Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lessons from a hurricane, part deux - what goes in the ground, comes around

And then the sky broke up
And then the rain came down
And it washed away everything on the ground
Wash it away, wash it away, wash it away.
Lyrics from Ghost Train, by Marc Cohn
I remember watching the news after a hurricane a few years ago, and there were children on inner tubes playing in the water from the flooding caused by the storm. All I could think about were the chemicals and pollutants that were probably in that water.

While hurricane  Irene was making her way up the east coast, I watched several online discussions on local gardening message boards about gardeners using roundup and other poisonous weed control products.

Sure, I can understand the children not realizing how many chemicals and how much dog poo and probably septic tank seepage is  in that stormwater. But I found it a little troubling that the adult gardeners didn't seem to realize the connection between garden chemicals and the torrential rains that were expected from the hurricane.

An article in the Green column of the New York Times this week talked about the pollutants from hurricane Irene:

Beyond flooding and destruction, Hurricane Irene is likely to have caused less visible environmental damage by dumping sewage, pesticides and other contaminants into waterways along the East Coast, federal officials said.

Officials are just beginning to assess the condition of seven rivers, including the Hudson River in New York. The United States Geological Survey said it sent out crews beginning on Sunday to follow the path of the hurricane between Washington D.C. and Massachusetts and test for pesticides, bacteria and nutrients flushed into rivers by heavy rains.

“What typically happens is that you get a significant amount of rainfall that leads to a significant amount of runoff,” said Charles Crawford, sampling coordinator for the agency. 

That runoff, he said, carries pesticides from farmland, gardens and lawns like those used for termites around the foundation of homes. The agency is also on the lookout for higher levels of bacteria and nutrients from sewer discharges. 

Excessive amounts of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, Mr. Crawford said, could cause algae blooms that can threaten aquatic life and fisheries.

In typical weather conditions, chemicals used in a landscape might have time to soak into the ground and dissipate, not allowing strong concentrations to find their way into the waterways. But during periods of heavy flooding, the products that are in the ground around your home can seep up and wash away. In areas where the flooding is severe, any chemicals that are stored on the floor of sheds or garages might  also find their way into local stormwater drains.

Water quality scientist Beth McGee, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, voiced her concern about this problem as the storm approached. McGee said that much of the flooding that occurs during storms is a result of runoff from streets, lawns, farms and other areas, as well as tides that bring water up the bay. Preserving wetlands, creating buffer areas and landscaping areas to allow stormwater to trickle into the ground instead of running off into nearby waterways can help reduce flooding.

So in my opinion, if you want to "round up" anything, you should round up the chemicals that you have been using in your landscape and dispose of them properly:

Household Hazardous Waste Disposal, DC
Household Hazardous Waste, Montgomery County
Household Hazardous Waste, Frederick County
Household Hazardous Waste, Fairfax County
Household Hazardous Waste, Loudon County
Household HazMat Program, Arlington
STOP Throwing Out Pollutants, Prince William County

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Azalea Society of America Northern Virginia Chapter Plant sale Sept 11

Uncommon Evergreen and Deciduous Azaleas 4th Annual Public Auction

Conducted by the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Azalea Society of America (ASA-NV)

Sunday, September 11th
Silent Auction at 1:00 PM
Live Auction at 2:00 PM

Merrifield Garden Center
6895 Wellington Road
Gainesville, Virginia 20156
(703) 368-1919

For additional questions, please call ASA-NV officers
Rick Bauer (757) 833-7737
Carolyn Beck (703) 860-5676

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fall Planting Formula - Clarification from a Hort Expert

A few weeks ago, I had a post entitled Formula for Success – planting Fall vegetables, in which I tried to decipher a formula I found online that should help in deciding what crops could still be planted in the fall.

The formula that I found was this:

+ Number of days from seed to transplant if you grow your own

+ Average harvest period

+ Fall Factor (about two weeks)

+ Frost Tender Factor (if applicable); 2 weeks

= Days to count back from first frost date

Alan McDaniel,  Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Horticulture,  Virginia Tech, was kind enough to provide this more detailed explanation: 

Who would think that a math degree is needed for gardening, but it is sometimes true. 

Let's look at the components of your equation, with a small modification. If we plant in the "normal" spring growing season, we can plant seed of a tender crop at the spring frost date. That takes into account a safety factor for a slightly later freeze when a tender plant is germinating and still protected under the soil surface. (Of course, a tender-crop transplant needs planning for some type of freeze protection since it does not have the protective soil cover.) We estimate the first harvest from that crop with the number printed on the seed label. For example, a "65 day" crop needs about 65 days from seeding to first harvest, after which we have a short or long productive time, or harvest period, depending on the crop, management, etc. All of this is based on warming, longer days of spring into summer. 

Shifting this to a fall harvest time, we need to think instead about how the crop responds as the days are getting shorter and cooler. This is the fall factor. Thus, a 65-day crop from seeding could need closer to 80 days (although germination will likely be faster since the soil is warm at seeding). That is the fall factor in your equation getting us to the first expected harvest time. How long that harvest continues depends on the crop involved. Something like bush beans we could look at for a single, once-over harvest, but your preference could as well be for multiple harvests over a two-week period. Thus, the average harvest period will vary with every crop (and gardener). 

When we bring the frost factor into the picture, it helps us understand when cool-season crops (half-hardy and hardy) are better choices for the fall garden because a) they generally thrive under the cooler temperatures (with shorter days) and b) the frost factor is less a worry.

Thanks so much for the detailed explanation, Dr. McDaniel. I enjoyed our conversation.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

After the Storm - Lessons Learned about People and Trees

Shhhh. Do you hear that? It is the collective sigh of relief in the wake of hurricane Irene. Or haven't you let out your sigh of relief yet? I think it’s okay now. Go ahead and breathe.

And now, comes the clean up. And the lessons learned.

One of the first things that I always seem to notice after something like this is what I learn about people. I think that any sort of emergency or disaster either brings out the kindness or the cruelness of people. There are those who reach out to their friends and neighbors, checking in, seeing if they need anything. And there are those who shove ahead of others in the crowded department store lines or loot the homes of people who evacuated their homes. With all of the stress of hurricane preparations and recovery, it's a little disheartening to learn about the negative side of people. So just ignore it. Move on.

