Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tomato Taste 2017 Results: 'Sun Gold' Trounced in Amazing Upset by 'Black Cherry'

Tomato tasting photo by Maeve Dunigan.
We had almost 300 people come to last Saturday's Washington Gardener Magazine 10th Annual Tomato Taste at the FreshFarm Silver Spring Market last Saturday. Here are the results of the more than 200 ballots submitted.
  1. Black Cherry from The Farm at Our House 
  2. Red Grape from Spiral Path Farm 
  3. Cherokee Purple from Mock's Greenhouse
  4. Green Zebra from Three Springs Fruit Farm
  5. Amish Paste from The Farm at Our House 
  6. Sun Gold from Chicano Sol
  7. Black Vernissage from The Farm at Our House
Only 3 votes separated our top two winners. Last year  'Sun Gold' and 'Green Zebra' were the crowd favorites, but this year the more full-flavored red varieties won out. If we had taken out the cherry varieties, 'Cherokee Purple' would have easily one. It always performs well in our annual contest.

Do take a minute to click on the photo link here to view the Facebook album of photos from the event. I think you will agree that the market tomatoes are absolutely gorgeous and very photogenic.

In addition to the tasting, many people stopped by to create colorful tomato art and to pick up the free tomato seeds, growing tips, and recipes that we gave out.

Prize drawning winner photo by Uyen Nguyen.
Bri Adams of Silver Spring, MD, (pictured here with her baby) won the prize drawing of a tote bag full of gardening tools, tomatoes, and $25 worth of market tokens! 

Most of the taste attendees were local, though we also had many who came quite a distance. About half live in Silver Spring. Another third live close by in Washington, DC or the neighboring towns of Takoma Park, Chevy Chase, and Hyattsville. From farther away in Maryland, folks came from Rockville, Ellicott City, College Park, Beltsville, Olney, Riverdale, Potomac, and Baltimore. From across the river in Virginia, attendees came from Alexandria and Richmond. From out of the area, we even had a few votes from Miami, FL, and Boston, MA!

Thank you to all who came and participated. Thanks to the farmers for growing great tomatoes and to FreshFarm Markets staff for hosting us. Special thanks also to Mary-Denise Smith and our incoming Fall interns -- Marve, Nicole, and Uyen -- for helping with all the tomato sample cutting and helping greet all the tasters in the short two-hour event. See you next August!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fenton Friday: Last of the Melons

This is the last of the watermelons that the summer interns grew. You can read all about their process in the current issue here. I think most of the summer edibles are winding down now as the heat of summer seems to have left us prematurely. (I am NOT complaining.)

I am now starting to think about what I can pull out and what I want to let go a bit longer. Then what autumn crops I want to put in. For sure, I want to start some lettuce, radish, and carrots. But, do I risk peas again? Last fall, they were a total bust.

I wish this Zinnia (pictured below) had been in bloom at fair time -- I am sure it would have been a winner!

How is your edible garden growing this week?

About Fenton Friday: 
Every Friday during the growing season, I'll be giving you an update on my community garden plot at the Fenton Street Community Garden just across the street from my house. I'm plot #16. It is a 10 ft x 20 ft space and this is our 6th year in the garden. (It opened in May 2011.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Win a Gardening & Nature Photography Workshop at Lucibella Farm in August 2017 Washington Gardener Magazine Reader Contest

