This makes no garden sense, does it?

I am about to harvest an eggplant from the plant on the left in the chicken wire. The picture, I took a month ago, shows how the plant in the chicken wire cage was ignored almost entirely by the nastiest of eggplant bushes, flee beetles. DSC_0195webAt the size of normal fleas the flea beetle would easily jump through the cage. But they did not. This bush was far ahead of the one on the right and the others in the garden. Was it the chicken wire? This makes no sense?

Early Snap Peas Add Nitrogen in Summer Tomato Cages

DSC_0365smallLate last winter I cut an early row into to my winter seed rye to plant snap peas that would eventually fertilize my grape tomatoes.

See the sequence from March to May CLICK HERE.

  • cover a strip of tilled soil with black plastic
  • plant pea seeds in the strip after removing plastic
  • when pea plants are six inches high pull any tiny weeds
  • place tomato cages in a line over the plants
  • allow pea plants to climb and produce pea pods
  • clear a circle of the pea plants in each cage for a young tomato plant
  • mulch the tomato plants.
  • watch the tomato plants thrive as the pea plants wither in hot weather
  • harvest peas and then tomatoes
  • mulch more around tomato plants, suppress dead pea plants
  • nitrogen fixing by the previous pea plants fertilize the tomato plants.

Maryland County Takes Lead to Limit Pet Deaths at Shelters

large_cat3aFour public and private spay and neuter pet services in Prince Georges County will receive a total $163,062 in the first round of funding under a new state grant program aimed at reducing high numbers of animals euthanized in shelters and clinics.

“We hope the grants will make people who own their pets to become more responsible,” said Celia W. Craze, planning director for the City of Greenbelt, one of the four grantees.

State spay/neuter money will go to help low-income pet owners statewide. “People just don’t always want to pay for these services,” said Craze. The City of Greenbelt spay/neutering grant will be shared with animal control services College Park, Berwyn Heights and New Carollton. Greenbelt also operates a separate trap neuter and return program for feral cats, which is not part of the grant.

Statewide, the Md. Department of Agriculture Department on Nov. 3 announced nearly $475,000 in grants to 14 nonprofit and governmental organizations, including four of seven applicants in the County. Prince Georges let all other counties and Baltimore City with seven groups applying for funding out of the total of 51 applications, which requested more than $1.8 million.

“The sheer number of applications underscores how important this lifesaving program is to Maryland,” said Amy Hanigan, chair of the state’s advisory board, which will be reviewing applications annually.

The Spay and Neuter Grants Program, in the Agriculture Department, was created by the General Assembly during the 2013 Legislative Session as a result of bills sponsored by Del. Barbara Frush of Prince Georges and Anne Arundel Counties and Prince Georges Senator Joanne Benson.

The program targets low-income pet owners because many have difficulty paying for spaying or neutering pets, according to findings in a 2012 report of the Task Force on the Establishment of a Statewide Spay/Neuter Fund, published by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

About half of the cats and one-third of the dogs taken in by Maryland’s shelter populations are euthanized for reasons other than owner requested euthanasia, the task force reported. In September, the latest data from the Prince George’s animal control, 126 unadopted dogs and 353 unadopted cats had to be put to sleep, according to the county website. The percentages include animals that are turned into the facility for possible adoption or hopes for rescue.

Continue reading HERE

Puttock Presents Native Plant Favorites to Md. Master Gardeners

DSCN0216“Every time we plant a non-native, you are pushing out a native plant that would have thrived there.” Christopher F. Puttock, Ph.D., executive director of Chesapeake Natives, Inc. told an audience of 80 eager Master Gardeners on Nov. 11.

“Why then do we love native plants?” asked Puttock, who is a botanist at the Smithsonian Institution. The many answers included:

  • They get fewer holes in them from bugs.
  • They offer a bigger selection of flora; a vast range really.
  • They are easier to find in the (horticultural) trade.
  • And, the trade breeds natives to be hardier than non-natives.

A Maryland native plant is a first inhabitant, not endemic and grows without human interference. On the other hand, invasive plants that out-competes another species, sort of out of balance with the ecosystem, art to be avoided in native plantings, said Puttock.