The other lessons, of course, are the ones that are learned from Mother Nature. As of this writing, there are at least 19 deaths attributed to hurricane Irene. At least 11 of those deaths were caused by fallen branches or trees.

Millions of people were without electricity during the storms. Again, many of the power outages were caused by fallen trees.

I am a self-professed nature nerd and tree lover, so these statistics about the cruelty of nature  bother me as much as the reality of the cruelty of people. But these thoughts are not quite as easy to ignore. I can do my best to avoid unpleasant people, but my soul would suffer if I thought I had to be fearful of trees.

Thankfully, there has been a lot of research done on hurricanes and trees, conducted  by the experts who have experienced much of it first hand, researchers at the University of Florida IFAS Extension.  Since 1992, they have been studying the kinds of trees that were more apt to break or topple over during hurricanes, as well as the reasons why.  True, some of what they learned was about treess that don’t grow in the northeast. But as with most things in nature (human nature and mother nature) many of the lessons that life provides are not geographically specific.

If you lost trees or lost power, or are just interested in  learning a little bit more about trees and hurricanes, the University of Florida has created an entire website devoted to Trees and Hurricanes.

For example, some of the trees that were found to be MOST wind-resistant in their studies include: American holly, inkberry and bald cypress.  Some of the trees that were the least wind-resistant were:  tulip poplar, southern red oak and water oak.

Here are a few more of the  lessons learned:

Root/Soil Issues
  • Trees growing in confined soil spaces are prone to blowing over.
  • Root defects such as girdling roots cause trees to blow over.
  • Apparently healthy trees can blow down because supportive roots have decayed or soil becomes soft from saturation.
  • Large and old trees blow over; recently planted trees blow over; well established young to medium-aged trees are less likely to blow over.
  • Construction activities within about 20 feet of the trunk of existing trees can cause the tree to blow over more than a decade later.
  • Trees in shallow soils are more prone to blow over than trees rooted more deeply.
  • Uprooted trees can break underground utility lines such as water and sewer.
  • Trees become unstable in soils saturated by lots of rain.
Cultural Issues
  • Trees that are preventively pruned are less likely to fail than neglected trees.
  • Trees with one dominant trunk fair better than trees with co-dominant stems.
  • Trees with bark inclusions are prone to falling apart.
  • Large pruning cuts create decay and cracks that can lead to breakage in storms.
  • Trees in a group blow down less frequently than single trees.
  • Tree trunks can be hollow without openings in the lower trunk; these are prone to failure in storms.
  • Trees that have failed before are likely to fail again.
  • Topped trees break.
So while you are enjoying the relative peace in the wake of the storm, think of the lessons learned. Take care of the people and the trees that you love. And don’t be reluctant to get rid of the ones that may only end up hurting you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Preparations for Your Landscape

Hurricane Irene is out there. Round and round she goes, and where (or when) she stalls, nobody knows.

Although there is still a chance that Irene could blow out to the Atlantic, News4's Tom Kierein says the increasingly likely track puts the hurricane off Ocean City Maryland sometime Saturday evening. 

Passing through Ocean City, Irene would be close enough affect the Washington metro area. Heavy rains and strong gusty winds can be expected. (Source – Hurricane Irene Gaining Strength)

In preparation for the weekend weather, first and foremost, make sure that your family and possessions are safe. But after that, take care of your landscape and gardens.

1) Walk around your yard and secure or put away any items that could become potential missiles. This includes rakes, shovels, buckets, hanging plants: Basically, anything that isn’t tied down. Remember, wind gusts could reach 70 mph or higher.

2) Move all potted plants indoors. If you have large potted trees, lay them on their sides if they can’t be easily moved.

3) Survey any trees in your landscape for weak or dead branches that may fall during hurricane force winds. Some trees are known for their brittle limbs, but any tree that is improperly pruned or has interior damage to trunk or limbs can have breakage in high winds. Trees with large, dense canopies can also be thinned to help prevent uprooting. If need be, call a certified arborist to help you assess your trees and trim them, as needed.

4) Any tree that is in soil which is too wet is more likely to blow over in heavy winds. Excessive watering, planting in the wrong location, poor drainage or too much rain can all create soil which is too wet to hold a tree erect. Other factors which can cause a tree to blow over are decayed roots, planting in confined soil spaces (such as between sidewalks and roadways) or soil compaction due to construction activity or heavy equipment driving over tree roots. Again, when in doubt, consult a certified arborist.

5) If you see any areas in your landscape where soil has washed away from tree roots, fill the holes up to the original ground level.

6) Stake young trees for the duration of the storm and until excess water has drained away.

7) Dispose of all branches and yard debris before the storm arrives.

8) Prune back any heavy vines that are growing on arbors, making them top heavy.

9) Stake or otherwise secure arbors, if possible.

10) Add soil to low areas with poor drainage. If necessary, add rocks to direct water away from downspouts or below where rooftops converge.

11) Place rocks, bricks or homemade sandbags (bags of mulch, sand or garden dirt work well) to help protect low lying plants from excessive flooding.

12) Make sure all drains in your landscape are clear and working properly.

13) Clean out gutters and downspouts.

14) Where possible, direct water from downspouts and rain barrel overflows away from your home.

15) Don’t fertilize, use insecticides or herbicides in your yard. Rain from the storm will wash chemicals off your property and into our waterways.

16) Harvest your vegetables and fruits. Remove plant supports.

17) Place  screens over garden ponds to protect against falling leaves, branches and over debris.

18) Although you may be tempted to shelter or protect some of your prized plants, don’t cover them with anything that isn’t firmly secured from severe wind gusts. Just in case, take cuttings or collect seeds from any rare or sentimental plants.

Above all else, be safe!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can earthworms predict earthquakes?

Since "green gardeners", with healthy, nutritious soil, often have more earthworms, I wanted to post a question. Have you seen more earthworms than usual crawling around lately?

Earthquakes emerging to the surface are supposed to be a tell-tale sign that an earthquake (or a flood) might be on the way. At least, that's what some people think.

