Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Plant Asparagus for Many Happy Returns

Nothing says spring quite like asparagus. Growing your own spears takes a little upfront effort, but the rewards are manifold. Asparagus is considered a "valuable" crop, meaning it's pretty expensive to buy it at the market. It's a hardy perennial, so once established, it returns each year.
First sign of spring.
First, chose a sight that receives full sun and good drainage. Asparagus likes a soil pH between 5.8 and 6.5. If you're not sure of your soil's pH, the Virginia Cooperation Extension will test it for you and send back the results, including recommendations for amendment.  You'll probably need to enrich the soil with composted manure, bone meal, humus, or composted leaves (leaf mold). It is useful to amend the soil at least 6 months before planting, in order to give the planting area time to mature.

Asparagus fits nicely into a woodland area,
that receives at least part-sun.
Double-dig the planting area by removing the first foot of soil, and then breaking up the next 12 inches of subsoil. Dig trenches twelve to eighteen inches wide, and four to five feet apart. Mix the topsoil with organic amdendments, and refill the bed.

Plant asparagus crowns, purchased from a reputable nursery, around the same time that you would plant peas and potatoes; in other words, when soil can be worked in spring, before days grow long and warm. Recommended cultivars for Virginia are Jersey Knight, Jersey Giant, Jersey Gem, and Purple Passion.

Keep the bed weed free and evenly moist. A two-inch layer of mulch will help with temperature and moisture control. Apply a balanced fertilizer in late winter, before spears emerge.

Unfortunately, harvesting asparagus in the first year is not recommended. The plants need energy to fully mature. In the second year, take just a few spears. The third year will be the most productive. Snip spears when they're no bigger than a pinkie finger, before the tips begin to flower.
Asparagus Salade Nicoise

Asparagus recipes abound on the internet. When you only have a small harvest, try a few of these suggestions:

  • combine the tender spears with fingerling potatoes, garlic, and lemon;
  • slice them lengthwise and bake on pizza;
  • lightly steam spears and toss into Salade Nicoise
  • combine with other veggies on a credite platter

Friday, April 24, 2015

Visit Shenandoah River State Park

Virginia is for lovers, and with good reason: we have an enormously diverse landscape of people and places, and there's never a lack of adventure around the bend. Without getting too risque, I'll just say that there's nothing more enervating than spending a beautiful weekend in one of our fabulous parks, with those you love. 
Along the River Trail
in Shenandoah State Park.

Most of us Virginians are familiar with Shenandoah National Park; after all, it covers just under 200,000 acres and receives over 1.2 million visitors each year. I could wax poetic about Shenandoah, Oh Shenandoah, I hear you calling.... but today I'm all about the Andy R. Guest Shenandoah River State Park. Perhaps you've passed it on the way to Skyline Drive - it's just off rt. 340, between Luray and Front Royal. Situated on the south fork of the Shenandoah River, the pristine park is host to dry, rocky biomes, as well as vernal pools. These seasonal bogs appear in early spring, when there's abundant rainfall, allowing sensitive species of frogs and salamanders to begin and complete their life cycles. Higher up on the winding trails, shale barrens are host to unusual species of native wildflowers not found in many other areas of the state. 
The Bluebell Trail in full bloom.

The interconnected trail system makes it easy to adjust hiking times, according to energy and ability. The Bluebell Trail and River Trail were the highlight of our weekend. Our timing was just right to catch the flowing swath of pink, purple, and blue hugging the riverbank. A sunset hike along the river gave voice to a chorus of frogs we'd apparently overlooked in the course of staring at all that beauty during daylight hours. And the stars, have you seen them lately? Because stars just aren't the same in the suburbs...

A nest box welcomes a couple of tree swallows.
The campground is the cleanest, most accessible I've ever seen. Eleven tent sites are situated along the southeast side of the park, many of which have views of the river. The level, gravel, well-defined spaces were a welcome site for a out tent. The parking lot is separated from the tent sites, and large wagons are provided for hauling equipment. There are also a few rustic cabins and an RV site. 
Can't beat camp food - S'More's!

We didn't take advantage of any of the ranger programs, nor did we fish or kayak, but I have a feeling there will be many more trips to Shenandoah River State Park in my family's future. I hope to see you there! 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sources for Native Plants in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic Region

Are you interested in starting or expanding a native plant garden, but having trouble location native plants? Native plants are indigenous to a particular region and are often the only source of sustenance for native species living in a particular habitat. Habitat erosion, due to overdevelopment or other human intervention, endangers both native plants and animals. While it is illegal to remove the native plants growing wild in woodlands and parks, there are many local resources for learning about and obtaining wildflowers.

Plant NovaNatives, a northern Virginia campaign to bring attention to the importance of native species, provides a comprehensive, downloadable guide to plants that grow best in our region. They also offer community outreach, speakers, and partnerships with plant retailers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day April 15

What better way to celebrate tax day than to stroll around the garden and see all of that hard work pay off! It's an overcast day here in Fairfax, VA, perhaps due to the long line at the post office blocking the sun. Nonetheless, today is beautiful, because the multitude of blooms reminds me that brighter days are right around the corner.
The Bluebell Trail at Shenandoah River State Park is absolutely dazzling.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Save Money by Starting Seeds Indoors

I'm excited to share a new opportunity I have with Virginia Gardener, as a featured blogger on the State-by-State website. I'll be posting gardening stories, recipes, and pollinator updates on this website. I'll continue to post information on this blog, as well, often supplementing the Virginia Gardener posts with more in-depth information. Here's a link to my first post, followed by some additional information on seed starting that I hope you'll find useful. Please post comments and let me know what you think, or if you have anything to add! 
Why not grow a pollinator garden this summer? 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kale: Garden To Table Recipes for Spring, Fall and Winter

The U.S. is in the midst of a kale craze. In fact, kale is so popular, it's almost a cliche. Before we toss kale into the celebrity gossip category, let's take a moment to appreciate its truly miraculous qualities, from a gardener-chef's perspective.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Support DC Gardens

Today I donated to DC Gardens, a new, grass-roots campaign aimed at highlighting the wonderful gardens in the DC-metro area. Spearheaded by Garden Rant blogger Susan Harris, the DC Gardens website ( offers an inside look at popular, as well as lesser known public gardens. Each month, DC Gardens will publish photos of what's blooming in 12 local gardens, as well as listing events and tour information. DC Gardens also serves as a hub for local garden enthusiasts, connecting us with learning and volunteer opportunities, plant sales, design services, and local garden media sources. I personally can't wait to connect with other garden writers and native plant enthusiasts across the DC area. I'm especially excited to see what's in bloom each month in gardens I may not get to visit in person.
Native flowers attract native pollinators at Green Spring Garden.