Puttock promoted 20 of his favorite native plants for the assembly of garden masters. See:

  1. Milkweed, Ascepias syriaca, is a wonderful plant that’s good for the garden, he said, because if you plant it in the wrong place it will move to the right place—a reference to the native milkweed’s horizontal rooting style that can put shoots up away from the mother plant.
  2. Purple sneezeweed, Helenium flexuosum, is deer proof—a valuable botanical feature in Maryland these days. It is identified by its purplish brown ball of disc flowers.
  3. Jack in the Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum, it loves wet silty or sandy soil places.
  4. Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, has a tasty fruit to turtles who then take the seed underground with them. No need to plant the seed. covers the forest floor with its large, paired and almost round leaves and the single nodding white flower, maturing to a yellowish 2″ long edible fruit.
  5. Plaintain leaf pussytoes, Antennaria plantaginifolia, is the host to the American painted butterfly. Late spring flowers look like tiny cat’s feet.
  6. Blue mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum, is an aggressive seeder. has clusters of “fuzzy” blooms, and grows to about 3 ft.
  7. Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia tribola, Hundreds of small deep gold flowers with brown centers bloom for almost three months.
  8. Whorled tickseed, Coreopsis verticillata, (Moonbeam) is related to dahlias. The root mat has lots of tiny rhizomes that can be planted; a tedious chore.
  9. Trumpet flower, Lonicera sempervirens, is pollinated by hummingbirds. Is a beautiful, slender, climbing vine; not very aggressive but birds spread seeds.
  10. Spotted bee balm, Monarda punctata, is the tall aromatic plant growing in meadows. “Remember meadows?” asked Puttock. “Oh yes they what u see under powerlines.” It is also a deer proof plant.
  11. Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, grows wild next to streams in moist soil. Hummingbird favorite.
  12. White turtlehead, Chelone glabra, loves sun. “You need more of these in your garden,” said the researcher. Baltimore checkerspot butterfly larvae like it. “By wiping out the white turtlehead we are driving checkerspots into extinction,” he said. Spikes of elegant white flowers top shiny green foliage.
  13. Clustered mountain mint, Pycnanthemum multicum, A rich tea plant with small white flowers and leaves.
  14. Culver’s root, Veronicastrum verginicum, a 4 to 6 foot high stalk can be grown easily in the wild flower garden’s moist area. White, spiky flowers with whorled leaves gives this native perennial an interesting and somewhat unusual stature.
  15. Blazing star, Liantris spicata, blazing star, bright purple spikes.
  16. Goldenrod, Solidago odora, is fragrant leaves give off an anise scent when crushed, reminiscent of licorice candy.
  17. Whitewood aster, Aster divaricatus, likes full shade glistening of small white daisies in September and October. Lovely naturalized in shade, average, and dry soil. Found in deciduous woods and along roadsides.
  18. New York ironweed, Verononia noveboracensis, is excellent for the rain garden. Tall, coarse, upright perennial which typically occurs in the wild in moist thickets, low areas and along streambanks. Tiny, fluffy, deep purple, composite flowers.
  19. Bottle gentian, Gentiana clausa, easy to grow in moist wildflower gardens in a low level. Paired, lanceolate leaves, usually on unbranched stalks, and blue blooms which remain closed or nearly so.
  20. Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), is a host to the Falcade orangetip butterfly. About 3-6″ tall, consisting of a flowering stem with a pair of opposite leaves. Spreads by reseeding itself; sometimes it forms rather loose colonies of plants.

Dr. Puttock is usually at the Chesapeake Natives center in Upper Marlboro, Md. promoting many more wild natives for home and park gardens. Click:

Also Small Cities Should Test Gardens for Lead

2011 veg garden
My veggie ‘factory’ two years ago.,

I never thought a soil lead test was necessary for my vegetable garden because I live in a small town. But, this year as I mailed off a soil sample to a testing laboratory, as I do every other winter, I thought again.

In a new study, Wisconsin geologists warn that toxic lead (Pb) in gardens in small cities may be just as much of a serious threat to public health as in large, older U.S. cities. For many years, a lead test has been an essential first step for organizers of community vegetable and flower gardens in big cities.  The unique study demands vigilance in small cities as well.

The soil lead is primarily from residues of long-gone leaded gasoline paints, but persist in soils. The well-known rap on lead it is that it can damage brain cells, limiting intelligence particularly in young children because of their high metabolism rates and hands-to-dirt play habits.

When my soil labs arrived, I ripped open the envelope. My lead level was well below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended limit of 400 parts per billion (ppb) lead in garden soils. No problem.

