Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Green Homes Tour

I'm part of the Takoma Green Homes Tour this Sunday, October 5. The tour was announced to be from 11am – 5pm, though I'll be open from 10am – 2pm so that I can go to the Takoma Park Street Fair and volunteer with the Takoma Hort Club Bulb Sale fundraiser booth in the afternoon there.

My whole home is technically "recycled" since it was a former Pepco substation meant to just look like a home and blend in with the neighborhood. In the early 1970s, Pepco centralized their power plants and sold off the substations to developers who converted them to actual houses. It has unique features like a concrete roof (covered by fancy New England slate), a large unused chimney, and very thick walls. Not sure how much I'll let folks see of the inside of my home. I plan on showing mostly my outdoor features like being a certified wildlife habitat and water-conservation.



Come explore a wide range of energy saving and green construction in over 15 Takoma Park-area homes – from small-scale energy efficiency retrofits, to green additions to new construction. The focus of the tour is to demonstrate changes everyone can make in their homes and yards, especially as it relates to saving energy.There is no fee to attend though please consider making a donation of any amount at any of the houses you visit to help cover expenses and support future tours. Many of the homes on the Takoma Park Green Homes Tour are within a 1-2 mile radius, making it convenient to walk or bike to them, all in one afternoon. And if you can't make it, get the online tour guides anyway which are full of education, inspiration and local green building resources.To get your copy of the tour guide, visit: http://saveoursky.com/housetour08.aspx

The Takoma Park Green Home Tour will be highlighting more green building features – from energy efficiency and conservation, to non-toxic and salvaged materials, to corn stoves, biodiesel furnaces and cars, to green roofs, rain gardens, storm water management and native landscaping. When making a green or solar home, your best first step is energy efficiency, so that when you invest in more expensive solar technology your system size requirements can be smaller. Many of the homes on the green tour will emphasize cost-effective home improvements that will pay for themselves within 5-10 years and save money every year afterward. With rising energy costs and increasing effects of global warming, it’s more important than ever to learn about and implement these changes, big and small. For more information and to get your copy of the tour guide, visit: http://saveoursky.com/housetour08.aspx

The Green Homes Tour is a sub-tour of the DC Solar Homes Tour. If you want to see even more homes with a focus on solar features, and some that are open on Saturday the 4th, visit http://www.solartour.org/ . The Solar Tour is open Sat and Sun, Oct 4 and 5 and features over 50 homes in the Greater DC area.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm Back and Exhausted!

I got back at Midnight last night on Foxy and Stu from the Garden Writers Association Symposium in Portland, OR. So much for my ambition to clear my emails each night and get blogs posted every day with photos of what we'd done. Instead I was on the go from our breakfast meetings at 7am on through seminars, workshops, and garden tours all day through group dinners and receptions at night - usually ending about 11pm. I actually like the on-the-go, don't-waste-a-minute schedule myself. Seriously, I paid to fly across the country for this and I don't need or want nap times built in, but it does take a toll and so now at home I'm sifting through piles of snail mail, email, and phone messages plus playing catch-up on this blog. Many thanks to Rachel for guest-blogging for me on Sunday so we weren't dark all week. It will take a bit until I'm fully up-to-speed. When I am, I'll be sharing photos and videos too (if I can figure out how to upload them) as well as fun facts from the event.

You may have noticed I was not on NBC4 at 4pm today as we'd listed on our web events calendar -- the storm and expected flooding that is due with it bumped me to next Tuesday. I'm cool with that though as it means we are actually getting some rain finally and it gives me a bit more time to recover my voice. (Does it strike anyone else as odd that the supposedly "green" Portlandites smoke like chimneys? Damn, folks give an East Coast gal a chance to breathe. )

This Saturday I'll be at the Green Spring Fall Fest - rain or shine.
Also rain or shine is our annual Fall Harvest Collection for the Hungry on Sunday afternoon.

And who cares what the weather will be while you settle in Sunday night to catch local nursery Behnkes and their amazing landscaping crew on Extreme Makeover's season premiere?

