Farmers Markets

Tomatoes (USDA OPC)

Image via Wikipedia

We all love our farmers markets and we’re delighted to have an area market, the Williamsburg Farmers Market, voted as one of the top 3 medium-sized markets in the nation by their patrons in an American Farmland Trust contest. According to a recent New York Times article, there may be a glut of farmers markets in parts of the country and profits are shrinking as markets compete.  Are they reaching a saturation point?  Farmers markets in America grew by 17% in 2010 according to Bloomberg Business Week and have tripled since the mid-90’s according to the USDA. The New York Times states that 1,043 markets were established this year alone.

The glut may be more acute in larger populated areas like Seattle and San Francisco, perhaps with a marketing technique of a coffee shop on every corner. In Gloucester county, there are two official farmers markets and a number of other individual markets along our country roads touting vegetables, fruits, jellies and fresh-baked goods. To top it off, we now have Walmart vowing to double sales of locally grown produce. In Gloucester, they are carrying locally grown melons.

All this may be good for the customer who is looking for the best, the freshest, organically grown produce but what does this say about the future of farmers markets? Have the number of farmers markets outpaced demand? What do you think? Perhaps only the farmers can say for sure.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times….

Whew! Irene packed quite a punch in Tidewater Virginia.  We awoke to a cleanup nightmare but we weren’t fazed by the sight of branches, trees, and debris. We spent the nighttime hours worrying about the worst that could happen and awoke to the best… only because we came through the hurricane unscathed. As with all storms of this magnitude, the morning after brings the hum of chain saws, the songs of hungry birds and the sight of boats on the river returning to their moorings.

Cleanup has begun all over this yard and we’ll soon be back to a normal routine. mister gardener is tackling the larger job of cutting up three large trees that were downed by the storm, a magnificent white pine and two old maples, one that fell across the driveway. After our job is completed, we will venture out to see what assistance our neighbors need after Irene’s assault on Ware Neck.

We left plenty of nectar in the garden for the hummingbirds during the storm but they were buzzing around the feeders in force this morning to top off their little tanks.

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Our thoughts and concerns are with those less fortunate individuals who were casualties of this massive storm in property and in person.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Good Night Irene…

Irene, I am truly seeing you in my dreams and hoping you won’t turn into my worst nightmare. In Virginia, the hurricane should pass offshore during the wee hours of Sunday, August 28. On shore, we expect high winds and coastal flooding. Today we stayed busy around the yard securing chairs, wheelbarrows, dog bowls, porch furniture, boat, etc. We know the routine. We’ve done this before. The dogs know somethings up. The cats suspect there a change in the air.  The hummingbirds are emptying the feeders as fast as I can fill them.  The only creatures on the property without a care are the goldfish in the pond. They’re already underwater and a little wind won’t ruffle their fins. The rest of us are staying glued to the projected path of the approaching hurricane.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Garden Tools

One of my required master gardener classes was a lecture on garden tools. Instructors were scheduled to instruct the class on the tools available for gardeners and the purpose of each. They were bringing examples of spades, shovels, trowels, rakes, saws, shears, weeders, pruners, loppers, hoes, garden forks and pitchforks. Whew! In the world of gardening there are as many tools as there are jobs and we were going to learn all about working in the soil with some and working with plants with others. I felt a little smug going in to this class. I was already a gardener and I had my basic arsenal of garden tools. I knew I’d be yawning, drawing doodles in my book, and looking at my watch a lot during class time.

No rust on these tools!

Boy, was I wrong! I began the class elbows on the desk and head in my hands. Several hours later, I was sitting up straight and had taken copious notes with small sketches in the margins. I found I did not know all the names of the tools I already owned. And I learned a few new names of other handy garden tools. A Winged Weeder? A Garden Bandit?  A Swoe?  A dibber? I learned when to use bypass pruners and when to use anvil pruners. I discovered I knew nothing about choosing a tool to fit my grip, did not understand the benefits of short-handled tools and long-handled tools, styles, weights, and materials. I learned, like proper shoes, garden tools need to be fitted to the gardener.

That was then....

This is now.....

And I learned valuable knowledge on sharpening my own tools (I tossed the dull and bought new ones) and the proper care of tools (I tossed the old and bought new ones).  I took my tools for granted and left them where I last worked in the garden. I’m much better now about wiping tools clean of any dirt or grass before storing them in the garden shed. I sharpen tools regularly and coat the metals with a mixture of petroleum jelly and light oil or a rust blocker spray like Bull Frog Rust Blocker (environmentally safe) to prevent rust. Another master gardener tip for treating metals is to fill a pail with sand and mix in used oil. Any oil will do… cooking, motor… but I do wonder about the environmental impact of eventual disposal.

I still have my favorite tools in the garden shed and it’s nice to know their names, to know how to use them, to know they are better cared for and that they might last a lifetime.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

One Hundred Days of Glory

It’s not possible to live in zone 7 of Virginia and not have at least one crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) growing in your yard.  All through the hot, dry days of summer, crape myrtles thrive and produce blooms in color palettes ranging from white, red, lavender, pink and purple. Some crape myrtles grow only three feet tall and others can reach 30 feet in height and they all produce long lasting clusters of  blooms when all else in the garden is throwing in the towel.

