Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Hummingbird Magnet

Guest blog by Rachel Shaw

Lobelia cardinalis, or cardinal flower, is one of our most beautiful native plants, and a true hummingbird magnet. This patch of cardinal flower came from a single plant I started indoors from seed several years ago. I planted my original seedling near a downspout, since cardinal flowers love water. They flower in their second year, after spending the first year as a rosette growing low to the ground.

My lone plant, when it bloomed, was unusually tall and robust -- a small shrub. The next year, a few plants seeded themselves in the front yard. This year the original plant has been replaced by many offspring -- a little jungle of cardinal flowers. It probably didn't hurt that I sprinkled seed from the parent plant liberally. Plus this year's plants must have loved our rainy spring. They have withstood our dry summer surprisingly well, with little supplemental water. These beautiful plants and the beautiful little bird they attract, are one of the great joys of my summer garden.

Although in past years I’ve had occasional hummingbird visits, this year one bird has practically taken up residence in the yard. (She is a female or possibly a juvenile; no red on her throat.) Every time I pass the window or step outside I’m on the lookout, and often I’m rewarded. She hovers around the rose-of-sharon, perches on the scarlet runner beans, flits around the black-eyed susans. Most often, though, she’s sipping from the blossoms in the cardinal flower patch. Quite simply, I’m thrilled by the sight every time.

About the Author: Rachel Shaw gardens in Rockville, MD and blogs at Rachel is on the Washington Gardener Magazine's Volunteer Reader Panel, a group of readers that review books for the magazine, tests products, gives content feedback, amd much more. 


Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Do Pickled Carrots Taste Like?

If you had attended last Saturday's Cooking & Preserving Summer Bounties talk by Liz Falk of Common Good City Farm, you'd know. She passed out a big jar of these goodies for all to try and then she proceeded to tell us exactly how we could make and preserve them at home. Despite the AV tech never showing up with the Powerpoint hook-up, Liz was a pro and had everyone taking copious notes about the basics of canning, pickling, freezing, drying, and preserving.

She answered the one big question of us post-modernists, "Why can when you can freeze?" with "What happens if the electricity goes out?" Oh, good point! I came back from one trip to the UK to find we'd had no power in DC for 6 straight days. I lost about $500 worth of frozen food. If some of those frozen Indiana-picked blueberries had been converted to jams plus sauces and canned, I would not have been half so heart-broken. As it was, I had a freezer full of decaying mush. Lesson learned.

It was all part of the Free DC Urban Gardens lecture series at the Historical Society of Washington (HSW) and co-presented by DC Urban Gardeners, and Washington Gardener Magazine.

If you missed Liz's talk last weekend, don't feel blue, she has another event coming up on October 23-25. You can spend a weekend learning the basics of urban gardening, garden design and starting a community garden. The Introduction to Urban and Community Food Gardens course is $200 and you can learn more about it here.

BTW, the next in our Free DC Urban Gardens lecture series at the Historical Society of Washington (HSW) will be Raising Winter Greens by farmer Brett Grohsgal on September 19.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Black Cherry Trounces Sun Gold while Lemon Boy Slays Beef Steak

Here are the results of our 2nd Annual Washington Gardener Magazine's Tomato Tasting at the Silver Spring FRESHFarm Market last Saturday:

Black Cherry ~ 29 votes
Source: EvenSong Farm

Lemon Boy ~ 26 votes
Source: Koiner Farm

Red Currant ~ 12 votes
Source: Spring Valley F&0

Green Zebra ~ 10 votes
Source: EvenSong Farm

Sun Gold ~ 8 votes
Source: Spring Valley F&0

Beef Steak ~ 7 votes
Source: Spring Valley F&0

We had very different entries and results this year in contract to our first annual taste. Compare here. All of our entrants were from tomatoes grown by local farmers and can be purchased at area markets.
Note that not everyone who tasted, voted. Those who did vote were entered into a drawing for $10 in market dollars, a pint of cherry tomatoes, and a copy of our Washington Gardener Magazine tomato -themed issue from last May. Our lucky drawing winner was Mary Clive of Silver Spring, MD.

The kiddies had two choices of activities this time -- either draw a tomato on recycled paper with crayon or they could draw ON a cherry tomato using a gel pen. Though the pens are labeled nontoxic, we cautioned against consuming their artwork. We soon realized that the tomatoes were irresistible and maybe next year we need a new plan for "Mr Tomato Head" artists or can revert back to last year's tomato head craft activity.

Thanks to listings in the Gazette and a really nice bump from The Washington Post, we had a great turnout. It rained a bit and Tropical Storm Bill was threatening some more bad weather, so we were a bit worried that would keep folks away from the outdoor market and are happy so many joined us.

