When my fellow plant nerds (aka co-horts) and I get together, the conversation can be riveting.
What’s growing in your garden?
Hairy Galinsoga invaded Emelie’s vegetable bed. Yellow wood sorrel is creeping around my garlic. Oh, and those four-legged, cotton-tailed weeds have decapitated every one of my Mooncake soybean sprouts, not to mention the Royal Burgundy, Roma and Tapia bean seedlings.
Hairy G (Galinsoga quadriradiata) is a summer annual weed with hairy triangular leaves and a yellow-centered white flower not much larger than this G. It also goes by the name Quickweed (which is not a good thing) and Shaggy Soldier (a name which is cuter than the plant). I thought I left Hairy G back in Berks County with Emelie, but no such luck. High in calcium and vitamins A, B, and C, it can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked as a green…if you like hairy food.
Yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) reminds me of clover but it has three heart-shaped leaflets instead of oval ones. In fact, it is sometimes called Lemon Clover and its leaves can be used to make a drink similar to lemonade that is chock full of vitamin C. Juices can be extracted from the plant to make a vinegar substitute, which is why it is also called Pickle Plant. While these descriptions might sound desirable, look out! It has seedpods that open explosively, shooting seeds a dozen feet or so. I remember Steve Ganser telling me he could hear the seeds pinging against the walls of his greenhouse as the capsules catapulted their contents.
And those furry brown bunnies? Well, you all know what they look like. Perhaps I can train the yellow wood sorrel seed capsules to take aim at those darn rabbits! Laurie Lynch
Weed Free, Not Worry Free: Meanwhile, in the Master Gardener teaching tunnel weeds are not a problem. All this rain we’ve been getting falls on, not in, the high tunnel. So, instead of weeds, we have irrigation issues.
But we’re getting things figured out. Chris, who always seems to secure the materials and know-how we need from Penn State profs, says we have what they call a “Third-World irrigation system”—basically a water barrel, hose, and gravity. Peace Corps, here I come!
It is definitely a blending of ideas, with Jo, our teaching tunnel business manager and overall organizer, keeping us on track. Even my mom helps, riding shotgun on the 22-mile roundtrip to the Ag Progress Days site, and keeping everyone on their toes.
We hoisted a 55-gallon water barrel onto a strong 3-foot-tall table near the raised bed. A short hose runs from the faucet of the barrel to a splitter. The splitter leads to two drip lines. We fold the end of each drip line several times and secure it with a sleeve made from a 10-inch section of drip line. Holes are pre-punched in the drip line tape every 12 inches. You place it blue-stripe-up so you can make sure the holes don’t get clogged. Volunteers have to fill the barrel every two or three days with a second hose attached to the site’s water pump.
We’re growing three heirloom tomatoes grafted onto disease-resistant rootstock. We purchased two each of grafted San Marzano, Pink Brandywine, and Black Krim. One of each is planted in the teaching tunnel; the remaining three are outside in our MG demonstration garden.
Although the irrigation system is simple, regulating the water flow coupled with a learning curve on the amount of heat that can build up in the high tunnel (even with sides rolled up) has been a challenge.
Then, there is the matter of trellising. We were warned that grafted tomatoes grow to be monsters in a high tunnel. How to keep these tomatoes in check?
Jim, our MG MacGyver-type, talked us into a simple, yes-you-can-do-this-at-home tomato trellising system (if you have a high tunnel). One end of the polished hemp twine is tied to an anchor stake, the twine is wrapped gently around the main stem of the plant, and the other end of the hemp is tied overhead onto the beam of the high tunnel. Weekly, as each tomato plant grows, we carefully tuck the main stem around the taut twine, catching it under a branch. At the same time, we remove suckers in the crotch of each branch. It helps to think of the tomato as a vine when you do this.
The co-hort fun never stops. Jo carries so much stuff in her purse (scissors, First Aid kit, plant markers, drip tape, Starbucks chocolate cheesecake brownies) that once my mom asked her if she had ice cream in there too!
Also In the Tunnel: We’re growing Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries (Physalis pruinosa) and Giant Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) or, as it is called in French-speaking Quebec, “L’or de la Terre” (Earth’s Gold). Hope to have them ripe and ready for people to taste at Ag Progress Days.
Recharged Batteries: I attended the state Master Gardener Conference this past weekend thanks to its convenient University Park location. In upcoming blogs, I’ll be sharing some of the highlights.
Nicholas Staddon, director of new plant introductions for Monrovia plant purveyors, was a delightful keynote speaker. I almost stood on my chair and cheered when he said, “Vegetable gardening is not a trend anymore; it’s a cultural shift.”
He talked about the migration of vegetables into beds with perennials, shrubs and trees, and of cutting gardens melding with edible gardens. I had to laugh.
Just the other day, I realized I had filled the vegetable garden with plants and seeds, and didn’t have any room for my chitted Yukon Gold potatoes. In my mother’s perennial entrance garden, I planted some Bergenia (aka Pig Squeak because of the sound it makes when you rub its leaves) and autumn-blooming Coral Bells (Heuchera villosa) under the Kousa Dogwood, but the sunny area was looking sparse. So, I inter-planted white Wave Petunias with potatoes!
Monrovia Connection: The Raspberry Shortcake thorn-less raspberry I bought in Connecticut is a Monrovia introduction…and I can’t wait for the newest discovery Nicholas spotted in the Seattle area that he hopes to propagate successfully on a mass scale: a rhubarb plant with ruby-colored leaves. It’s a beauty!
Café Connection: I’m often on the front porch waiting for Café Lemont to open but the other night, the owners were walking past my mom’s house. I said hello and we were all surprised to meet there. (My mom lives on a dead-end road with only two houses.) They explained that they set a goal to spend 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days, so they were walking and enjoying the evening.
30-Day Connection: From what I’ve been reading, there’s a “30-day movement” to make positive changes for 30 days straight, often in the hopes of creating good habits. Have any of you tried this? If so, add a comment to this blog and tell me what you’ve tried and how it worked.
Small Town: I was staring at an equine mother-daughter photograph with my mouth wide open as the dental hygienist scraped and polished. She was telling me that she recently bought a gentle horse to ride—and lo and behold, the horse was gentle because she was pregnant. I kept looking at the photo and she explained that her mare gave birth to a brown-and-white filly.
I waited until it was safe and told her I had taken a photo of her foal last fall on a bike ride through Linden Hall.
Small World: The mare’s name is Mandy and her filly is Misty. Misty of Chincoteague? I asked, mentioning a favorite book from my youth. Misty of Chincoteague was her daughter’s favorite book too. Her daughter, she went on to say, recently finished grad school at the University of London. Dental hooks and prodders be damned, my jaw dropped and I sat up. “My daughter is going to her Master’s graduation at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies next month.” Wonders never cease.