That was not always the case in the study by Lawrence University geology researchers in Appleton, Wisconsin, a city of 75,000 founded in the late 19th century, much later than the big cities from colonial settlements. More than two-thirds of approximately 200 soil samples from drip lines of roofs exceeded 400 ppb. One third of the samples exceeded 1,200 ppb. The two main sources of lead in garden soils are residue from combustion of the old leaded gasoline and deterioration of lead in old paints. While my plot is former farmland, interior city soils may contain residues of both sources still.

Soils adjacent to homes built before 1960 contained significantly higher Pb levels than those near younger homes,” the new study’s researchers Jeffrey J. Clark and Andrew C. Knudsen, wrote in the Journal of Environmental Quality. Data on the soil lead content charted from the tests typically formed bull’s eyes radiating from buildings, showing a decline of lead in the soil with increasing distance from each building and revealing Pb-contaminated soil radiating outward in all directions. About 40 percent of yard space exceeded concentrations of 400 ppb. “The bulls eye effect is twofold – you find it in the urban core of most cities, we also found that detailed sampling on all sides of eight individual homes  also revealed high concentrations near the house radiating outward,” says Clark.

About 40 percent of total yard space exceeded concentrations of 400 ppb. Clark says, “Urban/suburban areas that postdate the 60’s are likely to be lead free. However, reclaimed brownfields and even gentrified communities may still be at risk depending upon former land use. “

Previous studies have revealed that in areas where housing was constructed on old orchard land rich in lead and arsenic from orchard sprays. Again, only soil analysis can show whether this historic contamination has occurred for your property.

As spring approaches, the popularity of community food gardens in urban settings will undoubtedly continue to grow, providing residents with fresh, affordable produce and a recreational activity. Testing for soil lead is a must these days because “many questions critical to human and environmental health remain unanswered,” the Wisconsin geologists say in the study discussion. But, “most studies have focused on large urban centers, leaving smaller communities unexplored,” said Clark and Knudsen.

Poor children are apt to be mineral deficient, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Laboratory at Beltsville, Md.????

Columnist George Will wrote in 1982, before most of the lead was phased out of paints and gasoline, “Any childhood disease that threatened affluent children as lead poisoning threatens poor children would produce a public reaction faster than you can say ‘swine flu.’”

Today, lead toxicity in gardens on former vacant lots, parks, or school yards is more manageable today, with more recent information and recommendations according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Service.

City garden organizers send soil samples to local labs to determine lead levels before being each project. The department of agriculture in Maryland where I live lists seven reliable laboratories which test for lead, for example. As summer winds down, urban harvests of greens, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, even sweet corn and sweet potatoes are making their way into inner city homes and food banks.

With a risky level of lead in the soil, two precautions are common: planting in raised beds of soil brought in from outside of the community (with certification that it is low in lead) and washing your harvest thoroughly. Still, nothing replaces essential soil testing. Residues of lead-based paints from razed buildings, lead water pipes, industrial sites, and old orchards could be accumulated in the upper eight inches of soil and will not flush out in a thousand years. Without remedial treatments, lead contamination is long term.

But gardeners in big and small cities alike need to remain vigilant, say the scientists because a simple test for level of lead in the soil does not translate directly into the true health risk of ingested soil lead to humans. That true health risk test of the bioavailability of soil lead in our bodies test has not been developed. After 35 years of research, leading agriculture scientists are still working on it.  Scientists are not at fault for lack of seeking their Holy Grail on this issue however.

Unlike the ease of sending off a soil sample for lead level, testing for bioavailability is difficult and still open for study. “Soil Pb risks are complex,” says research agronomist Rufus Chaney with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He says ultimately bioavailability of lead to humans from garden soil is varied due to various soil properties, lead concentrations, and amendments (fertilizers, composts) with phosphate, and amount of organic matter in the soil.

Chaney says, “The most risk is to very young children starting at the crawling/mouthing stage such that contaminated paint dust, aerosol emission dusts, and soil brought back to the home are rich in Pb can comprise risk that we want to avoid. The key risk from soil lead is to young children who ingest housedust rich in Pb by hand-to-mouth play, much more than Pb uptake by garden crops. Thus, keeping the soil outside of the house is the best protection for typical Pb rich urban soils.”

He continues, “With all the social benefits of gardening, I argue that we should teach people how to garden safely and how to obtain valid soil tests so they can choose to garden safely. Yes, the science is complex but it is clear that even contaminated gardens can be used without causing risk to children or adults. Limiting crops (growing leafy vegetables, herbs and root crops in clean soil raised beds) for areas with higher soil Pb and keeping soil out of the home are the key to safe gardening.”