Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Commercial Potting Soil

I know, a very exciting photo, of dirt!  This is a nationally-available brand of potting soil with fertilizer and I have finally gotten fed up with it.  I am now starting to make my own.  Why?  Mushrooms.  Huh?  I have been using this and similar soils for outdoor container plants and house plants.  Lately, my house plants have been sprouting various fungi!  Which I think is not so good for indoor air quality, especially for those with allergies.  Why is this happening?
Well, turn over the bag and read the ingredients.  Many of these potting mixes list "forestry by products" " forestry products" or "wood chips."  You can even see some in the photo.  Wood chips take awhile to decompose and often sprout mushrooms and fungi in order to break down.  They provide zip in regard to plant nutrients, except, perhaps, over the very long haul.  They are there so the forestry industry can get rid of excess, undesirable wood waste.
Another reason to dislike these products is the harsh, chemical salt fertilizers they contain.  These are like feeding your kids on white sugar, not healthy at all.
I am now making my own potting soil, a mix of worm compost (other well-aged compost will do), peat or coir fibers and perlite.  I think my house plants and I will be the better for it!
Happy gardening!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Carnivory in Action

A wasp stuck in a pitcher plant.
I sometimes see small insects stuck in the pitchers of these carnivorous plants, but seldom ones as large as this wasp.  I watched him for awhile, and he (she?) just cannot get back up, the feet keep sliding down, towards the pool of digestive enzymes at the bottom.  However, bees and wasps are often able to chew right through the side of the pitcher and effect an escape that way.
It's a plant eats insect world out there!
Happy gardening!  Though the heat and drought are pretty bad here in my part of central Virginia...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Keyhole Gardens: Link

Now this is a very cool idea, keyhole gardens!  From : http://www.inspirationgreen.com/keyhole-gardens.html

The basic idea is to have a center well for composting, and water also goes into this well.  The cut allows for easy access to the center well.  A great idea especially in dry areas and to conserve water in general. Thanks, VS, for sending me the link!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, August 17, 2014


     I wrote a brief note about basil blight last year, secure in the knowledge that it had not spread to Virginia.
But is has. To my house.
     Basil blight is a fungal disease that will kill your basil plants and spread to other basil plants through fungal spores released into the air.  I like to sow basil seeds several times a season to keep a good supply of fresh, young leaves on hand.  I ran out of seed and recently purchased new seed from a large, commercial seed house.  The plants looked great at first, then more and more sickly: pasty yellow and brown leaves.

I wondered if it could be blight. When I turned over the leaves, this is what I saw:
     See the gray patches on the backs of the leaves?  This is the grayish fungus called basil blight.  The remedy? Bag up and throw out the plants, soil and pots.  I feel lucky I don't have this in the garden (I hope I caught it early enough before it spread).
     If your basil gets puny looking, checks carefully for a gray, sooty fungal growth on the backs of the leaves and toss it out ASAP!  I wrote to the seed house, we'll see what response I get,
Happy gardening!  May your basil stay healthy!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Woody Basil

Plant in the background is past-its-prime basil, in front are new plants.
See the difference?

Over the course of the growing season, basil reaches a "woody" stage, at the time it begins to flower.  Though the leaves are ok to use in cooking at this point, they are smaller, begin to turn yellow and brown, and their full basil flavor is diminished.  This happens even if you regularly shear the plant to stimulate new growth.  So, I buy extra seeds of basil and, every three weeks, I start a new pot or two.  This keeps me in fresh, young basil leaves all summer long!  The spent basil gets dumped in the compost heap.
Happy gardening!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Green Wave Mustard

The most reliable green in my central Virginia garden, Green Wave Mustard, is available from a variety of sources.  This old-timey green a favorite in the south, is sweeter raw when young, nutty and luscious when cooked, and is slow to bolt, a very good characteristic for our hot summers...and it can be planted in mid-summer, as long as your provide sufficient water to germinate the seed.  My favorite way to cook it? Caramelize a sliced onion in 2 T of good olive oil with a pinch of salt, add 2 or more cloves crushed garlic and cook a minute, add 4 or more cups of the mustard greens, and let them wilt well. Then add 2 T balsamic vinegar and serve! Delicious!
Happy gardening!

Friday, August 1, 2014

It's that time of the year!

It's that time of the year, when you come home from a week's 
vacation and everything has ripened at once!  Time to get out
the canning kettle!  
Photo, top left, clockwise: lavender touch eggplant, with a 
few cukes and zukes: assorted tomatoes; a cushaw squash and:
yellow bell peppers grown in containers.