There were shades of pink and lavender growing in this landscape when we purchased this property but I fell hard for ‘Natchez’ that bears delicate white blooms. In the mid-fifties, a species was imported from China to the United States that was resistant to powdery mildew and it also shed its bark in late summer to reveal a gorgeous cinnamon colored bark. The National Arboretum in DC cultivated popular hybrids from this tree bearing the names of Native American tribes. ‘Natchez’ was one of the hybrids.

'Natchez' crape myrtle

We planted one ‘Natchez’ in a border framing the entrance of the home and three more lining the driveway where they receive the recommended 6 hours of sunlight and good air flow to prevent mildew…. just in case.

It’s an amazing process to observe the bark’s exfoliation from the trunk of the tree, very much like a birch tree. After several days it begins to hang in strips, then finally falls to the ground. We are rewarded with the mottled cinnamon colored bark that is a focal point through the cold winter months.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Code Orange… cough, cough.

Smokey haze seen below the treetops in Gloucester VA

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued a Code Orange in Gloucester due to a fire smoldering on 5,600-acres of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, an 111,000-acre of forested wetlands located on the North Carolina border in southeast Virginia. It is home to a vast number of migratory birds and rare animals and provides over a hundred miles of hiking and biking trails for people…. and it burns. Mother Nature triggered the latest fire which was spotted from the air on August 4 by firefighting personnel returning home from fighting a fire in North Carolina.

NASA Satellite Image

Winds have pushed the smoke northward this weekend prompting residents in this area to stay indoors under an air quality advisory…. that personally looks more like a Code Red to me. What we need is rain and lots of it to extinguish this fire smoldering in the organic peat of the refuge. Some rain passed through the area on Saturday and more is in the forecast for later today. But we will receive hardly enough to snuff out a fire of this magnitude. This could be with us for a long, long time.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Late Summer Weeds I Love to Hate

I am not one of those people who can sustain the care of a garden on a regular basis. Better gardeners venture out regularly to assess garden conditions. Instead I seem to weed in less effective spurts. And my maintenance techniques are not for the faint of heart. I wait until I am triggered by the arrival of guests or I know I have two to three days in a row at home or the lure of a cooler day coaxes me outdoors away from other duties.  On those days I weed like a perspiring, grimy maniac from dawn to dusk (or later) filling several wheelbarrows with debris… lots of dead stuff, spent herbage, and tons of weeds.  At the end of each day, mister gardener and even the dogs give me a wide berth.

Having just completed a major late summer overhaul of the garden, there were the familiar seasonal weeds that seemed to taunt me. As my garden flowers fade, these weeds thrive in the sun baked ground, they sprout atop the fresh mulch, and they prosper without the existence of water. One weed that gardeners encounter this time of year is spotted spurge.

Spotted spurge

Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is a late-summer annual that forms a low, dense mat over the ground. This spurge seems to find every crack and crevice in full sun and it can grow over a foot in diameter. The lookalike spurge, prostrate spurge, roots at the nodes of the plant. Thank goodness that one isn’t a problem in these gardens!

Partridge Pea takeover!

Some gardeners welcome the Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), a native annual, to their late summer garden but I’m not one of them. Left alone, this plant reaches two feet in height and drops seed from pods in the fall. It does have a lovely yellow bloom that insects seem to adore…. even the red velvet ant, I read somewhere. I respect this plant but I can hardly give it an inch because it is so prolific. It prefers full sun but thrives in the shady area of my new secret garden where, alas, the soil is poor.

Common Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)

One last plague in the garden path is common yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta), a clover-like plant that hides in my steppable groundcover along the flagstone in full sun or shade. For effective weeding I slowly work my way along the flagstone, pulling the plant gently out of the sandy foundation where succulents, thymes and miniature grasses fill in the gaps between stones. Annoying as it is, I remember as a child chewing on the sour leaves so this weed, I don’t mind so much.

Following my Herculean garden undertaking on Saturday, I have retired from weeding duties until the next time.  The garden looks fine from the windows while I’m vacuuming. It looks inspirational from the deck as I fill the hummingbird feeders. The tall hosta blooms swaying in the breezes are thrilling from the porch as sip my lemonade. Sigh.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Fall Webworms Are Back!

Although it has been a light infestation in the walnut tree this summer, our native fall webworms began their damage in early July.  Small silken masses appeared at the terminal part of our walnut tree branches enclosing tree foliage, the larvae’s food source. As the larvae grew, so did the webs as the need for more food to support the growing insects.

Fall webworm - Hyphantria cunea (Drury)

The female fall webworm adult is a snowy white moth that emerges from pupation in leaf litter and beneath bark of trees and lays hundreds of eggs on the underside of leaves. Eggs hatch in a couple of weeks and larvae begin to spin their webs and feed and grow for several weeks.

Female fall webworm moth visits lights at night

Over a hundred species of trees in North America fall prey to fall webworms but in my yard, it’s always our lone walnut tree. Last year I raked the leaf litter beneath the tree where webworms pupate. I may have slowed the cycle but certainly didn’t stop it entirely.

In the north, there is only one infestation during the fall season but we can have two or more in Virginia. I can only hope we don’t have the heavy infestation we had last autumn where many trees were defoliated. Unsightly as it can be, fall webworms rarely threaten the life of a large healthy tree.

Insect pests in North America often originate in Europe and Asia but this is one pest that North America or Mexico accidently shared with the world. It is now a serious pest in all parts of the globe. Like insect populations everywhere, the population of fall webworms fluctuate a great deal over time. I believe conditions must be perfect for the fall webworm in Virginia at present for those unsightly nests are showing up more and more as I travel the roads and byways of Tidewater.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester