Cooks’ Gardens Update for 8/14/18

Saturday 8/11 Update: At SIG we picked peppers and basil from RB3 and some sample veg for the class from around the garden. All but one onion and about half the remaining carrots were harvested from RB 1. We also harvested 3 sunflower heads.

Tuesday 8/14 Update: The Garden was very pleasant this morning and surprisingly cool for much of the workday. Lots of harvesting went on amid a flurry of butterflies. Monarchs, blue swallow tails and others were all around the TG this morning.

In the Shed Beds, there was only minor damage from our rodent pest, mostly on the okra. The sweet potatoes seem to be recovering but there is still a big question about if we’ll see a harvest. Still 2 months to go before frost so there’s still hope. We thinned the tomatoes and basil. We picked tomatoes including some green ones that were close enough to the ground it seemed prudent to let them ripen off the vine. We also picked serrano peppers. We put a little more rye and sorghum in SB4 to make up for slow germination.

In the Blueberry beds, we’d removed the surveyor’s tape from around the sun hemp as it was growing upright and had recovered from weeks of storms. After last night’s rain, however:


The beans were picked and cut down in preparation for converting BB1 into Brassicas for the fall. As you can see from the this plant who accidently came up roots and all, the beans have nodulated and all that banked nitrogen will give the Brassicas a good boost over the season.


The Vietnamese cilantro was trimmed but won’t be cut back for overwintering until October. Overall the blueberry beds look good.


In the Bio beds, the deer(?) have been grazing the Mexican sunflower in D, but they are still hanging on. We’ve decided the mystery squash is a buttercup. She has several fruit, but one should be close to ready for harvest in a week or two. We did get 3 eggplant and a little over a pound (16.47 oz) of cherry tomatoes from the bed. Only one of the sunflowers has bloomed but the others in Bio A are getting close to popping. In both Bio A and BB6, the painted lady caterpillar numbers are down to largely insignificant numbers. Crimson clover was overseeded into the sunflowers in Bio A.

In the raised beds, RB1’s okra is growing well. It should have a few fruits to harvest by Thursday. In RB2 the tomatillos are starting to fill their husks but it will be some time before they are harvestable. In RB3, everything harvestable had been harvested at SIG.  In RB4, we harvested over a pound of cherry tomatoes (17.95 oz), over 2 pounds of roma tomatoes (37.21 oz.), as well as several jalapeno and wax peppers. In RB5, we harvest several wax peppers and a few green bells, then overseeded with crimson clover.

The electric fence for the shed beds was put off until next TuesdayNext Tuesday we are also planning to video sunflower harvesting and plant Brassica starts.

Vegetable Planting Guide for PWC:

Cook’s Garden Planting Dates (2013)

Map/Locations for Cooks Gardens 2018






News from the Cooks’ Gardens, August 8, 2018 , by Thomas Bolles

On Tuesday, we found caterpillars attacking the leaves of the sunflowers in BB6. I have seen these on sunflowers I’ve grown before but not in the numbers we found. They appear to be thistle caterpillars (painted lady butterfly) – a common pest of commercial sunflower growers. They also like zinnias and other asters, but we didn’t see any in BB7. From what I discovered, the economic threshold for treatment is when the crop averages about 25% damage on each plant. Looks like we’ve spotted them well before they could do serious damage, but we do need to keep an eye on both the sunflowers and the zinnias in BB7 over the next few weeks.

Interestingly, in looking up pests of sunflowers I came across this pub from Extension in Georgia: Sunflowers (and sorghum, and okra) are common trap crops. If we could only find a trap crop for the groundhog…

The groundhog continues to find a way over the fence around the Shed Beds. We’ve inspected for holes in the fence the last two weeks and haven’t found any. Looks like he’s going over the top. Barring the arrival of a ravenous pack of dachshunds or an eagle with night vision googles, I am thinking we may want to try an electric fence. If we could figure a way to run it along the top of the fence, it might discourage the varmit from climbing in general. That may keep it from giving up on the Shed Beds and moving on the Blueberry Beds.

In the Shed Beds the damage continues from the groundhog who has developed a taste for the okra as well as the sweet potatoes and zinnias. There are volunteer pea sprouts coming up in and around SB2 which the groundhog has yet to attack. The tomatoes were also given the usual rodent ‘take one bite and move on to the next one’ treatment but we were able to get several tomatoes from the nuns. Some of our supports are now leaning as the plants are heavy with fruit, though very few are ripe. The rye and sorghum planted in SB4 is starting to poke up through the straw. The crimson in SB1 and SB2 is coming up nicely. Ellen planted vetch by the eggplant last Saturday which hasn’t come up yet. Volunteer potatoes continue to pop up in SB1 and 2.

Cooks Gardens8.9b

volunteer potatoes in SB2

In BB3, the vetch (it was vetch wasn’t it?) Ellen planted has started to come up. Ellen had also put two rows of kale in BB1 on Saturday which hasn’t germinated yet. We talked about cutting down the Vietnamese cilantro later in the season and trying to overwinter in under straw and a row cover after we transition BB1 into Brassicas this fall. In BB2 it looks like the Japanese beetles are finally gone. The sorghum is continuing to mature. The sorghum in BB5 is a little behind BB4 and not all of the plants have fully tassled yet. In BB7 the Mexican sunflower is trying it’s best to cover the entire collumnbarium side of the bed. In the depression between the actual blueberries and BB6-7, we planted 2 tumeric and 3 yaro plants (courtesy of Virginia State Univ). Should you be in the garden and wondering which is which, the taro plants are the ones that look like elephant ear (they are in the same family).

Vegetable Planting Guide for PWC (check dates for fall planting!):

Cook’s Garden Planting Dates (2013)

TG Cooks’ Garden Update: July 31, 2018

How does your garden grow? As we move into August, the difference between our older garden and our new garden is visually shocking. Our original bed struggles more than ever due to the strange summer weather, a mystery fence breecher who happily eats whatever he can find, and the ever-encroaching shade. Our new garden, sitting in full, glorious sun (when it’s not raining) looks like a forest. The sorghum currently stands at 9’5” and our sunflowers at 10 feet tall! The beans produced well, and the variety of flowers continue to bloom. The cook’s team is happy this new garden is growing well, or we might have had to consider retiring our Master Gardener badges!

Changes are happening in Harriet’s bed too; the change being plants are growing instead of being eaten! The newly installed fence seems to be doing its job. Jannell, Stephanie and Charlene’s raised beds look amazing and continue to produce as well. Our harvest to the monastery today included carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, jalapeno, serrano, and banana peppers and a lovely eggplant from Harriet’s bed.

Happy growing,

The Herb Bed and a Short History of Herbal Gardening

The use of beneficial herbs for food, medicine and dyes has been prevalent throughout history, dating back to Prehistoric man. As man moved from hunter/gatherer to practicing agriculture, the cultivation of herbs in home and formal gardens was introduced around the world. Modern herbal gardens are a popular way to combine the textures of attractive foliage and fragrant flowers, attract beneficial pollinators, and grow plants that can be used as medicines, teas and culinary flavorings.  Most herbs are easily grown in a variety of conditions, making them ideal for new gardeners. An example of a modern herb garden can be found at the Teaching Garden.

The botanical definition of an herb (herbaceous plant) is any plant with a fleshy stem that dies back at the end of the growing season, but herbs are also widely defined as aromatic plants that have value as medicines, flavor, fragrance, pesticides or dyes. Herbs can include trees, perennial shrubs, annuals, vines, ferns, mosses or algae.

Herbs are depicted in cave paintings in France, dating from 13,000 to 25,000 BC, and some scholars believe they were used as early as 60,000 years ago. All early civilizations including the Aztecs, Mayans and Egyptians are known to have used herbs for medicinal purposes. The first written record of the usage of medicinal plants for various illnesses was written on clay tablets over 5,000 years ago by the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia. The Egyptians also recorded over 850 herbal medicines around 850 BCE. Herbal and natural remedies for illness were also widely used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Hippocrates (460-377 BCE), known as the Father of Modern Medicine, listed 400 common herbs used in his practice. The use of medicinal herbs in treating illness was also widespread in China (3,000 BC) and India (1,500 BC).

During the Middle Ages in Europe, herbs were used to preserve meat and to cover the odors of rotting food. Since bathing was rare, herbs were also used to mask body odors. This period did not see the widespread use of herbs for medicinal purposes by common citizens, as the Catholic Church accused herbalists of witchcraft and burned them at the stake. Most Medieval herb gardens were found at Benedictine Monasteries where monks translated ancient Greco-Roman and Arabic texts about herbs. Here, monks planted extensive herbal gardens and used them for teaching. The earliest visual representation of a formal garden to survive the Middle Ages was a master plan for an herb garden at a Benedictine Monastery.  These gardens contained a wide range of herbs including winter savory, oregano, garlic, chives, basil, curry, lavender, coriander, tarragon, sage and rosemary, many of these plants being brought from the Mediterranean region.

