Monday, July 28, 2014

Free Online Vegetable Garden Planning Tool

Virginia Gardener magazine, and indeed all of the state-by-state gardening magazines, provide many useful articles and inspiring images each month to encourage amateur and experienced gardeners alike to play in the dirt and grow a beautiful garden. I noticed while perusing my issue of Virginia Gardener this month an advertisement for the Garden Planner tool. It's a good tool that offers a lot for a free 30-day trial and a $25 annual subscription.

Online Garden Planning Tool
The tool itself is web-enabled, so you just click a button on your browser to access it. It works with most browsers and I had no trouble opening it. You have to set up an account first, and then you can start your garden plan. The website offers shapes for the beds that are just click and drop, and you can then plan which vegetables you want to plant in each area. You can create detailed plans, adjust the plans easily, organize crop rotation and spacing of various plants, and print out your masterpiece to bring it into the garden. You may want to slip the print out into a clear plastic sleeve to keep it from getting wet or dirty - I don't know about you, but I'm always stooping to pull a weed or pick a strawberry when I visit the garden, and inevitably I get dirt on my hands, berry juice or water.

The tool also offers great information on when to plant each crop in your part of the country, so you can use it as a helpful reminder. I can easily see myself printing out my plan and posting it near my gardening tools so I remember what to do during each season.

For more information on the garden planning tool, visit the website. 

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Local Farm Producers, Your Input Is Needed

I received this notice from my county Cooperative Extension this morning, so I thought I would share it. Local farm producers, they are seeking your input for the "buy fresh, buy local" promotion. See below.

Here is the message:

"The Heart of Virginia Buy Fresh Buy Local Chapter, created by the Old Dominion RC&D Council, has only one goal in mind.  That goal is to be your regional support in assisting you in selling your products to purchasers.  We want to provide technical and marketing assistance and essentially be your Farmer’s Chamber of Commerce.  Now we need your help.

This organization is currently in need of the producers themselves to serve on the board.  Without the producer’s input we cannot provide the tools you need to effectively market your product.  We hope you have enjoyed the Heart of Virginia Buy Fresh Buy Local Food Guides.  We have worked hard to develop this “FREE” marketing tool.  The organization is currently working on other means of support for local producers.  Your input is vital to the ongoing growth and success of this organization which in turn promotes your products. 

We need producers from each county in our network (Amelia, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, and Prince Edward).  We realize you are very busy “producing” but this organization wants to help you sell and cannot do it alone.   We are asking if you are interested in continuing this organization that you provide dates and times that would work best for you to attend meetings.  You may not be able to attend every meeting due to harvest responsibilities but any time you can give would help. We look forward to hearing from you.  Please call the Old Dominion RC&D Council at (434) 547-0540.

Our next BFBL Steering Committee Meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 11, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. at the Heartland Business Park, 200 Heartland Drive, Keysville, Virginia. We would really appreciate your presence at the meeting or verbal/written commitment of your involvement interest.  Your attention to our request is sincerely appreciated!"

For more information, visit Buy Fresh Buy Local 

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Is Rain Water Better for Plants Than Ground Water?

Have you ever noticed how the garden looks better after a rainy day or a good shower during a thunderstorm? I thought it was just my imagination. As I look out my office windows this morning at the flower garden, the plants look greener, perkier. The blooms look more robust. The leaves seem stronger and more upright. No, it has to be my imagination....right?

I peer out the back windows down into the vegetable garden and I'm struck by the same thought. The chard looks greener, and I know that's not my imagination, because I'm picking chard every three or four days for my lunch. The tomatoes are also ripening today; on Sunday, I picked one red tomato that tasted like cardboard. It wasn't quite ripe yet. There weren't any other tomatoes even close to ripe on Sunday. Today I counted two that looked promising, with more starting to flush pink and red on their smooth green cheeks. That happened overnight.

My vegetable garden receives plenty of well water through the soaker hoses. So what gives? Yesterday the garden received 7/10th of an inch of rain, according to my trust rain gauge. Is it just more water, or is the quality of the water itself different when it falls from the sky?

As usual, my curiosity was piqued, so I did a little informal online research today. I uncovered the following facts about rainwater versus ground water for the garden:

  • Rain water, especially rain during thunderstorms, contains more nitrogen than ground water. Nitrogen is the first number in a fertilizer listing - 5-10-5, for example, is 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorous, and 5% potash (potassium).  Nitrogen greens leaves. The first number helps leaves, the middle number boosts flowers, the last number boosts roots. Nitrogen is a macro nutrient that plants need.
  • Ground water doesn't lack nitrogen, but the soil tends to add various organic salts to the water as it percolates through the soil particles. These salts interfere with a plant's ability to absorb nitrogen. It's not that ground water lacks nitrogen, it's that it contains other chemicals which may hinder a plant's ability to absorb nitrogen.
  • Thunderstorm rain contains the most nitrogen because of lightning.
  • Other particles in the air from pollution, including nitrogen, descends in the dirt particles attached to rain. These also feed plants!
On the whole, then, rain water IS better for the garden than ground water. It's not my imagination.  I can't control rain, and I can only hope and watch the weather forecasts. This summer we actually have too much moisture. Look at my miniature rose, below:

Can you see the yellowed leaves and black spot on the leaves? Black spot is a fungal disease, and all of my roses are typically attacked by black spot during Virginia's humid summers. However, this year, even the rose relatives like the wild blackberries exhibit black spot, and rust, another fungal disease, appeared on the native sweet bush growing on the forest edges. It's unusual to see that on wild plants. Most exhibit better disease resistant than the tender hybrids like my miniature tea rose, above.

I'm not complaining, though. The more rain, the better for the garden and for my water well. Rain replenishes the soil and nurtures the plants. Rain, rain go away? Not for a gardener!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Growing a Lemon Tree from Seeds, the Update

lemon trees
Lemon tree - very pretty! Okay, so now that I've planted THAT particular song in your head, take a look at my baby lemon trees, above. In May, I planted several seeds from lemons purchased at the supermarket. The results, above, speak for themselves. Yes, you can grow lemon trees from lemon seeds
My husband keeps looking at them and asking me, "Yes, but what will you do with them?" It's a great question. Lemon trees can't grow outdoors year 'round here in Virginia. They really do need a tropical climate. I saw them growing on people's front lawns, along with orange and grapefruit trees, in San Diego when I was there on a business trip many years ago, and I know they grow freely in Florida, too. But the cold winters here in Virginia will kill them. And I don't think these are dwarf varieties!
For now, my plan is to keep them growing as long as possible outdoors, then I will move them to the bright, warm, sunny spot in my office. How to keep the cats from investigating them will be another challenge. The cats have now been banished from the plant room because Genghis Khan kitty keeps knocking my cactus plant over. I finally figured out what he's doing - he's rubbing his chin along the spines. Now why, of all the places he could scent mark in this house, he has to choose my cactus, I'll never know. But I'm tired of repotting my cactus and I bet the cactus is darned tired of it, too.
I love my little lemon trees. I feel like a mad scientist trying all these experiments. We now have some cherry pits cooling in the refrigerator, in the hopes of planting more cherry trees here on the farm next year. I'll let you know how that experiment goes, too!
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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fresh Food Wednesday: A Review of Oloves

I love olives. All kinds of olives. From sweet black olives added to a Greek salad to tangy green olives tossed with Romaine, a salad just tastes better with olives.

So I was intrigued when I was asked to review a product called Oloves. Oloves are packaged, flavored, delicious olives. They come in sealed packages like the one pictured above, and you buy them in cartons of several packages. Each package contains a satisfying amount for a healthy snack, or enough to add zest to at least two entree salads.

I was sent four types of Oloves to try. My favorite by far was the basil and garlic flavored green olives. Oh my, oh my! Like an Italian FEAST. I ate them directly from the package and loved every bite.

I received one package of each of the following flavors to review:
  • Oloves Basil and Garlic
  • Oloves Chili and Oregano
  • Oloves Lemon and Rosemary
  • Oloves Chili and Garlic

Among these flavors, by far the best was the basil and garlic. The flavors blended well with a salad and with a dish of zucchini, chick peas and tomatoes that I cooked for supper one evening. The Lemon and Rosemary olives tasted great as a snack. I mixed a small dish of lemon and rosemary Oloves with fresh cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of feta, dressed it with the juices from the Oloves pouch, and it was perfect.

The Chili flavors were just too darned hot and spicy for me to get the full flavor of the olives themselves. The Basil and Garlic and Lemon and Rosemary Oloves contained green olives, while the two chili flavors used black olives as the base. I think the green olives themselves were superior in freshness and taste to any you can buy in the store. If I bought them again, I would definitely buy the basil/garlic flavors and maybe the lemon/rosemary flavors.

Source: Imelenchon,

Oloves: My New Favorite Olive Brand

Oloves are a great idea. The little packs are sealed, so you can pack them in a child's lunch box or in your own bag to take to work. There are no pits or stones, so you can just pop them in your mouth. They taste great and satisfy a craving for salty-fatty foods without sacrificing your diet or calories. Each package contained under 100 calories, so they made a great diet-friendly snack.

Olives themselves are wonderfully healthy for you and part of the so-called heart-healthy "Mediterranean diet".  Oloves are gluten-free, vegan and 100% kosher, so they fit into many different diet plans.

I really loved this product and look forward to purchasing more. I recommend it to anyone interested in a healthy snack option or who loves olives just as much as I do!

Disclaimer: I received four free packages of Oloves as part of this review from the company. I was not paid to endorse the product or to write this review, and this review reflects my own personal opinion of the product. The Oloves photo at the top is used under license from my Amazon affiliate link. If you click the picture, you can buy the product on Amazon, and I receive a small commission. This does not affect your price in any way.
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