Dr. Ikeya at Osaka University has been studying earthworms and earthquakes. Ikeya’s laboratory experiments were conducted to see if exposure to an electrical field or electromagnetic pulses could elicit animal behavior similar to what has been reported prior to earthquakes. The results: fish showed panic reactions, and earthworms moved out of the soil and swarmed when current was applied.

When asked why he decided to study the relationship between earthworms and earthquakes, Ikeya said:

The Kobe earthquake in 1995. I live 30 km from the epicenter and thought it strange that many earthworms dug themselves up in my small garden. At the time, I did not know the legend that a number of emerging earthworms is a sign of a large earthquake. Many people noticed this, including my neighbors.


What about your pets or other critters? There are many theories that animals are more in tune with Mother Nature than humans. It's just something interesting to think about.

Here are some excerpts from an article on a U.S. Department of the Interior Website:

Rats, weasels, snakes, and centipedes reportedly left their homes and headed for safety several days befor a destructive earthquake. Anectdotal evidence abounds of animals, fish, birds, reptiles, and insects exhibiting strange behavior anywhere from weeks to seconds before an earthquake. However, consistent and reliable behavior prior to seismic events, and a mechanism explaining how it could work, still eludes us. Most, but not all, scientists pursuing this mystery are in China or Japan. 

We can easily explain the cause of unusual animal behavior seconds before humans feel an earthquake. Very few humans notice the smaller P wave that travels the fastest from the earthquake source and arrives before the larger S wave. But many animals with more keen senses are able to feel the P wave seconds before the S wave arrives. As for sensing an impending earthquake days or weeks before it occurs, that's a different story. 

A recent popular theory purports that there is a correlation between Lost Pet ads in the San Jose Mercury News and the dates of earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay area. A thorough statistical analysis of this theory, published in California Geology in 1988, concludes that there is no such correlation, however.


So what did you notice? Were your pets or critters acting strange before the quake?

Waste Not, Want Not - Curbside Composting

In my previous post, Do Environmentalists Need Shrinks, I mentioned how I am sometimes almost obsessive about planet polluters. This trait really rears its ugly head when I see the kind of things that people throw away. Good, usable furniture left at the curb for the garbage man to pick up, for instance, when a local thrift store would probably love to have it. Or a bin full of plastic garden pots thrown into the trash when local chain stores like Lowes and Home Depot will willingly take them and recycle them. And when I go to a party or picnic, it sometimes takes all of my will power to keep myself from poking through plastic-bag lined garbage bins to remove perfectly recyclable cans and bottles.

So far, I haven’t gotten bad enough to dig through anyone’s trash for things that would make good compost. And if Howard County, Maryland’s idea for curbside compost pickup takes off and is adopted by other jurisdictions, I may never have to.

Compost is such a wonderful thing for a garden, and almost any green food scrap, plant waste or paper product, can be utilized to help make this garden goodie. But it is estimated that, in 2009, over 33 million tons of food waste and 13 million tons of yard waste ended up in municipal landfills. (Source)

Although most “green gardeners” have learned to use their own waste products to create compost, what about the many people that don’t have a garden or want to deal with compost?

Howard County is looking for volunteer households in the Elkridge and Ellicott City areas to participate in their new food scrap collection pilot program! Participants will receive a special food scrap collection cart that will be emptied weekly on recycling day. Their list of items, which are acceptable to recycle, include a few things that surprised me, including bread and other baked goods and pizza boxes.

The collected food scraps will  eventually be composted and turned into a soil amendment. If successful, this program could reduce trash sent to the landfill in Howard County by 23%.

Another interesting fact that I read on their website (but never thought about before – I guess because we compost everything) is that composting food scraps is much better than using a garbage disposal for two reasons. 1) It saves water and 2) garbage disposal use sends excess nutrients that are expensive to treat to the wastewater treatment facilities.

If you live in Howard County, I urge you to support this program. For more information, visit the Food Scrap Recycling Page on the Howard County website.

Of course, DC area residents can have their own curbside composting through Compost Cab. Compost Cab will provide you with a bin, collect your organics and deliver them to a local urban farm for composting. There is an $8.00 per week charge for their services. BUT (and here's the really great thing) CompostCab will even help you recycle your compostable materials at parties, picnics, weddings and other special events!! With Compost Cab, I can once again attend parties angst free!

What’s in if for you? According to their website “Cleaner air. Less waste. A smaller carbon footprint. A greener home or business. A stronger community.”

And, of course, you don’t have to worry about me coming by and picking through your garbage.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WSSC's Fishing Derby - the perfect lesson in WHY you are a "green gardener"

Want a great way to teach your kids WHY they should practice environmentally friendly gardening? Take them fishing!

Although I've always been a nature lover and gardener, it wasn't until I met my husband, an avid fisherman, that I learned the direct correlation between how I gardened and the health of local fish. He's the one that taught me that all of those fertilizers and other chemicals I was using in my garden could be finding their way into local water supplies, causing fish deformities and death.

So take your kids fishing, and spend a little time letting them know that their eco-friendly gardening practices help keep those fish healthy.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s annual Family Fishing Derby is Saturday, August 27 at its Triadelphia Recreation Area. This catch-and-release event promises prizes – and plenty of fish tales – for first-timers and fishing veterans alike.

Located at 2600 Triadelphia Lake Road in Brookeville, the derby begins at 9 a.m. and the final weigh-in is at noon. Prizes will be awarded for biggest fish and most fish caught – child and adult. A Maryland fishing license is required for anyone 16 and older.

The recreation area includes picnic tables and a playground set.

Register in person at Brighton Dam Visitor’s Center, 2 Brighton Dam Road, Brookeville, MD, 20833, by phone at 301-206-8240 or by e-mail to: More information is available on the WSSC website, on the home page.    

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't Miss the DC State Fair - August 27th

The second DC State Fair is being held on Saturday, August 27, from 10 AM to 6 PM. The contests have expanded this year–you can check out all the details by clicking on the links at

The deadlines are approaching for the Crafts contests, Baked Goods contests, and Prepared Foods contests. If you're a crafty, culinarily inclined, or canmaster DC resident, submit your entries by midnight on Thursday the 25th to ensure your spot in the competition! Those who enter veggies grown in a DC community garden can win their garden a gift card donated by Behnke's!