A big thanks also for all the help from the FRESHFarm crew, Peter "Mr. Pepper" Frandsen, and our staff photographer, Drena J. Galarza (who took these pics you see here).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Prize-Winning Posies

Here are my 8 ribbons won at the MoCo Fair last week. I submitted 22 entries total in the herb and cut flower categories. Also, my first ever entry into the houseplant competition earned a red ribbon (aka 2nd), which was nice since I had no idea what the criteria for that one was or how mine would stack up. I entered a silver-leaf begonia and it was looked pretty puny next to the other large entries of Boston ferns and ancient Christmas cactus.

I think this is my 4th year entering, what I've learned is -- enter every category you are eligible for, cause you never know what the judges might think and entry is free. So hey, what do you have to lose except for a bit of your time gathering and submitting the entries.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Win EcoSmart Weed Killer in Washington Gardener Magazine's Reader Contest

For our August 2009 Washington Gardener Reader Contest, Washington
is giving out bottles of EcoSMART Weed & Grass Killer (worth $8 each). We will select 5 lucky winners at random to receive one bottle of this organic, safe herbicide with all-natural ingredients.

EcoSMART was founded in 1992 by Steven Bessette, who started the company because he was concerned about his children being exposed to harmful toxic pesticides, has more than 20 safe, non-toxic, natural, and 100% organic pest control/repellent products. Recommended by the EPA, EcoSMART products are also listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute for safe use and are included on the list of safe, non-toxic products for schools under the School Environmental Protection Act (SEPA).

To enter to win the EcoSmart Weed & Grass Killer, send an email with “EcoSmart” in the subject line to by 5:00pm on August 25. In the body of the email please include your full name and address. The pass winners will be announced and notified on August 26.


The winners of our August 2009 Washington Gardener Reader Contest were randomly drawn from over 50 emailed entries.  They are:

Stacy Saul, Washington DC

Angela Gallup, Hanover, MD

Diane Blust, Reston, VA

Cindy Walczak, Olney, MD

Earl Simmons. Bowie, MD

They each receive a bottle of EcoSMART Weed & Grass Killer (worth $8 each).

Hottest Gardener on Earth

If you are not as addicted to Big Brother on CBS as I am, you are missing out, my friends. As my gift to you, here is my favorite clip. Be sure to watch at full-screen size and the real good stuff is from 0:30-1:17. You're welcome :-).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Taste & Preserve Summer's Bounty this Saturday

Saturday, August 22; 10:00am-12:00noon*
*Note: 11:45am is the prize drawing and tomato ballot deadline, you must be present to win the drawing. Plan your schedule accordingly.
Washington Gardener Magazine’s
2nd Annual Tomato Tasting
Sample the multitude of tomatoes at market and vote on your favorites. Stop by for tomato recipes, growing tips, and much more...
FreshFarm Market
Silver Spring
Between Fenton Street and Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD
Wear a bib!

Saturday, August 22; 1:00-2:30pm
Cooking & Preserving Summer Bounties
Have too many summer veggies? Learn to can fruit and pickle veggies so you can enjoy local summer flavors in the cold, winter months. Through a presentation and demonstration by Liz Falk of Common Good City Farm, you will learn the basics of how to pickle and can easily and safely. Presented by the Historical Society of Washington (HSW), DC Urban Gardeners, and Washington Gardener Magazine.
Historical Society of DC
801 K Street NW
Washington, DC.
Wear a sweater!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eat Your Weeds

The Washington Gardener Enews August 2009 edition is now out and posted here.

This issue includes:

- our online-only feature story -- Urban Foraging: Eat Your Weeds

- a chance to win an organic weed killer in our Washington Gardener Reader Contest

- a Washington Gardener Magazine excerpt: How to Grow Hops

- spotlight on a new Spirea coming to a garden center near you next spring

- a list of what to do in the garden over the next four weeks tailored to our Mid-Atlantic climate

- highlights from recent blog posts -- in case you missed it

- plus LOTS of local garden event to attend

Friday, August 14, 2009

See me, hear me, feel me.

Okay, maybe not "feel me" so much, I bruise easily. You can hear me though as I'm on WAMU Metro Connection at 1:00pm today. We chat about our current Washington Gardener Magazine Summer 2009 issue cover story on growing grapes plus a bit about hops as well. It reruns this weekend and will be archived online this afternoon so you can listen even if you are out of the area.

You can see me as I'm judging a Tomato Challenge on Saturday morning at the Giant in McLean ,VA. There will be BIG prizes and you should definitely enter if you have any nice, ripe tomatoes on the vine now.