For our August 2017 Washington Gardener Magazine Reader Contest, we are giving away one free ticket to the Gardening & Nature Photography Workshop at Lucibella Farm on Sunday, August 27 (a $100 value).
   This is a unique, hands-on workshop about gardening and nature photography. Learn about the secrets of gardening and beekeeping from Michael Kiefer, farmer/beekeeper. You will learn about growing herbs, perennial flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, and more! Michael will also share some tips about beekeeping and raising chickens for eggs. You will get to sample some fresh veggies, herbs, and honey.
   After the foray into gardening, we will venture into the world of nature photography with photographer Roshani Kothari. You will learn about light, angle, composition, and the role of serendipity involved in capturing beautiful images.
   Special guest Charles Mewshaw, landscape architect/horticulturalist, will talk about the farm’s history and share some stories about his favorite trees and plants on the farm. Space is limited to 10 participants. No prior experience with gardening or photography is required. Questions or for more information, email roshanikothari@gmail.com.
   To enter to win the workshop ticket, send an email to WashingtonGardener@rcn.com by 5pm on Friday, August 25, with “Lucibella Farm” in the subject line. In the body of the email, tell us which was your favorite article in the August 2017 issue and why. Please also include your full name and mailing address. The workshop winner will be announced by August 26.

Lucibella Farm expanded the number of winners to 5. They are:
~ Beth Czaban, Vienna VA
​Kathy Pongor, Savage, MD
Nancy Khan, Washington, DC 
Eric Hyman, Silver Spring, MD
Alison Mrohs. Rockville, MD
Congratulations, all!

Monday, August 21, 2017


The August 2017 issue of Washington Gardener Magazine is now out.

It is posted to: https://issuu.com/washingtongardener/docs/washingtongardeneraug17

Inside this issue:
  • Chaste Tree: A Pure Delight
  • Resources for Youth Gardening in the City 
  • Your Garden Task List
  • Rose Rosette Update
  • DC-MD-VA Gardening Events Calendar
  • Meet Merrifield’s Peg Bier
  • Growing Melons in Just 10 Weeks
  • Ask the Expert: Peony Problems
  • Enchanting Native Wildflower: Fairy Wands

Note that any submissions, event listings, and advertisements for the September 2017 issue are due by September 10.

Subscribe to Washington Gardener Magazine today to have the monthly publication sent to your inbox as a PDF several days before it is available online. You can use the PayPal (credit card) online order form here: http://www.washingtongardener.com/index_files/subscribe.htm

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fenton Friday: Ribbons and Melons

I went away for 12 days and to speak at and attend two international gardening conferences (GWA and IWGS) and came home to a jungle both in my own home garden and in the community garden plot! This year, I arranged for helpers to water while I went away, fearing our typical July-August drought. Well, that was totally unnecessary as we have had one heavy storm after another and the plants are quite happy. Now I am just spending time beating things back from the pathways and picking off the swollen, cracked tomatoes.

While I was out, the interns entered us into several categories at the Montgomery County Fair and we went to check on them on Monday. We won two ribbons - a second and a fourth place - both for the Celosia blooms I planted along the back border of the plot.

One big development in the plot during my absence was the appearance of several Mouse Melons (aka Mexican Gherkins) on my tiny vines. I tasted one today and it was the typical lightly-sour-cucumber flavor that I really like. It is as if it has pickled itself -- no vinegar or long wait needed.

How is your edible garden growing this week?

About Fenton Friday: 
Every Friday during the growing season, I'll be giving you an update on my community garden plot at the Fenton Street Community Garden just across the street from my house. I'm plot #16. It is a 10 ft x 20 ft space and this is our 6th year in the garden. (It opened in May 2011.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Washington Gardener Magazine's

10th Annual Tomato Tasting

at the Silver Spring FreshFarm Market

 It’s ‘Big Boy’ vs. ‘Mortgage Lifter,’ hybrid vs. heirloom, the tomato wars have just begun. Everyone is sure that their tomato pick is the tastiest. Join Washington Gardener Magazine at the FreshFarm Market in downtown Silver Spring, MD, on Saturday, August 26 from 10am-12noon for a Tomato Tasting. Best of all, this event is FREE!

Farmers at the market will contribute their locally grown selections — from super-sweet ‘Sungold’ to not-so-pretty ‘Cherokee Purple’ — and we’ll explore which tomatoes make the short list of favorites. We’ll have tomato gardening tips, tomato recipes, tomato activities for kids, and much more. All to celebrate one of summer’s greatest indulgences — the juicy fresh tomato.

Tip: Your tomato taste voting ballot is also your entry into our prize drawing for a basket full of gardening goodies. The drawing is at 12noon, so be sure to fully fill out your ballot by 11:45am and then stick around for the prize announcement as you must be present to win.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Video Wednesday: New Bartholdi Park Landscape

The landscape of the US Botanic Garden's historic Bartholdi Park, near the foot of Capitol Hill and the US Capitol Building, was recently renovated. The official unveiling will be early this fall. Here is a little preview of the newly completed re-vamp.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bloom Day: Pollinator Paradise

It is the 15th of the month, which means Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day again. To view links to other garden bloggers' blooms around the world to see what it blooming in their gardens today and to read their collective comments, go to http://www.maydreamsgardens.com/
Here is the Mid-Atlantic USA (USDA zone 7) on the DC-MD border, the past month had been cooler than usual and very wet. This is usually our dry period and I am usually parying every day for just one drop of precipitation, but in the last two weeks we have gotten 8-10 inches of rain! The plants are super happy and I am grateful not to have to be hauling containers and hoses around daily right now.
In my garden blooming right now are: Butterfly Bush, Hydrangea, Trumpet Creeper vine, Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susan, Rose of Sharon, tropical Hibiscus, various half-hardy Salvias, Coleus, Lisianthus, Begonias, Lobelia - both white and blue, Calibrochoas and Petunias, Encore azaleas, Fuchsia, PJM rhododendron, Sunflower Balsam, groundcover Roses, Zinnias, Heucheras, Echinacea, Dianthus, one little Pansy hanging on for dear life, the first of the'Samurai' Toadlily, Japanese Anemone, tons of funky mushrooms, Crape myrtles, and this adorable little weed (pictured below) that I have no idea what it is - it is popping up everywhere near my gazebo - anyone know it what it is?
So what is blooming in YOUR garden today?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Chef Gardens: Up the Ladder at Evening Star Cafe