This year, we have the following contests being judged at the Fair:

Baked Goods Contests

Pie Contests (best overall plus special prizes for most creative, best crust, and best apple pie)
Cupcake Contests (best overall plus special prizes for most creative, best appearance, and best vegetable-containing cupcake)

Craft Contests (special category prize for best craft containing recycled content)

DC Portrait Contest
Bike Accessory Contest
Vegetable Sculpture Contest

Vegetable Contests (special category prize for community garden with most entries)

Funkiest-Looking Vegetable Contest
Longest Vegetable Contest
Heaviest Vegetable Contest
Tastiest Tomato Contest

Prepared Foods Contests

Cucumber pickle
Other vegetable pickle
Fruit pickle

The Homebrew and Photography contests returned this year, but as last year, judging has already occurred, but the winners will be announced at the Fair.

Check out for more information about the day!

Information provided by Kenneth Moore
DC State Fair President

Beautyberry Plants help beat the skeeters

I've always loved the American Beautyberry plant (Callicarpa americana), not just because it produces beautiful purple berries in the fall, but because every bird and critter that moves through my yard love to munch on those berries. Being a wildlife lover, I appreciate any plant that attracts more wildlife.

Wildlife: The fruit is high in moisture content and is an important food source for more than forty species of songbirds including the American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Purple Finch, and Eastern Towhee. The drupes or clusters are eaten by armadillo, foxes, opossum, raccoon and squirrels. White tailed deer consume the fruit in the fall after leaf drop. They also browse the leaves in summer when highly preferred foods are not available. Protein content of the leaves ranges from 18 percent in spring to 8 percent in fall. (Source)

Beautyberry is a native plant that requires absolutely no additional care in my yard.

BUT, I'm starting to appreciate the beautyberry plant for a whole new's ability to help repel mosquitoes.

I had heard about the mosquito repelling qualities of beautyberry long before I finally gave it a try. But for the last week or so, I've been using it when I go outside in the evenings.

I pull a few leaves off of a plant and crush the leaf and roll it on my arms and legs. I can honestly say that I have seen a drastic reduction in the number of mosquito bites.

Studies by the USDA Agriculture Research Service have concluded that the compound found in these plants - "callicarpenal" - may be as effective as DEET in warding off moquitoes.

If you don't have any beautyberry plants on your property, I encourage you to get one or two. Do it for the critters that love them (birds and more), the critters that hate them (mosquitoes!), or just for yourself. Every garden can use a little more purple!

For more information: Folk Remedy Yields Mosquito-Thwarting Compound

Friday, August 19, 2011

Formula for success - planting fall vegetables

August isn't really my favorite month. By now, I've had enough of summer heat and I'm anxious for autumn. And yet, I know that the respite that autumn holds, of colored leaves, cooler temperatures and visits to the local pumpkin patch will arrive and depart all too quickly, to be replaced by the bitterness of winter.

And so, August prods me to go outside.

The tricky part is trying to determine what can still be planted in August. Although it may seem far away, the first frost date is lurking out there in the shadows and needs to be taken into consideration for planting any cold sensitive plants, especially anything that produces fruit or vegetables.

Of course, no one can predict when the first frost of the season will actually occur. Sources such as the National Climatic Data Center, The Farmers Almanac, and Victory Seeds all list different dates for the average "first killing frost date" for DC. The earliest of which seems to be October 17th.....less than 60 days away. (Although a more accurate date is probably late October or early to mid November).

So now that we know that date, we can do a little math to determine what can still be planted.

I found this somewhat confusing formula on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website (as well as many other sites around the internet). I found it odd that none of them explained it fully and I have to admit I was a little lost. After looking at it a little closer, I've come up with my own explanation of what it is supposed to mean. The formula:
  1. Number of days for seeds to germinate, if you grow your own from seed +
  2. Average harvest period +
  3. Fall Factor (about two weeks) +
  4. Frost Tender Factor (if applicable; 2 weeks =
  5. Days to count back from first frost date.
Here is the formula breakdown (as I understand it):

1) First, if you are growing your plants from seeds, you have to determine the average number of days for the seeds to germinate. Most seed packets will contain this information. It can also be found on many seed catalog websites. Here is a list I found on the Heirloom Seeds website.

2) I asked several "garden experts" I know what they thought "average harvest period" meant. To me, it was logical to think it meant the time from when a plant sprouts until when you can expect to start your "harvest". Other people thought it might mean the length of harvest period.

3) According to the University of Virginia Extension website "The Fall Factor takes into account the slower growth that results from cooler weather and shorter days in the fall and amounts to about two weeks."

4) "The Frost Tender Factor is added only for those crops that are sensitive to frost (corn, bean, cucumber, tomato, squash), as these must mature two weeks before frost in order to produce a reasonable harvest."

So if you take all of those numbers, add, subtract, carry the one, etc. you can probably determine what you can still plant with the hopes of getting some more luscious home grown food and veggies before old man winter comes along and spoils your plans for fresh, homegrown produce.

If you would rather spend your time planting instead of doing math, the folks at Johnny's Selected Seeds were kind enough to let me share their Fall Planting Calculator with you. Just put your cursor in the the square over the When to Plant column, and plug in the date that you think the first killing frost will occur. The worksheet does the rest for you.

They've got other great calculators on their website including a seed calculator, a target harvest date calculator, a caterpillar tunnel worksheet, and more. I encourage you to check them out!

More information from the Virginia Cooperative Extension:

Fall Vegetable Gardening

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Building a Sustainable Future - One Flower at a Time - National Honey Bee Day

August 20, 2011 is a day to appreciate your honey - and the bees that produce it. It is National Honey Bee Day!

Protecting honey bees is another important reason to eliminate chemicals from your landscape. National Honey Bee Day will help you to understand why.

National Honey Bee Day was started by grassroots minded beekeepers to build community awareness of the bee industry, through education and promotion.  

The primary goals of the National Honey Bee Day Program include:  
1) Promotion and advancement of beekeeping.  
2) Educate the public about honey bees and beekeeping.  
3) Make the public aware of environmental concerns as they effect honey bees.

I've often mentioned the importance of pollinators and the dangers they face because of chemicals that some gardeners use in their gardens (among other things). The National Honey Bee Day website states:

We ask that every beekeeper join in this cause. We ask that backyard gardeners, those who love nature, environmental groups, and folks from every corner of society get involved and support saving the honey bee.

It's just not the honey bee in peril. Bats, butterflies, frogs, and other native pollinators are all being killed off through the increased use of chemicals and new lethal pesticides, herbicide, and fungicides on the market. The honey bee industry has suffered several years now with staggering losses due to "Colony Collapse Disorder". Yet to date, not one chemical has been banned or one farming practice changed. But the losses continue to mount year after year. 

There will be several National Honey Bee Day events in the area.

National Honey Bee Day at Sky Meadows State Park - 8/20/2011 - 11am - 4pm

Honey Bee Festival - Norfolk Botanic Gardens - 8/20/2100 - 10am - ?

But if you can't attend either one, I encourage you to visit the National Honey Bee Day website to learn more about the dangers facing honey bees - and the many reasons we need them!

For more information about bees, and other pollinators, visit:

Enjoying the Birds & Bees in Your Own Back Yard - Gardening to Attract Pollinators

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Honey Bees

First Rooftop Garden Built for Bees

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Emerald Ash Borer Quarantine a Serious Issue - Don't Move that Firewood!

Stop – Don’t Move that Firewood!! America’s neighborhoods and forests are under attack. The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) beetle has destroyed tens of millions of ash trees. It lives in firewood. Move firewood and you spread the destruction. Help us protect the trees — and stop the beetle. Promise you won’t move firewood. Source – Stop the Beetle

If you are like me, you may be on the lookout for future firewood. Fireplace season isn’t that far away, so any piles of lumber from cut down trees look like potential fireplace fodder to me.

But because of concern over Emerald Ash Borers (EAB), there is quarantine in effect for many local areas that prohibits the movement of ash trees and wood out of quarantined area, as well as movement of all hardwood firewood.

This quarantine was issued by the United States Department of Agriculture Domestic (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in order to prevent the spread of EAB. Specifically, the interstate movement of EAB-host wood and wood products is regulated, including firewood of all hardwood species, nursery stock, green lumber, waste, compost, and chips of ash species. (Source)
The areas of quarantine include:

Washington DC; Virginia: the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William & Fauquier, and the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park? (source)
Maryland: All of Prince George's and Charles Counties are under quarantine and considered to be the Quarantine Area. Moving regulated articles out of these counties is prohibited. Additionally, the area of Prince George’s county south of I-495 and Pennsylvania Avenue, and the area of Charles County north of MD Rte. 6 between St. Mary's County and southbound Rte. 301, and north of MD Rt. 225 between southbound MD Rt. 301 and MD Rt. 210, and north of MD Rt. 210 between MD Rt. 225 and the US Navy Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head, is considered to be the Infested Area. Moving regulated articles into the rest of the Quarantine Area from the Infested Area is prohibited. (Source)

From the University of Maryland  Extension Home and Garden Information Center: (Source)

The Emerald Ash Borer is an invasive pest from Asia that feeds on and kills ash trees within three years after infestation. Ash trees are one of the most common and important landscaping trees used in Maryland and are common in western Maryland forests. Ash wood is used for all traditional applications of hardwood from flooring and cabinets to baseball bats.  

Ash is the most common tree in Baltimore City with approximately 293,000 trees and accounts for about six million trees in Baltimore and surrounding counties. USDA has estimated that losses could exceed $227.5 million in the Baltimore area alone if the emerald ash borer were to become established. 

To help stop this damaging beetle, homeowners and citizens who live in and travel through known infested areas can help: 

* Don’t move firewood – buy it where you burn it. Hauling firewood is the most common way for damaging plant pests to be moved from one area to another. In addition, the state quarantine prohibits anyone from moving hardwood firewood or any other ash tree materials out of the regulated area.

*  Don’t plant ash trees. As the EAB is expanding its range in Maryland, diversified plantings of alternative tree species are recommended for residential landscaping. 

* Report any signs of the emerald ash borer to the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center at 1-800-342-2507

For more, extensive information about the Emerald Ash Borer and the serious damage it can cause, visit Stop The Beetle or the USDA website.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Garden Talk: Harvesting Summer Vegetables, Starting Fall Vegetables

What: Garden Talk - Harvesting Summer Vegetables, Starting Fall Vegetables

When: Wednesday, August 17, 7pm

Where: Central Library Community Garden (east plaza near tennis courts), 1015 N. Quincy St., Arlington Va.

Join Don Weber, USDA-ARS entomologist, to learn how, in the midst of the summer harvest, just a few minutes planting will reward you in September, October, and even November! You can extend your gardening with easy, nutritious fall-harvested crops. Our mild climate allows excellent late-season yields of broccoli, cabbage, bok choi, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and many other vegetables.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Win a yard full of plants – house included

Back in December, I wrote a post about DIY network’s Blog Cabin Sweepstakes. I love sweepstakes. I enter them all the time. And I’ve actually won WAY more than my share of good things. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit trying to win more!

Starting Monday, you can enter to win a renovated home on the Chesapeake Bay in Susan, Virginia, about 155 miles southeast of DC.

For the past five years, DIY Network has let viewers vote on various options to be included in a home that they build or remodel. At the end of the renovation, viewers can register to win the home.

Since this year’s home is on the Chesapeake Bay, when I first heard about the contest, I contacted Lisa Dyer of DIY Network to ask her if they were going to keep the beauty of the Bay in mind by incorporating Bay Friendly Landscaping.

No matter where you live in the DC area, your lawn and garden practices can have an impact on the Bay. But properties that are directly on the water, such as this one, have an almost immediate effect. Everything that goes into the ground on this property has the potential of finding its way into the Bay. So the use of eco-friendly landscaping is very important.