Finally, we have our three winners to announce for the September Reader Contest. They are:
~ Lauren Shuck, Berwyn Heights, MD
~ Anna Ubeda, College Park, MD
~ Madeline Caliendo, Washington, DC
All receive passes to the Remodeling and Home Decor Show, which runs Friday, September 26 through Sunday, September 28, at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Planting for a Fall Crop

Guest Blog by Rachel Shaw

Cindy Brown’s article in the current issue of Washington Gardener magazine entitled, “Autumn Edibles”, was a great little nudge – one I could use every year by about mid-July. Many seed packets say something like “plant in mid-to-late summer for a fall crop.” But in mid-summer, I’m still waiting to see how the tomatoes are going to do in my less-than-full-sun garden, wondering if I’ll have another great crop of peppers, and forgetting to water the beans. It’s sweltering, the garden looks a bit raggedy and chewed up, and fall seems a long way off. And then suddenly, it’s after Labor Day, a little late to plant those crops that won’t mature for 90 days or more.

This year I’m doing better, but I’m still not quite on target. I’ve been meaning to start Brussels sprouts for a fall crop. I start most of my vegetables indoors from seed, and I remembered about the Brussels sprouts a few weeks back. I got the seeds started, but then I got busy and let my seedlings languish in their little Jiffy pots, instead of transplanting them into larger pots before planting out. That second step, from sterile mix in a small pot to regular potting soil in a larger pot, always gives seedlings a tremendous boost. Realizing I was running out of time, I transplanted them from the Jiffy pots directly to the garden. Are those little 2-3 inch Brussels sprout plants going to mature in time for a late fall harvest? Not likely.

And what of the turnips and rutabaga I direct-seeded at the end of August? According to Cindy’s Fall Planting Chart in this issue, the turnips have a fighting chance; the rutabaga not so much.

I’m more hopeful about the kale, a vegetable favorite of mine, and one that is supposed to taste even better after frost. I wouldn’t know. The usual scenario is I start my kale in early spring, and it does okay through a good bit of hot weather. By September it’s been chewed by flea beetles and aphids. I’ve plucked the lower leaves time and again, so there are long bare stalks where the biggest leaves used to be. I end up pulling the kale long before winter.

This year the spring kale crop is holding up better than usual, and I’ve started a fall crop as well. Surely I’ll finally get to enjoy the taste of kale sweetened by frost! And if not, there’s always the possibility of homegrown lettuce in January. My husband and I want to see if we can actually grow enough lettuce indoors for salads through the winter. Once we get that challenge figured out, it’s on to the next one. How about growing tomatoes indoors to go with that lettuce? A little internet research suggests it’s actually not that hard. Has anyone tried it, or have recommendations for a tasty dwarf tomato, preferably heirloom?

Rachel Shaw, a Midwest transplant, is learning to appreciate the benefits of the DC area’s long growing season. Her vegetable garden challenges include contending with less than full sun and the remaining roots of a large box-elder felled to make way for the garden. Rachel is a member of Washington Gardener magazine's Reader Panel.

Cabbage 'Dynamo' photo courtesy of All-America Selections.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Portland or Bust

Oregon, that is. I've been looking forward to and saving up for this all year -- it's my working vacation at the Garden Writers Association Symposium. Blog posts may be few or nil this week as I we have 12+ hour days of workshops, garden tours, and networking events.

What shocks me is how many garden writers I hear from that are not GWA members and/or are not attending this - especially those who are in/around the Portland. OR area. Are you crazy? That is like skipping being a world-champion swimmer and saying, "Nah, this time I'll sit out this Olympics." You only go-around once folks (at least in your present body) and it is a shame to let yourself miss out on all the connections, education, and fun.

If you'll be at GWA too, post a comment here or just give me a shout when you see me in Portland.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Early Fall Bloom Day

It is the monthly Garden Bloggers Bloom Day again and I took a few pics as I ran out to spot water. The promised (threatened) rains that were predicted to come Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday, and now today, have never materialized -- just lots of hot air and wind blowing in. Now they are predicting NO rain for the next week. Yikes! Here I am planning a week in Portland, OR. That is a tough one for us bloggers. Let the garden fend for itself or get someone to water it? And you just know they never know all the things to water or will miss a few tucked-in post that will croak anyway. Ah, such is life.

For my blooms this month I have all the harbingers of fall in the Mid-Atlantic coming on strong -- Sweet Autumn Clematis, Autumn Joy Sedum, and blazing Chrysanthemums. The mums were last years 3 for $12 pots from Whole Foods that I planted in the sidewalk strip after the died back last year. They received absolutely no care - no pinching, no watering, etc. and probably got stepped on more than a few times by passing peds. Still they are big and strong and just coming into full bloom.

I also had a few unusual looking mushrooms pop up after the rains a week ago and they are holding on. This one pictured here is near my pond. Not a bloom, but at least a cute point of interest.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

LadyBug Invasion

Yesterday at the Friends of Brookside plant sale, I ran into a young lady who was decidedly anti-Ladybug. I'd have to say that is a first for any child I've ever met, but as ladybugs are technically beetles, can't say that I blame her for the bug bias.


For those who do appreciate lady beetles, as I do, I have the following advice to share that came in too late for this issue's InsectIndex story on ladybugs.

Many area residents report ladybug infestations in late fall/early winter. And as much as they adore seeing one on a rose plant in their yard, few welcome 100s invading their home.

Stanton Gill, Integrated Pest Management specialist with UMD HGIC, says that he is having grad students study if light-colored houses with dark-colored doors attract them in higher numbers. The theory goes that houses with this color scheme imitate cave openings where ladybugs spend the winter and that is what attracts them to come in these homes.

Mike Raupp, professor of entomology at Univ of MD, says that the best way to combat them coming in during the upcoming months is to seal your home openings well. This also has a bonus effect of saving your electricity $$$s.

Mike also recommends you go to Sugarloaf at the end of this month and into early October to see big crowds of ladybugs coming to winter on the dolomite cliff faces there. He says it is a great show to witness. He thinks it may not be the house color-scheme so much as that the ladybugs are attracted to tall structures standing out in the middle of a field which reminds them of the dolomite cliff faces they favor for over-wintering.

So the take-away lesson may be to NOT build a big white house with black front door in the middle of an open field at the top of a hill unless of course you relish the idea of sharing your abode with bugs. Hmmm, I think the McMansion developers around these parts may need to start issuing fair-warnings to their buyers as that describes about 90% of those dwellings.

Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS Photo Library.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fall Veggies, Global Warming, and Dry Shade

The latest segment of Gardening with Kathy Jentz on WAMU Radio aired today and is archived here:WAMU: Metro Connection - http://wamu.org/programs/mc. It should repeat a few times again this weekend.
>>September might not be the first month we think of for starting a garden but don't write it off. It may be the perfect time for procrastinators to take advantage of nature's bounty. Kathy Jentz, editor and publisher of Washington Gardener, joins us to help us plan a fall planting season.<<

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What to Plant Where the Grass Won’t Grow

Washington Gardener Tackles “Dealing with Dry Shade”

Gardeners across the DC-area struggle with what to plant in dry shade. The older city neighborhoods and suburbs in particular are full of old-growth trees and in-fill buildings that block out the sun and rain from under-story plants. So what green things are there that can deal with lack of sun and water and thrive in the changeable Mid-Atlantic climate? Surprisingly, there are many choices for the home landscape and they are outlined in the new September/October ’08 issue cover story of Washington Gardener Magazine. From Bergenia to Sedum, the magazine describes the various plant options available for area gardeners.

Washington Gardener Magazine’s September/October 2008 issue is jam-packed full of terrific timely articles for gardeners in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Inside it is:
· Autumn Edibles — What to Plant Now
· Ladybug Lore
· Autumn Olive — Invasive or Cash Crop
· Beguiling Barrenworts (Epimediums)
· Hypertufa How-To
· The Best Time to Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs
· A Daytrip to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
· 5 Steps to Amazing Fall Rose Blooms
· Begonia Society Behind-the-Scenes
· HortHappenings: Latest Local Green Industry Events
· 14 Dry Shade Plants Too Good to Overlook
· And much, much more.

