Notes from the Cooks' Garden - 6/29/16 by Amye Foelsch

Hi Everyone,

The garden is bursting! I came out this morning to find our squash plants had not only filled the bed, but were creeping into the path and snaking their way through the fence. I gently moved them back into their assigned space, and Jean, Janet and I erected a playpen of sorts to help encourage these fellows to stay in their space. We will see if they behave!

There were some great finds today too! First, the bean seeds that Ellen planted on Thursday, which have been replanted 3 times, are showing signs of germination. We harvested a beautiful and good size head of broccoli and among all those squash vines we found two dark green and glossy zucchini! Harriet’s onions look like they are ready to take the blue ribbon at the county fair! Her sunflower seeds have germinated and it also looks like the original plantings are recovering from being topped off by the deer.

We did say farewell to our cauliflower plants and cut back all the fronds of the asparagus. The harlequin bugs and the asparagus larvae were just having too big of a party.

Jean and I will not be able to make next Tuesday’s workday. Pam & Charlene, will you be able to come out? Our biggest concern is to make sure everything gets a good soak and playing bug detective is always a good thing. Please let us know if you are available.

As always, great team work! Our garden would not be bursting if it were not for all the helping hands.

Take care,


The spreadsheet shows the best times for planting many of the common vegetable crops grown in the Prince William County portion of the Virginia Piedmont.  The planting dates are for planting out into the garden.  For most crops, this means when seeds are planted.  For crops with asteriks* this is the date when seedlings are transplanted outside into garden beds.

Fall Garden (July 14, 2013)

It’s barely mid-summer, but Your Fall Garden begins NOW!

Sustainable gardening includes season extension: growing before the last frost of Spring and after the first frost of Fall. The normal frost-free growing season in our part of the Virginia Piedmont is 182 days, starting with the last spring frost (usually between April 20 and 30) and ending with the first fall frost, usually between Oct 20 and 30. Season extension means growing outside these dates, before the last frost of spring and after the last frost of fall.  Vegetables that tolerate frost are called cold hardy; examples include cabbage, onions, spinach, lettuce and carrots. 

Many of our favorite vegetables will not produce outside the normal growing season. Think of the tender summer annuals: tomatoes, basil, peppers, corn, beans, eggplant, melons and squash. Plant them too early and the frost will kill them. Plant them too late and the frost will kill them. So the question to ask is how much more can we plant this year, both tender annuals and cold hard vegetables, and when should we plant them for optimal results?

Lets start with the tender summer annuals. Basically any crop that will germinate now and grow to a mature yield before the first frost in late October qualifies. That’s about 3 months. And it includes many vegetables, all of which can be planted from seed directly into the garden. Winter squash should be planted by July 10 to mature in time but I think I’ll push my luck and plant some now anyway. Bush beans and sweet corn can be planted through the end of July. Summer squash can be planted now through Aug 18 and cucumbers through Aug 28.

Next is a special group of cold hardy vegetables, grown from seed in a seed flat for up to 30 days before transplanting into the garden bed. (Note: this time of year it’s much easier to grow your own seedlings thanit is in late winter).   Alternatively you can buy seedlings, but you can’t count on them being available early enough. This group includes cabbage family members like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, and cauliflower. They all have the same schedule: plant out seedlings starting July 29 through Aug 18 (that means, if you are starting from seed, do it right now). These crops are not bothered by frost and you can harvest them well into late fall. Pressure from cabbage worms and harlequin bugs might be less this time of year but you can’t count on it. We’ve found that planting under floating row covers or tunnels is a great practice, and companion planting rosemary and cilantro helps too.

Finally, there is another group of cold hardy fall vegetables planted directly into the garden from seed. First, there are carrots. They can be planted now through Aug 18 and harvested all the way through winter until next spring if well mulched. It’s too hot now to plant the others in this group, so wait a bit. Here’s their schedule:

- Bibb and leaf lettuce varieties from July 29 to Aug 18

- Radish from Aug 8 to Aug 28

- Collards from Aug 8 to Sep 17

- Turnips from Aug 8 to Sep 27

- Beets from Aug 18 to Sep 17 and

- Spinach from Sep 7 to Oct 7.

There are other important considerations for the fall garden, like planting cover crops, as well as cultural techniques and structures that can extend the season even further. But the middle of July is too soon to worry about them; we’ll get to those later. Meantime, enjoy the summer!

SVG Class 1, 2/8/2014, Charts and Q&A

The is the fifth year we have offered a series of 3 classes on Sustainable Vegetable Gardening in February and March. The first class this year, on planning and soil preparation, was really exciting: 83 people attended. Thanks to all who came for your enthusiasm, great questions, and suggestions. Please continue the series for classes 2 and 3, which will end with a workshop to build your own garden plan.

The presentation viewgraphs from the first class (Planning and Soil Preparation) are now available on the Master Gardener Prince William website, On the home page lower right, under LATEST SUSTAINABLE GARDEN BLOGS, clicking on ‘Sustainable Vegetable Garden Notes’ brings you to a downloadable file: SVG Part 1 Planning and Soil 2014.pdf which contains all the charts and pictures presented during the class.