The premise of the show is that the network gives viewers the opportunity to vote on the options for the home. In December, Ms Dyer told me this:

I confirmed that we are indeed incorporating Bay-friendly landscaping choices into our Blog Cabin online voting. That polling period will be from Feb. 28 – March 13. While we don’t have specifics on what exact questions will be asked at this time, we will have confirmation around early to mid-February at the latest, so I will follow up with you then to provide the specifics.

Well, I forgot to pay attention to their website in Feb and March (and Ms Dyer forgot to follow up with me) so I don’t really know if they asked viewers about whether they should use Bay-friendly landscaping. But it looks like they are done with their landscaping now, so let’s see how they did.

The before photo (above) shows a huge expanse of lawn, and not much else. Not necessarily bad for the Bay, if you don’t use a lot of chemicals to keep it green or over-water it.

But the after photos look much better.

Looks like they used lots of mulch, perhaps a gravel or crushed shell driveway, and at least some of the plants are natives. According to the caption on their page “What About the Landscape” , we can :

Expect to see hollies, magnolias, petunias, grasses and long-blooming hydrangeas. Shrubs, trees and flowering plants were chosen for their drought tolerance, hardiness and color.

You be the judge? How did they do? If you won this house, would you keep these plantings or add new ones?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wasting Water is Weird

When I first saw this public service campaign, I honestly didn't know what to say about it. I mean, other than it's really, really weird.

WaterSense, a partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has teamed up with Lowe's, Kohler, Bosch and P&G to remind people not to waste water. Their new campaign is called Wasting Water is Weird and it's already running online. It will soon launch on television as well. It’s an important message delivered by a guy named Rip the Drip, who shows up in people's homes to remind them that, well, wasting water is weird.

At first, I thought that it was a little TOO weird. Kind of creepy, even. But I guess that's the point. It will definitely stick in people's minds. The campaign is so weird, that it really might help remind people not to waste water. And it will certainly give the guy who plays Rip the Drip something interesting to list on his resume.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sales of Imprelis Herbicide Halted. Refunds Planned

Over the past few weeks, several readers have contacted me and asked if I had heard about an herbicide named Imprelis. I had read about it, in passing, but hadn't had the time to look into it in depth.

What I originally read was that Imprelis herbicide, which was marketed as an environmentally friendly herbicide for professional use (landscape services, etc), was suspected in the deaths of thousands of Norway Spruces, eastern white pines, and other trees on lawns and golf courses across the country. (Source) 

I just got the chance to look into it further  and have discovered that DuPont, the manufacturer of Imprelis, has halted sales of the product and is planning a product return and refund program. Additionally, they have setup an entire website, called Imprelis Facts,  to answer questions about the product.

If you utilize a landscape service to maintain your lawn, you might want to ask them if they use Imprelis.

I tried to dig a little deeper and find out why it was first thought to be environmentally friendly. I only found a vague mention of it being "less" toxic to mammals.

I also thought it was interesting that, even though it was marketed as environmentally friendly, companies that applied the product were instructed to provide this notice to all of their customers:

Today we have treated your lawn with an innovative weed control product from DuPont. The product label requires that you do not use grass clippings from areas treated with Imprelis for mulching or compost, or allow for collection to composting facilities. Grass clippings must either be left on the treated area, or, if allowed by local yard waste regulations, disposed of in the trash.

As usual, my recommendation is to stay away from herbicides and other lawn chemicals whenever you can, even if they are listed as being more environmentally friendly.

Read More:

Changing Your Relationship With Weeds

Please Don't Poison My Planet

Beware of Second Hand Herbicides

City Blossoms Fall Internships

City Blossoms is seeking energetic, creative, garden-loving individuals to promote access to interactive, holistically healthy green spaces for all urban citizens.

City Blossoms' programming includes regular weekly workshops at several locations in Washington, D.C., and Takoma Park, as well as family-oriented weekend events, volunteer days and various community celebrations.

City Blossoms would like to hire three interns in the areas of administrative support, communications & outreach, and instruction. Must be available to work weekdays and Saturdays. Internship includes hands-on experience in community building through dynamic, multi-purpose green spaces.

A small stipend is provided for successful completion of this internship. Potential for part-time employment is contingent on the completion of this internship. Applicants with access to a car are highly desired. Please send your resume with a cover letter that includes qualifications specific to one of the three opportunities to Lola Bloom or Rebecca Lemos

Washington Youth Garden Hiring

The Washington Youth Garden is a non-profit garden and environmental science education organization located on the grounds of the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. They are currently seeking people for several positions. 

The Education Assistant position is a part-time (30 hrs/week) professional 3-month position that will support the Washington Youth Garden's Education Coordinator and other WYG staff in the execution and advancement of WYG's Garden Science program.  Via the Garden Science program, the WYG partners with local elementary schools to provide environmental science and nutrition education.  Key components: 1) an interactive eight week garden-based curriculum for third and fourth grade classes;  2) the development, installation, education and management of edible school gardens;  3) a full day field experience to the WYG in May for each school;  and 4) teacher trainings and parent orientations.   

 For additional details and application instructions please visit this page on the Washington Youth Garden website: Education Assistant

WYG is also hiring a Garden Manager. The Garden Manager is responsible for planning, designing and overseeing the maintenance of a ¾-acre demonstration and production garden used for WYG educational programs, workshops, trainings and U.S. National Arboretum visitors. 
For additional details on the Garden Manager position please visit: Garden Manager

Monday, August 8, 2011

Taming the natives - or at least our views about them

I read another wonderful post on Thomas Rainer's blog, Grounded Design, today. The post, entitled "Native Plants and the Wild Look" is written in Mr. Rainer's consistently eloquent style and makes some great points about the use of native plants in a landscape.

I've long thought that many gardeners give native plants a "bad name" because they think that natives should be allowed to grow unkempt and untamed. I feel that this is going to discourage gardeners with an eye for a more structured landscape from even considering native plants.

Rainer addresses some of these issues in his post, but as usual, presents them in a writing style that is so engaging that I find myself appreciating the words as much as the wisdom.

Here are some excerpts, but I encourage you to visit Rainer's blog to read the whole post

Excerpts from Native Plants and the Wild Look, by Thomas Rainer  

I have a conflicted relationship with wildness. 