Washington Gardener Magazine (http://www.washingtongardener.com/) is the gardening publication specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs. Washington Gardener’s basic mission is to help DC area gardens grow better. The magazine is written entirely by local area gardeners. The content of the magazine gives real examples that residents of the greater DC region can use immediately in your own garden. Washington Gardener is a local, independent, and woman-owned business based in Silver Spring, MD. The publication is dedicated to promoting the best practices for area gardening.

To subscribe to our magazine: Send a check for $20.00 payable to Washington Gardener magazine to: Washington Gardener, 826 Philadelphia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910 OR click on the “subscription” link at http://www.washingtongardener.com/ to subscribe online using a secure credit card transaction.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Felder Rushing Does His Laundry Upside-Down

Cheval Force Opp of Cheval's Garden Tours, whom we partner with for our magazine's annual trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show, twisted my arm and convinced me I needed to attend the Historic Plants Symposium last week in the Jefferson Library at Monticello in Charlottesville, VA. I really felt I had too much on my long to-do lists to take a three-day trip south, but she convinced me in the end and I'm glad she did!

The talks at this biennual symposium were fascinating. I learned a great deal about what the American colonists actually grew and ate versus what you read in history books. (Note to self: when building a time machine and hitting 1780, pack lots of energy bars as you and your picky 21st C. self are going to starve.) We heard all about cider making, choice apples, and the attempt now to bring back the cider industry on the heels of locavore and slow food movements. Next, the techniques for lengthening the growing season using hot beds of manure, cloches, and heated orangeries were described. Finally, we had the myth of the colonial formal herb garden busted. Many other myths were busted that day as well including the misconceptions that Ginkgo trees are not native to our hemisphere and that bee skips should be placed in full sun.

The title and theme for this symposium was: "Fruits, Roots, and Leaves" from Jefferson's own division of his edible plant gardens, which I have to admit is pretty darn insightful. I had assumed the title was a clever play on the grammar best-seller, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," but that was just my journalist background and lack of Jefferson immersion showing through.

By the end of the trip, I was steeped in everything Jeffersonian so much so that I could not even look at a nickel without feeling mental fatigue. I'm truly Jefferson-ed out now. Do I really care what kind of leaves he wiped his butt with at the age of 12? For some reason, even though he was a passionate gardener, I just don't feel the affinity for him that I feel for Ben Franklin, a non-gardener, but a greater intellect and influence on modern life, IMHO. It was kind of like attending an Elvis convention for a non-fan, which would be interesting to observe, but gets kind of on your nerves by the second day of nonstop minutiae and hero worship.

The Symposium ended with a catered reception on the West Lawn of Monticello (It's a hard life, but someone has to live it.) that included a quick garden tour and a talk by the irreverent Felder Rushing. Now, I have read his articles and knew that he is what we polite folks call a "real character," so I knew his chat would be both comedic and on-point. He delights in skewering gardening snobbery and elitism. For instance, he read off a Gardener's Bill of Rights that included the right to have as many wind chimes as you can afford and the right to prune or not prune your crepe myrtles as you see fit. He pointed out that if you pluck your eyebrows you are doing the same "unnatural" thing as pollarding a tree and you should get over yourself. That zinger seemed pointed straight at me and I had to laugh.

I found the most amusing part of his talk to be his description of wriggling into stiff-as-a-board shirts hanging on his laundry line and walking around proudly showing the two clothespin pinch marks on his shoulders as evidence of his greener-than-thouness. Far be it from me to tell Felder how to properly hang laundry, but my understanding is taht you put the shirt tails over the line and clip them so the sleeves hang down and dangle free. Sure as as result you don't get to sport your laundry line epaulets, but the shirts seem to dry quicker and less stiff this way.

The next day was the Heritage Harvest Festival. It was also the day Hurricane Hanna hit the East Coast. It was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it made it to Charlottesville, VA that morning. The fest went on, though in a much more dampened and abbreviated fashion. I was most interested in attending the "old timey seed swap" and had brought several well-labeled baggies of seeds. I wanted to compare how they did it to how we do our annual Seed Exchange. Well, it was quite different. At theirs, you basically show up with your seeds, then go around to others and ask what they have one-on-one. If you had none to trade or no seeds that others liked, you could purchase the seeds (usually $1 for a good amount). I traded for some unusual items that looked fun to try out like Tennessee Walking Pumpkins and ornamental gourds. I think I made the best trade of the day when I swapped a few baggies of my flower seeds for home-made peach butter from a Kentucky gal. I basically gave all the rest of my seeds away as I was not interested in selling them and most everyone there to seriously trade had field corn or heirloom beans in large quantity, neither of which I'll be growing in my small urban lot.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Black Snake Moan

The #1 read story in this week's Washington City Paper is Snakes in the Garden. With a headline like that, you just can't resist. Though after reading it, I 'm left thinking "that was it?" Granted, no one enjoys sitting on a park bench gazing at the flowers and having a big black rat snake brush by your legs, but really does this deserves newsprint and ink? Now in all my visits to Brookside Gardens I have never seen a snake there, but seeing that it is situated as part of Wheaton Regional Park and it is a large nature preserve I would not be surprised to see a few on the paths nor would I care. Too bad that the Brookside staff even had to deal with this phobic crank.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

TerraCycle GiveAway

Congratulations to Nina Bang-Jensen of Chevy Chase, MD! She is the winner of the August 2008 Washington Gardener Reader Contest, for a pair of eco-friendly products from TerraCycle, Inc.

The first unique product is TerraCycle’s Urban Art Planting Pot. This lightweight, durable planting pot is made entirely from used plastic, the majority of which is salvaged from discarded electronic equipment and wrecked automobiles. More then just environmentally beneficial the TerraCycle Urban Art Planting Pot is socially beneficial as well. Every one of these unique planting pots is hand painted by inner city artists at TerraCycle’s headquarters in Trenton, NJ. TerraCycle recruited artists from the Trenton-area, giving these talented artists the opportunity to earn money by positively expressing their art form. The pots are painted in bright color schemes and come in several different styles and colors, making each one stylish and unique. (The pot in our contest is blue -- similar to the one pictured here.)

The second product is TerraCycle’s organic Tree and Shrub Fertilizer Spikes. The Fertilizer Spikes are made from worm poop, chicken poop, and other natural ingredients that are pressed into spikes, which can be hammered into the ground for feeding trees and shrubs. The Fertilizer Spikes have a balanced formula of the three primary nutrients designed for trees and shrubs. TerraCycle guarantees an NPK analysis of 6-3-4. Unlike some other organic and all-natural fertilizers, the TerraCycle Fertilizer Spikes have no unpleasant odor, but instead have a natural, earthy smell. The are made from all natural ingredients and packaged in reused two liter plastic bottles.

Keep reading Washington Gardener Magazine -- our next Reader Contest will be announced soon!

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Perfect Picnic Weekend

I don't think I've ever seen such a perfect weather weekend in DC and it was a three-day one at that. Had the family gathering today and spent Saturday at the annual picnic of the Metropolitan Washington Garden Club (formerly the Men's Garden Club of Montgomery). I've been meaning to get it out to this event for the past few years as I was intrigued to see the hosts, the Hansons, and their farm. As you see, the trip was worth it. With this scenery, a comfy chair, and a glass of iced tea, who needs the beach!
The gentleman showing the dahlias was Nick Weber of Heritage Rosarium fame. He has been growing them and entering them in local flower shows. He is considering branching out into selling the cut blooms at local farmers' markets. I think that would be a wonderful idea. The blooms are magnificent and, yes, the size of dinner plates. I'd definitely buy a few as I have no intention of growing any dahlias myself. They are thirsty and need irrigation, which is against my miserly live-and-let-live policy.