Evening Star's chef Keith Cabot and master of soil Jonathan Stark
By Ana Hurler

As the chef of Evening Star Cafe, there is nothing more rewarding for Keith Cabot than to go up to his rooftop and harvest produce for that night’s service. “There’s nothing better than going upstairs and pulling it out of the ground,” he said.
The 1,300 square foot garden provides more than 60 percent of the restaurant’s produce during the peak season, Cabot said. With the instillation of tarps to cover the beds and fans, the garden continues to produce throughout the winter, although at a lower rate.
Evening Star has served as a neighborhood dining spot in Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA, since 1997. The restaurant has several distinctive areas for friends and families to gather, from the main dining room and Front Porch, to The Majestic Lounge and No. 9 Lounge. The restaurant is open to Planet Wine next door, where Cabot creates meals paired with wines at The Farm Table. Each has its own seasonal offerings.
“It’s only 1,300 square feet,” Cabot said. “I say 'only' because that’s small for a whole restaurant, but that’s bigger than most people’s apartment. So it’s big for what it is, but it’s small in the sense of what it’s providing for. So how do we get a product to produce the fastest, the best, the largest?”
The rooftop garden started four years ago, and Cabot has been at the restaurant for two and a half years. With help from Jonathan Stark, who does handyman work for several restaurants under the Neighborhood Restaurant Group and whom Cabot calls the “master of soil,” the garden has grown and become more efficient.
“In the last year, we really just started making it the most efficient we can,” Cabot said. “Jon was getting to know the soil, he was getting to know different plants, and he was trying a lot of things out so there was just a lot of one-offs, and to use that on the menu for a whole restaurant, you really need to see quantity.”
Now, the garden produces enough to have an item on the menu for the whole season. By dividing the garden into 24 square-foot gardening style beds, they can calculate how many blocks of each plant are needed to produce the yield they are looking for. Within the blocks, smaller herbs are planted on the outside, while larger, taller plants, such as tomatoes and beans, are placed in a row in the middle to maximize access. Cabot said they also only plant varieties they can use responsibly, and do not like to use anything with a germination of more than 80 days.
“Then the bed is just not getting used,” he said. “There’s something in it, and it’s growing, but we’re not getting anything out of it. And it really slows down what we’re able to use on the menu.”
To supply the rest of their produce needs, Cabot works closely with Northern Neck Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for deliveries gathered from local farms. This partnership also includes a weekly CSA where anyone can order a box of produce and pick it up at the restaurant.
“My philosophy is that if you know where your product’s coming from, you have that much more insight into what to do with it,” Cabot said.  “You know when it’s going to be ready, you know when it’s going to be harvested, you know how much you’re going to get. You just have that connection.”
While the rooftop garden takes much more planning, time, and effort than ordering produce, Cabot said the payoff is “going up there, climbing that ladder, and picking that produce off the plant and then using it right away.”
“The product doesn’t get any fresher than that,” he added. “No matter what anybody says, no matter how they want to phrase it, no matter what term they want to use, it doesn’t get any fresher than picking it off the plant and putting in on the table.”
The other benefit to the rooftop garden is extending the shelf life of the produce. By the time Cabot gets to the bottom of a box of produce, it’s no longer fresh. With the garden, the produce is harvested during the day and used up during the service.
“No matter what avenue of produce vendor or how you’re getting your product, that’s the number one thing,” Cabot said. “How do you manage that time to make sure that what’s going on the plate is as fresh as it can be?”
To emphasize this freshness, almost everything from the rooftop is served raw or slightly cooked.
“The fresher the vegetables are, then the less cooking heat you really apply to them, because once you apply heat to something it starts to deteriorate,” he said. “You’re losing its flavor, you’re losing its texture, and those things you’re compromising at that point.”
Rooftop produce is the centerpiece of many current dinner offerings, such as the shishito peppers with mint, feta, and lime, and the tomatoes with purslane, basil, and sherry.
“For me, it’s really about letting the produce shine,” Cabot said. “The roof takes so much time, it takes so much effort, so much thought to get the produce to a point where we’re ready to harvest it. And when we harvest it, I don’t want to do something to the product to disrespect that process.”
By serving the produce this way, Cabot gives patrons a chance to taste the full payoff of all their hard work up there. While this payoff does take extra time and resources – Cabot and Stark are already planning next season’s harvest – Cabot said working in the garden is simply what he loves to do.
“I think it’s an amenity for me,” he said. “It’s there so we can get the best product for the guests, but I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the garden, I’m grateful for Jon, and having those resources at our disposal.”
Chef Keith Cabot shared his recipe for Sweet & Sour Eggplant, a variation of which is currently being used in his duck dish.
1# Italian globe eggplant diced, 1 inch cubes
1# Japanese eggplant sliced, 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup red onions diced, small
1/2 cup fennel diced, small
1/2 cup honey
1 cup red wine vinegar
4 cups apple juice
Pinch chili flake (you can add more or less based on your preference for spicy)
2 laurel leaves, fresh
1/8 cup cornstarch
Toss eggplant in oil. Bake at 375 until light brown.
Sweat onion and fennel with chili in enough canola oil to cover a rondo on medium heat until tender, no color. Deglaze by adding laurel, honey, vinegar, and juice.
Reduce by half.
Add eggplant and cook until glazed.
"Chef Gardens" is a weekly blog series featuring local restaurants with gardens in the greater Washington, DC area.

About the Author:
Ana Hurler, a senior multi-platform journalism major at the University of Maryland, College Park. Ana is interning with us this summer.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Chef Gardens: L'Auberge Chez Francois Alsatian-style Freshness