The following weekend, 8/22, is our second annual Tomato Tasting at the Silver Spring FreshFarm Farmers Market from 10am-12noon and then the "Canning & Preserving" talk by Liz Falk at the HSW-DC from 1-2:30pm as part of the Urban Gardening talk series. Both of these 8/22 events are totally free and open to the general public.

BTW Do you give garden talks and are you in the greater DC-region? I'm putting together a speaker's bureaus for local garden clubs and others to book garden-related speakers.
If you are looking to book a garden speaker, just drop me a note. We have a great list already going of our Washington Gardener Magazine authors and sources.

Feeling like you have a blog post in you? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write a bit about their local DC-area gardens. You can tell us about a triumph, failure, or struggle in your own garden -- like dealing with late-blight or drought. Or maybe you feel like a public garden you saw lately is so great that the world needs to know. If you want to do a guest blog, just write it up and send it over.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mini-Blogging over at Twitter and Facebook

Find me over at Twitter ( or Facebook ( much more frequent updates and posts on local gardening.

If you garden in the greater DC area and tweet, join me at Garden Ranter Susan Harris' garden for the first ever DC Garden TweetUp on Aug 27. Details here:

And if you are not on either service, but want to learn more -- feel free to join us also!

UPDATE: The 8/27 Twitvite is no longer at Susan's - we've moved it to:

Please join us for an evening of film, local light fare and drinks, and live music, with a focus on locally-produced food and community gardening. The Neighborhood Farm Initiative will present the short film "Food Justice: A Growing Movement" and a very special 30-minute work-in-progress screening of the locally-filmed documentary "A Community of Gardeners," which explores the vital role of seven urban community gardens in Washington, D.C. The screening will be followed by a Q & A with the filmmaker, Cintia Cabib.

The event will take place at the Letelier Theater in Washington, D.C., on Thursday evening, August 27, 2009. The Letelier Theater is located in Georgetown at 3251 Prospect Street, N.W. For directions and parking information, visit Refreshments at 6:30 p.m. Program and screenings at 7:30. Tickets $15 with small surcharge for online sales. Details and presale tickets available online at Cash or check accepted at the door, if seats are still available.

Proceeds benefit programming of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative and the production of "A Community of Gardeners." Visit Neighborhood Farm Initiative on the web at and learn more about "A Community of Gardeners" at This screening is part of the Local Food Film Series, a program of the Local Food Project at Airlie. Special thanks to Media That Matters Film Festival for providing use of "Food Justice: A Growing Movement."

Come join us - whether you tweet or not :-).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

10 Reasons Crocs Rule & Flip Flops are for Fools

This post has been lurking in my head for about a year now. 'Bout time I typed it into Blogger and posted it.

10 Reasons Crocs Rule & Flip Flops are for Fools

1. Ugly Shoes vs Ugly Feet - which would you rather see? Me? I'd MUCH rather look at ugly shoes. Sorry folks, but there are just too many people with fugly, cruddy feet and toes/nails out there - cover up those puppies!

2. Crocs are antimicrobial while flip flops are just stank

3. Crocs are quality and are made to last while flip flops fall apart and shred on you mid-walk through the grocery store

4. Crocs don't cause disfiguring chemical burns and rashes like this one

5. You can wear Crocs in all seasons and with socks, wearing flip flops on days below 60 degrees and you look like an escaped mental patient.

6. Crocs are good for your feet (ask any podiatrist) while flip flops "lead to joint pain, shin splints and twisted ankles... Figures show that 55,100 men and women went to hospital with flip flop-related complaints in 2002. " Read more here.

7. Crocs are just plain comfy and have no breaking in period - over and over you hear the Croc converts declare: "I, too, resisted crocs. Until I put a pair on my feet." Instant bliss. While some flip slops can be comfy, many rub the wrong way and create those painful between toe blisters and they certainly don't massage your feet for all day standing/walking jobs like waiting tables -- the ultimate test of comfort.

8. Crocs are easy to clean - just hose them off and they are like new - ideal for gardeners and those who are just generally rough on their shoes (i.e. kids). Flip Flops show wear and dirt immediately and you might as well just chuck 'em as they won't recover.

9. Crocs are quiet. Flip flops get their name (also known as "slaps") for their annoying-as-hell sound as you walk in them. 'Nuff said.