When I think about the sea of lawns and generic plantings that dominate our built landscapes, when I reflect on how quickly our native woodlands are disappearing, I yearn for more wildness. In many ways, our landscapes are too tidy. Our shrubs are too clipped, our lawns too manicured, our planted spaces too restrained. Despite recent progress with more sustainable gardens, the McLandscape is still the dominant form in our country…. 

While I praise wildness on the one hand, I am concerned that it has become the de rigueur of native gardens these days. It is as if a native garden, by definition, must be wild and sprawling. To create a native garden is not only a statement against exotic plants, but it is a statement against traditional garden forms altogether. Almost all of the sustainable landscape techniques, including rain gardens, bioswales, and green roofs—have adopted a wild aesthetic…. 

My second problem with the wild look is my fear that we’re turning the public away from using native plants. When native plants are associated with a wild, chaotic landscape, we narrow their potential adoption in built landscapes. Yes, I do think the American public needs to adopt an aesthetic that permits a bit of wildness, spontaneity, and heck—even a bit of sloppiness. But the way to do that is not to replace our front lawns with a tall grass prairie. We do that by creating native gardens that fit into traditional or contemporary garden forms.

 It's a great post, on a great blog. Check it out!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Money Doesn't Grow on Trees - Or Does It?

Sure the economy concerns me, but probably not as much as it concern others. Why?

Because I know that money loves me. Money doesn’t just love me. It is obsessed with me. Money stalks me. It sits up at night trying to find ways to catch my eye and come home with me.

Okay. I know those statements are a little extreme, but I’ve read a lot of books about the secret to using positive affirmations to get what you want, and those are the ones that I have made up to help attract money.

I also collect 4-leaf clovers and acorns and other items that are supposed to attract prosperity and even painted one room in my house money green, using the color matching machine at the hardware store and a hundred dollar bill.

Oh yeah. And I’ve been saving money since I was 14 and I’m as frugal as a packrat.

Still, we all need to be concerned about our finances. So in addition to scrimping and saving and cutting out all the extras in life that we don’t really need, here is some info I gleaned around the internet for things that are supposed to help attract prosperity:  

Plants :
  • Money plant tree (Pachira Aquatica) is a houseplant that is said to attract wealth and prosperity, and bring good luck to those who have it. There are many places suitable for placing a money plant tree, however the most ideal places include areas where money is kept, such as cash registers and safe deposit boxes. Source
  • Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) (pictured) . The Jade plant is the ultimate symbol of prosperity for the Chinese. It's flat round leaves and compact shape makes it the Asian equivalent of a money tree. (Source)
  • Fruit Trees. Small orange, lemon or lime trees also contain money-drawing properties and are ideal to place in this sector. (Source)
  • Dead or withering plants: BAD for prosperity. Anything obviously decomposing is antithetical to the energy of prosperity and should be removed.(Source)
Herbs and Spices: (source)
  • Alfalfa – Known traditionally as the “good luck” herb.
  • Allspice –It is thought to attract business luck or success.
  • Bayberry – Bayberry candles or incense “bring luck to the home and puts money in the pocket.”
  • Basil – Soaking basil leaves in water for three days and then sprinkling the water at your business premises is thought to attract financial success.
  • Bay Leaves – Bay leaves increase intuition and are good if you are looking for a promotion or a job. Tuck some under your mattress or boil them and sprinkle the water around your home.
  • Chamomile – Washing your hands in chamomile tea is thought to bring gamblers luck. Drinking the tea is thought to bring luck and prosperity.
  • Cloves – Cloves can be burned on charcoal, tucked in a sachet or put in your purse to draw money. An ancient money and protection ritual is to stick an orange with the heads of cloves stuck on pins and hang it on a ribbon in the kitchen so your cupboards are never bare.
  • Cinnamon: A very handy kitchen spice that can be used “in a pinch” to bring quick money, it can be bought as incense or burned on charcoal or sprinkled in a cash register or wallet to bring business.
  • Citronella: The leaves are thought to be good for attracting business.
  • Five-Finger Grass (also known as Cinquefoil): This lemony grass can be burned, hid in a potpourri or carried on your person. It is the standard ingredient in most money drawing incenses.
  • Honeysuckle: The live and dried flowers are used to attract luck business and prosperity.
  • Juniper Berries: Associated with Jupiter, the berries of the juniper tree are said to attract luck, good fortune and business success.
  • Mint: All the mints (spearmint, peppermint) are used to attract good spirits and speed good fortune to the bearer.
  • Strawberry Leaves: Carried on the person and used to draw fortunate circumstances into a person’s life.
  • Squill Root: If you can find this, it is said to be one of the most powerful roots used to draw money to the bearer.
Feng Shui Elements for Prosperity (source)
  • Water is the main element that brings wealth to your home. Water should always be clear, moving and free flowing. Never let your water get stagnant. A fish tank is one way to stimulate your wealth areas. Make sure fish are healthy and strong and always keep the tank clean. A fountain is also a great way to keep your abundance flowing.
  • Enhance your wealth corners by hanging wind chimes, a mobile, or by hanging Chinese coins tied together with a red ribbon (if you do this make sure you use coins in the increments of 3, 6, or 8 with 8 being the most powerful money manifesting number).
  • Add some plants with round leaves to your home. This is another good way to enhance your wealth area, according to feng shui guidelines. If the plants have red or purple flowers that is even better.
  • Paint for prosperity. The best colors for the wealth area are green, red, purple, black and gold, with the most effective colors being red and green.
  • Make sure your plumbing is in good working order. A dripping faucet is symbolically and literally money going down the drain. You should also keep your drains plugged when not in use. This keeps money in your possession. You do not want to accumulate wealth then have it go down the drain.
  • Close toilet lids. You don’t want to flush your money down the toilet.
  • Incorporate feng shui elements outside your home, in your yard, to attract wealth and prosperity. A fountain can be placed in front of your home; the water should flow inward towards your home. Place a windmill, weathervane, or any moving, spinning object in the far left corner of your backyard to stimulate energy and attract wealth.
Now if you don’t believe in any of that hooey, you can always go bury some of your money in the backyard until things in the stock market decide to settle down again.