Q&A - Testing your seeds - I am testing some seeds left from last year and placed them in zip lock bags on moist paper towels as you suggested.  What exactly am I looking for?  It appears that there are small smudges around the seeds. Anything else I can expect?  Should they actually sprout?  I don't remember seeing that in the examples that were displayed.

Your question on the seed test is right on target -- we really needed to open the bags and unfold the paper towel to inspect the results.  In the 3 examples on display, 7 of 10 beans were viable, watermelon was 6 of 10, but they take longer to sprout.  Onions take 12 or 14 days to sprout, and they hadn't been in the bag that long - none had sprouted by the time of the class but a few days after the class, 13 of the 15 onion seeds sprouted.

What we are looking for is a seed that has actually sprouted. That smudge around the seed is common early on as the seed coat softens but we really want to see the sprout, that is, the seed cover softened in the wet environment, plus the initial root and shoot formations have poked out of the seed coat and begun growing.  Then we know that seed was viable.  So we test a sample of the seeds. If 7 or more of 10 sprout, your seeds are good.  Commercial requirements are 70% or better for most seeds.  Even if they are 3, 4 or 5 years old, if they pass the test, they are good as new.  If a quarter or fewer of your seeds sprout, you might as well buy new ones.  If between 25 and 70% sprout and you still want to use them, just plant them more thickly then thin them if they come up too close together.

Different crop seeds have different sprouting times. even given the best environmental conditions.  So onions are usually 10 days or more.  Radishes and beans are much quicker; normally the seed packets tell us what to expect.

Q&A – How about some information on Vegetable Gardening in Containers and small plants for small areas.

The class is focused on planting in the ground in ways that are organic and sustainable, but much of the information in the class is applicable to containers and small spaces. There clearly are differences: using containers, what is good soil, what varieties will do best, etc. Here are some very good articles on the subject which will bridge the gap between in-ground and in-containers.

1. This Maryland Extension paper covers all the bases: the advantages and limitations of containers, how to do it organically, environmental conditions, container types, soil/growing media, compost and nutrition, planting and tending, dealing with problems, even making your own self-watering containers. Plus it has a good list of books, suppliers, and other resources. There is not much information on specific varieties. The easy way to find the paper is to google: Maryland hgic container gardening. Here’s the link:

2. Barbara Pleasant, Mother Earth News, April/May 2012. Short article, good ideas, by a well known Virginia garden writer.

3. This Virginia Cooperative Extension paper by Diane Relf adds great information on vegetable varieties and their space requirements.

Winter? We look at the calendar and we know it’s “technically” winter. But that’s the only sign. The birds don’t think so, the forsythia doesn’t think so, and according to the Washington Post (3/11) the bugs don’t even think it’s winter! The article appeared on page A3, above the fold, as the first under the banner “Politics and the Nation.” Some examples: A major pest control company reported a 30% increase in calls for ant infestation; and “Reports of early tick activity have been received from the East Coast to the Midwest.” The article quoted Professor Mike Raupp, professor of entomology at U. Maryland, and the go-to guy on dealing with bugs; his advice: “How do you stop them? You pray for cold weather.”

Not only is it warmer than usual; it’s drier too, at least so far. Ten days ago, during the class on Sustainable Vegetable Gardening Part 3, Soil, we noted that the soil was too wet to cultivate in many places but now, already, it’s much drier; we’re about 30% short of normal rainfall for the month. The other indicator is soil temperature. The milestones for planting potatoes are mid March and when the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F. Guess what? Today it’s already 55 in my beds. Guess I better get on with planting the potatoes!

If you planted garlic or other aliums to overwinter last fall, this would be a good time to check them out, if you haven’t already. Onions don’t compete well against weeds. I just finished weeding mine at home, again. The winter annual weeds really came on strong this year-- I’m talking about bittercress, chickweed, and henbit, the evil trio. They are everywhere and they keep popping up in the onion patch, even in spite of teh straw. The trick is to “harvest” the annual weeds before they go to seed. Harvest by pulling, mowing, removing them by hand; don’t spray them, the annuals are going to die anyway and you don‘t want poison other things. They make good additions to the compost pile if they haven’t set seed. After pulling back the straw and weeding, I mulched the bed well with compost and watered them thoroughly.

The cook’s garden portion of the teaching garden usually breaks ground ahead of the ornamental areas. And we’ve been at work for a couple weeks now. We have 8 biointensive and 6 raised beds this year, with one bio bed on loan as a nursery area. Planning is coming along and we should have a good mix of fruits and vegetables to demonstrate this year and to donate to the shelters and food banks. Newly planted crops this month include radishes, onions, peas (sugar snap and garden), lettuces, turnips, kale, and Swiss chard. Potatoes will go in shortly. We already have lots of plants started indoors, like cabbage, celeriac, and artichokes. And the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are just now, or will soon be starting their germination, looking forward to mid-May planting. Our biggest challenge is fences so that we can better protect what we grow this year.

Come visit us in the teaching garden this year and let us know how your garden grows! Saturdays in the Garden and workdays are posted on the web site:

Peace, Paul

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