by Ana Hurler

Owner and executive chef Jacques Haeringer continues his family’s tradition of serving fresh French classics at L’Aubuerge Chez François in Great Falls, VA.
“We do a seasonal menu – unapologetically French classics,” Haeringer said. “We kind of, not snicker, but we kind of go, ‘oh, farm to table, garden to table,’ isn’t that the way it was supposed to be all along? I think it’s really over used.”
Haeringer gardens about one acre of the property’s six total acres. The restaurant has always had a small garden since opening in 1976, but Haeringer greatly expanded it about six years ago because “it just was the right time to do it,” he said. The garden still continues to expand as Haeringer takes on new projects.
“We grow quite a bit of our own stuff, but it’s right here,” he said. “We like that a lot, and I think our customers – long time patrons – appreciate that it’s actually done right here and you can see it and touch it and feel it.”
“My dad was an avid gardener, and I am,” Haeringer added. “It’d be a shame with all this property not to.”
Chez François has not always been the idyllic country inn that patrons know today. Haeringer’s father, the late François Haeringer, founded the original restaurant in downtown DC in 1954. Jacques began helping his father in the restaurant at 11 years old. Eventually, changing cityscapes pushed the Haeringers to move away from DC and closer to François’s vision for the French restaurant.
“Dad had always wanted to do a country-type inn because when he was an apprentice in Alsace he worked in a country-type inn and always wanted to have one,” said Jacques. “So he looked around for properties and found this place and bought it in ’72, and then the restaurant downtown they knocked the whole block down.”
Jacques continues to run the restaurant with his brother, Paul. While the business has continued to grow – Haeringer now manages a 93-member staff – he maintains his father’s legacy of serving “unabashedly French classics” to the public.
“It’s a small business,” Haeringer said. “It’s a pretty nice sized small business, but it’s a small business – family run business.”
And business is going strong for the Haeringers. L’Auberge Chez François has been in the top 100 on Open Table in the U.S. for the last four years, and won many awards, Haeringer said. He added that he is “humbled to have such a great following.”
“People wait for it, it’s nice. They are looking forward to the local produce – our produce,” he said.
While the garden cannot supply all of the restaurant’s produce needs – Haeringer said he would “need a hundred acres” to do so – it certainly provides a great deal of seasonal produce and herbs. He said right now, all of the tomatoes and peppers come from the garden. No matter what is being planted, Haeringer’s priority is utilizing the space efficiently.
“What we do are high value crops for us,” he said. “We try to utilize the space. We do intensive farming, so we plant the tomatoes in between the rows of lettuce, and then when it gets too hot and the lettuce is gone, the tomatoes will come. … It supplies a lot, so for maybe two-and-a-half months you won’t buy any tomatoes.”
Even with all the food the garden is providing, Haeringer said it can still be a struggle to get the kitchen to actually feature the produce in dishes.
“Believe it or not, the hardest thing is getting the kitchen to get the chefs to use the stuff,” he said. “It’s so easy to get that box of lettuce – they don’t have to clean it, they don’t have to pick it, and all that stuff.”
Even so, Haeringer does not want the produce to just be used as garnishes. Rather, the produce often becomes a featured part of the dish.
“So we’ve pushed everybody, and the servers, and the front of the house people to feature the stuff rather than, ‘oh, it’s just a garnish,’ it’s ‘on your plate you will see X,’” he said. “And then we encourage people to go out and walk around the garden.”
While they continue to grow the garden, the Haeringers maintain their father’s vision of providing customers with authentic French cuisine using garden-grown produce at a variety of settings in the country inn.
Chef Jacques Haeringer shared his recipe for his popular Alsatian-Style Tomato Salad, using produce grown on-site.
Serves 4

4 ripe tomatoes
1 head of Boston or Bibb lettuce
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of evaporated cane juice or sugar (optional, if tomatoes are not fully ripe)
4 tablespoons finely chopped onions
4 teaspoons finely minced scallions
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons vinaigrette

Wash the tomatoes and lettuce, drain both well. Make a bed of lettuce on four individual salad plates. Remove the stems and thinly slice the tomatoes. Fan out the tomatoes over lettuce.
Season the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and pepper, and sugar, if desired. Top each tomato with 1 tablespoon onion, 1 teaspoon scallions, ½ teaspoon basil and ½ teaspoon parsley. Pour ½ teaspoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon vinaigrette over each serving.

"Chef Gardens" is a weekly blog series featuring local restaurants with gardens in the greater Washington, DC area.

About the Author:

Ana Hurler, a senior multi-platform journalism major at the University of Maryland, College Park. Ana is interning with us this summer.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Fenton Friday: Currently Currant Tomatoes

These tiny 'Red Currant' Tomatoes are so sweet, prolific, and easy to grow. Why doesn't everyone have a pot or row of them?

They self-sow for me in the garden plot and have migrated to others gardens and to outside the main gate and compost pile as well. Free food for everyone!

Unlike the most fussy hybrids, I never fertilize or water them. They never have foliage issues and they only need beating back occasionally when they try to horn in on the other plants. I just found out from TotallyTomatoes.com that they are a "different plant species, Lycospericon pimpinfolium, than garden tomatoes." That explains a lot. They are native to South America and can cross with our tomatoes, but I have not found that to be an issue.

I pick them by the handful and snack on them as I weed. They are also great scattered on a salad or a pasta dish.

How is your edible garden growing this week?

About Fenton Friday: 
Every Friday during the growing season, I'll be giving you an update on my community garden plot at the Fenton Street Community Garden just across the street from my house. I'm plot #16. It is a 10 ft x 20 ft space and this is our 6th year in the garden. (It opened in May 2011.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Video Wednesday: Sunflowers at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area

Our latest video by the summer interns, Ana and Mika, is of the Sunflowers at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area located in western Montgomery County., MD. Each summer, the state of Maryland plants fields of sunflowers at McKee-Beshers for feeding and attracting migratory game birds. (This is a hunting preserve.) Photography and art clubs love it.  It is so big and even with crowds, it is never a problem to get a good shot.

McKee-Beshers WMA is a 2,000-acre area located on River Road just outside of Seneca, Maryland  (between Potomac and Poolesville in Montgomery County). It is not far from the intersection of River Rd and Rt 112. McKee-Beshers is on the left hand side of the road. Just pull in, walk around the gate, go 20 yards around a clump of brush, and BAM! Sunflowers as far as the eye I can see. Totally hidden from the road. 

There are also several more fields of sunflowers planted at this location, but they require a further hike and perhaps some off-road driving, so this main (front) field remains the most popular.

A few more photos we took are posted here in an album at the facebook.com/WashingtonGardenerMagazine page. 

If you like birding, go early in the day. We went in late afternoon and saw lots of butterflies and bees. The blooms should last a few more weeks and you can go anytime during daylight hours. Best of all, it is free!  

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

DIY: Garden Kneeler

A garden kneeler was one of the first things I bought myself when I started gardening in earnest at my first house and it is always in my "essentials" kit when I help out at a community planting project or visit my garden plot. They really save your knees and can be used as a seat cushion as well.

You can buy fancy kneelers priced from $10-$40+ or you can make your own from materials you may have on-hand or by re-making a worn one. 

Once you make one, you may want to make several to distribute among your gardening pals. In the example here, we used a recycled World Market placemat, slit the seam, and inserted an old outdoor pillow inside.

  • two cloth napkins (or buy water-proof fabric like oilcloth)
  • a cushion pad, foam piece, or old kneeler
  • matching thread
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • a section of cotton rope or twill tape for a handle (optional)

Step 1. Lay the dishtowels out (or cut two rectangles of the fabric. With the right sides of the fabric pieces together, pin and machine stitch along both of the long sides and across one end, taking 1/2-inch seam allowances. Turn the cushion cover right side out. 
Step 2. Insert the cushion pad into the fabric cover. Fold under an inch of the fabric on both edges at the open end of the cushion cover. Take the length of rope and insert the ends of the handle and use clothespins to hold them in place. Machine-stitch the edges together, stitching in the handle as you go.
This is a monthly blog series on DIY projects for the beginning home gardener. Look for the other installments in this DIY blog series by putting "DIY" in the search box here at washingtongardener.blogspot.com

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