If you do decide to bury your money, make sure that you do it correctly. You need to make sure you use a container that won’t fall apart underground. Old-timers used to use mason jars, but I found something that looks like a better solution :

Although it might seem excessively paranoid to some, Burying your cash might be the most bulletproof way of hiding cash. Using cache tubes involves getting some 6″ to 8″ PVC drain tubing several feet long, with two threaded end caps. Your stash can be placed in several plastic baggies, and then the end caps can be epoxied in place, or sealed with extreme pressure wheel bearing grease, both of which are also available at your local hardware store. This type of tubing, made out of PVC,is strong enough to withstand most natural elements, such as corrosives, salts and water. All one has to do, is to use a common pot hole digger to create a good hole to bury the tube. If you are burying money, make sure it is wrapped in layers of zip lock bags and throw in a silica pack from the inside of vitamin or supplement containers to avoid mildew or similar smells. (Source)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Veggies and Herbs - Garden Talk, August 3rd

Garden Talk: Summer Veggies and Herbs

Wednesday, August 3, 7 p.m.

Central Library Community Garden (east plaza near tennis courts), 1015 N. Quincy St., Arlington, VA 22201

Cooking straight from the garden. We’ll see, smell and taste some of the great vegetables and herbs of summer with Puwen Lee of AFAC and the Library gardeners! Come see how to grow, harvest, and use tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, cucumbers, summer squash, basil, and other plants of the summer garden. It doesn’t get any fresher than straight from the garden!

Deer Resistent Plants - Great List on Washington Gardener Magazine Blog

I'm such a nature lover that is a tough moral dilemma for me sometimes when it comes to trying to deter wildlife from my gardens. But no matter how much you love the thought of waking up and spotting a few deer slowly making their way across your property, once they start eating your plants, that love can quickly turn to loathing.

Kathy Jentz, editor and publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine, recently polled her readers and asked them what some of their favorite deer-resistent plants are. She received quite a few responses, and I image the list will keep growing as other local gardeners add their comments.

If you want to add to the list, or read the suggestions of others, visit Kathy's blog post: Favorite Deer Resistent Plants.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The perfect hair "do" for your garden?

I’m not very squeamish when it comes to adding things to my garden for nutrients. Rotten fruit, critter poop, dead hornworms and huge baseball size balls of lint that I pull out of my dryer, all look like possible fertilizer, to me.

But I have to say that when I first heard about SmartGrow products, the idea kind of creeped me out.

From their website:

SmartGrow is an all-natural organic plant-growth supplement. Our organic plant growth mats are an economical way to achieve lush, healthy plant growth. Your plants will grow thicker more robust roots and stems, have healthier greener leaves, and more and longer lasting buds. All this while reducing watering time, the need for fertilizer, and helping to prevent weeds. SmartGrow makes it easy to grow strong, healthy plants organically. SmartGrow promotes enhanced root growth, replaces herbicides and the amount of traditional fertilizers - saving you time and money.

Wow. As an eco-friendly gardener, determined to help keep chemicals out of the Bay, that certainly sounds like a great product to me. But I think even the manufacturers must realize that the material for these mats is at least a little bit troubling. If you just poke around on their website without clicking on any of the videos, it takes quite a bit of digging to find out what these mats are made of. Even though I had heard what they were made of, I didn’t see it in writing anywhere on the site until I clicked on the link for the Material Safety and Data Sheet (pdf) hidden down a few levels. Ahh. There it is. “Composition / Information on ingredients: 100% human hair.”

The creep-out factor got a little stronger after I watched their videos and saw the photos of warehouses full of hair just waiting to be turned into garden nutrients.

But creep-out factor aside, I guess the big question is, how well does it work? Although there are some testimonials on the website from various farmers and gardeners, I couldn’t find any actual research to back up the claims for either weed prevention or fertilizer potential. There is a vague document pertaining to some research done by the University of Georgia on the water retention capabilities of the product. It wasn’t clear to me what the research was proving so I’ll have to go by my own research on that one. My own hair doesn’t really retain water for very long, especially if I am out in the sun.

A light bulb did go off in my head when I was thinking about another possible benefit of using human hair in the garden, but it was quickly turned off.

Human hair has long been touted as a home-solution for keeping deer away. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U. S. National Arboretum both list human hair as a possible deterrent for deer. So placing woven-hair mats around our plants might seem like the perfect solution.

I didn’t receive any reply in my attempts to contact the manufacturers of SmartGrow products and could not find any research online about the possible deer deterring benefits. But a little further reading led me to believe that it probably wouldn’t work for that problem.

Deer deterrents usually work in two ways, either by smell or taste. Human hair is thought to deter deer by the smell. So the thing that takes much of the yuck factor out of the thought of using human hair in the garden – a 120 degree bath – also probably takes away any remaining smell.

SmartGrow relies on two hair brokers — in China and India — to procure the hair, which is boiled in 120-degree water, dried, loaded onto 40-foot boats and shipped via waterway to a port city in China. Then it is transported to the small town of Zhaoyuan, home of the SmartGrow factory. (source)

(If you want to be really grossed out, the source for the paragraph above also said that imported human hair is used to make pizza and bagels.)

In any case, I think I might try one of their hairmats, at least in some of my potted plants. They certainly can't be as gross as my homemade hornworm plant supplements.

For More Information: Deer Repellents, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Virginia Native Plant Society Annual Meeting - September 16 - 18th, 2011

VNPS 2011 Annual Meeting: Wild Places in Urban Spaces
Friday, September 16–Sunday, September 18, 2011

Four-Points Sheraton, Manassas, Virginia 
The Prince William Wildflower Society Chapter of the VNPS invites you to the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Virginia Native Plant Society. 
Following on the heels of the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorations of the First Battle of Manassas, members will gather to explore the varied flora and fauna in Virginia’s only county that spans three geological provinces, from Bull Run Mountain to the coastal plain on the Potomac River. The Prince William area is historically rich and provides an exciting backdrop for hiking, canoeing, exploring the urban and rural wilds, hearing exciting speakers, and visiting with old and new friends. Click here for a Schedule of Events and Hotel accommodations and rates.

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