10. Crocs are so uncool that they are by definition now cool - why else would these famous cool people wear Crocs: Anthony Kiedis, Adam Sandler, Iron Chef Mario Batali, Matt Damon, Jennifer Garner, Steven Tyler, Terri Hatcher, Al Pacino, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Mario Lemieux, Kevin Sorbo, and Heidi Klum - among many others. Sure, you'll see some celebs in flip slops too - but are they rocking it like the ultimate in coolness Jack Nicholson in his bright blue crocs (in the south of France just last week no less!)?

And one bonus reason Crocs rule over flip flops just for my Jewish friends:
Crocs are the Orthodox-approved Yom Kippur shoe choice -- not leather, comfy, and modestly closed-toes.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

What NOT to Compost

Compost is easy. Take some vegetable matter (weeds, fallen leaves, kitchen veggie scraps, lawn clippings, etc.), throw it in a pile. Wait for Mother Nature to break it down and then use as a top dressing in your garden or blend it with new soil when planting.

Where most people get caught up is in the what NOT to compost area. In short, nothing animal-based. No lard, rotten eggs, milk products, grease, leftover lunch meat, fish, bones, etc. Most of all -- no fecal matter from animals that eat meat. I'm looking at YOU dog owners. It is tempting, but don't. I've seen maggot-infested compost piles and it is not pretty.
There is a second category of NOT to compost items and those are plants you do not want to propagate in your garden. Sure, compost could produce enough heat to kill off those weed seeds and such, but rarely does that happen in a small backyard compost operation. Don't chance it. Keep poison ivy, weeds with seed heads, and anything with opportunistic spreading rhizomes (like Japanese honeysuckle) well out of your compost pile. Instead, I put mine in yard waste bags for county pick-up. In their giant piles, it will heat up enough to kill off these bad boys.

My full compost article is in the July/August 09 issue of the Takoma Voice and its sister publication, the Silver Spring Voice. See page 44, if you are in the area and can pick up a free copy of this wonderful local publication or you can read it online here.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Pond Tour Photos - which is your fave?

Three of us from the Takoma Hort Club -- Linette, Taffy and I -- ventured out together and managed to get to 10 of the 34 properties on the 2009 Parade of Ponds Tour. We did it in a bit more than four hours and we even dawdled at a few to chat with the gardeners if they were at home when we arrived. See my photo gallery here.

Last night at the club's annual summer potluck picnic, we compared notes with others in the club who made their own Parade of Pond treks. Many of us saw the same properties, but, of course, we were anxious to hear most about the ponds that got away an vowed to make those tops on our list for "next year." We all had our favorites and a few we'd say "skip" -- though funny that those same "skips" were inevitably someone else's faves! I guess we all see things so differently don't we? One pond/garden I truly disliked and would definitely rate as a "skip" because as I stood taken pics, I was bitten by chiggers and harassed by mosquitoes, while I'll the rest of the properties were bug-free. Now looking back at the tour photos, I have to say the "buggy" yard was actually pretty darn nice too.

Local Seniors Growing Habits

Some local gardening friends, Susan Harris and the Koiners, got profiled in this month's edition of The Beacon (formerly The Senior Beacon and aimed at the over 50 set in Greater Washington). Gardening and seniors is not exactly a new trend --- especially among those that are retired and have the free time to pursue the growing hobby full-time. What is interesting is how many seniors do it as a way to raise money and put fresh food on the table, not just as a way to "pass time." Read all about it here.

Charlie Koiners urban veggie patch is pictured here. At more than twice my age, I'm impressed he has the energy to do this and much more in his one-acre lot.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Tomato Grown from Seed Exchange

Have you attended the Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchanges? We are looking for photos of anything you have grown from seeds you got at the past swaps. If you have any pictures to share, drop me a note at washingtongardener (at)

This green tomato photo was submitted by someone who grew it from seed packs stuffed in the Seed Exchange goody bags this year. I saw these plants in person and they are big, lush, healthy, and full of fruits. That is inspiring to me as everyone always says tomato plants aren't "worth" growing from seed and to just buy the started seedling plants. With this year's local late blight warnings in mind and the suspicion that all the infected plants came from one plant nursery who supplies big-box stores, you have even more reason to grow your own and to start from seeds!

BTW I have a BIG announcement concerning the upcoming January 30, 2010 Seed Exchange. We will once again be at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD that day. BUT... we will also be at Green Spring Gardens in Fairfax, VA. That is right, two simultaneous exchanges and a shorter commute for many. If the event keeps growing (groan) as it has, we may soon add a third in DC proper.

Featured Post

Gifts for Gardeners ~ Gardening Gifts ~ Cool Gardening Gift Ideas

Today is Amazon Prime Day, so I thought I'd again share the garden products I use almost every day. These are the tried-and-true w...