“The Great Age of Herbalism” occurred between the 15th and 17th centuries in Europe, and it is during this time the formal herb garden became popular in Europe. Families in the 18th and 19th centuries had herb gardens for flavoring, preservatives, dyes and medicinal remedies. The Renaissance also gave rise to the use of herbs in formal and knot gardens.

European colonists who settled North America in the 1600’s brought with them seeds from their home regions, especially from the Mediterranean. Most colonial homes had an herb garden in a sunny location, not far from the kitchen and colonists used them for seasoning, sachets, dyeing and medicines. Settlers introduced plantain, mint, lavender, parsley, calendula, roses, dandelion, chamomile, thyme and yarrow from their native regions. Native Americans introduced the settlers to cayenne, goldenrod for fever and Echinacea to treat wounds, and these quickly became part of the herb garden.

The Teaching Garden at the Benedictine Monastery on Linton Hall Rd. in Bristow, VA has a beautiful herb bed that is maintained and carefully tended to by Master Gardener Cheryl Ayers.  Cheryl has been the bed leader of this aromatic bed for around 2 years now and has been doing a fantastic job. She keeps the bed looking lush, while supporting the many diverse types of culinary and scented herbs planted by the original caretakers. She can be found at the TG on Tuesday mornings, and often has interns or other master gardeners helping.

Cheryl describes the herb bed as lush in late June until mid-August and aside from keeping some plants within their boundaries (mint), has little weeding to do. Despite the fact that many of the plants are drought tolerant, Cheryl waters the bed at least once a week. The herb bed is in full sun and has little shade. You will find small, woody shrubs such as rosemary as well as herbaceous plants such as basil.  Taller plants such as horseradish, dill and fennel are found in the center of the planting. Fennel (both green and bronze) attract beneficial butterflies and pollinators such as tiger and zebra swallowtail caterpillars, and is not harvested as a vegetable.  Two rectangular stone walls (“Wall of Herbs”) were added to the garden last year and add height to the planting.  Cheryl has planted Thai basil and curry on these walls, which are surrounded by chocolate mint, spearmint and lemon balm, to name a few.  Other herbs that can be found are onions, garlic, sage, two types of parsley (flat leaf and curly), tarragon, basil (both amethyst and Genoa), lavender, cilantro, and pineapple mint.  Chamomile, oregano, wooly thyme and variegated marjoram are used for groundcovers.

Luckily, most of the plants in the herb bed are unappetizing to local wildlife, so there is no need to worry about animal damage unless the local deer decide to rest in the chamomile.  Other than the signs of deer, this bed is often visited by turtles, birds, and plenty of butterflies. After working in the bed for a long time, Cheryl recommends planting certain plants, especially the mint and lemon balm, in more confined spaces because she has seen how easily these plants can “take over”. Container gardening is an excellent way to grow kitchen herbs and Cheryl recommends planting up to three different herbs of choice in a large pot. She also wants homeowners to be aware of horseradish and fennel because of how deep their roots extend.


Herb gardens require minimum effort to grow, and include many drought tolerant perennials that are also resistant to pests and diseases. They are best located in areas of 6-8 hours of full sun. The best soil for an herb garden is fertile and loamy with a pH of 6.3-6.8.  Prepare soil depth to 8”, and amend with composted organic material. Raised beds and mixed garden beds with vegetables are an excellent way to grow herbs in smaller spaces. Some herbs will need winter protection from drying winter winds and do better behind windbreaks, such as shrubs or rocks. Dwarf varieties grow well in pots that can be brought indoors during the winter.  Annual herbs are best started from seed indoors during the late winter, and perennial herbs do best when purchased as plants. Many herbs can be rooted from stem cuttings.

When in the area, please come out to the Teaching Garden to visit the Herb bed! During visiting hours and at Saturdays in the Garden, Master Gardeners will be there to give you a tour of this and any of our other beds!


Thanks to for some of these great photos!


Herb Bed at the Teaching Garden Plant List

Culinary Herbs plant list