compost and covered with seeds of crimson clover and rye.  More time is spent harvesting the flush of tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos. All these activities occurred this morning at the Teaching Garden. We are ready for fall, and with brilliant green cilantro springing up in the corner of the garden, all on its own, the veggie garden is telling us it’s ready for fall too.

Best,
Amye

Check out Robin’s post:

https://teachinggardenpwc.wordpress.com/2017/09/04/signs-of-fall-at-the-teaching-garden/

Signs of Fall at the Teaching Garden

Notice! Mark your calendars for the “Autumn Equinox Party” at the Teaching Garden, Friday September 22, from 6:30-8:30. Bring a finger food to share.  Beverages provided. Violinist, Michael Francis Harvey and Capital Naturalist, Alonso Albuegattas will be there. Please RSVP at Horticulture Help Desk 703.792.7747 or master_gardener@pwcgov.org

We all look forward to the cooler temperatures of autumn and it is exciting to see these changes in our gardens! Driving out into Fauquier and Loudoun counties we can already see maples starting to change color, and the hay fields are a beautiful crimson color. Thistle, aster, goldenrod and sunflowers can be seen along the roadsides as well as ripening fruit of sumac. All the walnut trees in Middleburg seem to be covered in fall cankerworm!

Depending on the local weather, we can often see these changes in the beginning of August. This year, we did not experience the drought conditions often seen in our area in late summer, so changes we are seeing are probably due to the change in daylight (actually, night time) hours. High pressure, continental air masses have been sweeping down from Canada bringing us the cooler and drier days, with fair weather cumulus clouds. These changes in temperature trigger senescence and dormancy. Insects and animals also detect these changes, and prepare by storing energy for the winter or migrating.

Some of the signs I have been noticing for a week on my walks are the gradual break down of chlorophyll in sassafras, poison ivy, and Redbud. Chlorophyll a and b start to break down, leaving red (anthocyanin), yellows (xanthophyll) and orange (carotene) pigments. These pigments gather light at different wavelengths to make that last bit of carbohydrate for the plant. My woods are filled with the sounds of dropping pignuts, black walnuts, and acorns, and squirrels are busy burying them in the middle of the yard.  The young neighborhood bucks are still hanging out together and the velvet on their antlers is noticeable. I have noticed the hummingbirds are particularly competitive at the feeder, trying to store as much energy as they can before migrating. Sumac, wild grape and pokeweed berries are ripening and the annual return of ragweed is in full force.

The Teaching Garden is also showing lots of changes. The Echinacea in the beds have gone to seed and died back. Switch grass is beginning to turn red and Amsonia is starting to turn yellow. The Woodlands dogwood leaves are changing color, they are setting fruit and the Nachez Crepe Myrtle is peeling, and also setting fruit. In the the Woodlands,  Toad lily is now blooming, as well as Ligularia.

The Master Gardeners have been sending lots of pictures of Arachnids and insects getting ready for fall.  One of the most intriguing Arachnids has taken up residence in the drought tolerant bed, the Yellow Garden spider (Argiope aurantia). These spiders are active in late summer and early fall. Known for their large web up to 2 ft across, early fall is the time of year when the female mates and then eats the male. The spider’s eggs overwinter and spiderlings hatch in the spring. Her large, circular web has a characteristic vertical, zigzag shaped “stabillmentum” in the center. A nightly ritual is to consume the circular center and rebuild it each morning with fresh silk. This spider is non-aggressive, rarely finds her way indoors (by accident) and prefers garden areas.

The gardeners have also seen an increase in adult Praying Mantis getting ready to deposit their eggs in a frothy secretion that hardens into a case. These cases are attached to twigs, leaves and fences and stay protected from predators and severe winter weather until spring.

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We have also seen many butterflies this summer, and many of the gardens have milkweed for the Monarchs.  Monarchs begin their annual migration in August from all over North America, to Mexico to overwinter. Some scientists believe this migration may be as old as 10,000 years, beginning around the end of the last glacial period. The earliest reports recorded are from the 1860’s,  in California.  Monarchs will only lay their eggs on milkweed, and during breeding season, will have up to 4 broods.  The largest population is found in the fall, when they are getting ready to migrate. This migratory generation are the great, great grandchildren of the ones that left Mexico last spring. In Mexico, they cluster in a 2 acre area in the mountainous Oyamel fir forests, where they are bathed in moisture from fog and clouds. In the Bee, Bird, and Hummingbird garden, Teri Madden tells me that she is still seeing adults and caterpillars. By the road side, Milkweed bugs are also feeding. Not harmful to Monarchs, they do compete for resources. If you see them in your Milkweed garden, just pick them off and give them a swim in the “swimming pool”. Never spray pesticides!

A few of the gardeners have seen Woolly Bear and Blonde caterpillars already.  Folklore has it that the ratio of black to red on the Banded Woolly bear (Pyrrharctia isabella) is an indicator of the severity of the upcoming winter. There has actually been some scientific studies to correlate these two things that found (maybe) some evidence, but for now, its mainly considered an old wive’s tale. We do see more of them this time of year because they overwinter as a larva, and go searching for protected sites under bark or inside cavities of rocks and logs. They can be seen traveling pretty fast to get across the road!

Whatever your favorite things about fall are, its always fun to mark these changes every year!  Some see the back to school supplies in the middle of summer, the yellow buses practicing their routes, pumpkin lattes offered at coffee shops, mums, pick your own apples, or the last episode of Game of Thrones. Master Gardeners celebrate the (almost) end of weeding, (especially Japanese Stiltgrass), squash and vine ripe tomatoes, and planning for our next years gardens! Happy fall everyone!

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http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/infosheets/vnpg-fall.pdf

https://monarchlab.org/biology-and-research/biology-and-natural-history/overwintering/

https://www.weather.gov/arx/woollybear

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/resource-management/archives/monarchs.htm