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Gardening

Pros and cons of straw, paper, ­plastic and reflective mulches

It is a big mistake to mulch your tomato plants when you plant them. When organic mulches such as straw are applied at planting time on cool soil, the cool will linger. This will retard growth, flowering and fruiting. Wait to mulch vegetable gardens until soil temperatures are between 70 and 75 degrees.

Once trees reach a certain size, roots cannot re-stabilize the plant

The combination of saturated soil and strong winds has tilted trees and tall shrubs. If the trunk of a tilted tree is thicker than four ­inches, it is unlikely that the tree can be straightened and remain upright without permanent support. This is also true of large shrubs. The problem lies with the inability of roots larger than two inches in diameter to regenerate and develop sufficient size to stabilize the plant.

Keeping up, veggie by veggie

This has been a great year for asparagus. Spears are popping out of the ground daily, growing four to six inches in one day. I find it best to cut the asparagus just below the soil line and harvest spears that are at least six inches above ground. This allows you to snap the bottom of the stem, which guarantees they will be free of woody tissues. Keep asparagus beds free of weeds by hoeing weekly. To avoid promoting additional weed growth, scrape away the weeds with minimal disturbance of the soil.

Chesapeake’s Bounty connects shoppers with local farms, fish and more

Just a few weeks ago, in winter’s last stand, shoppers in light flannels and heavy vests scurried from the damp sidewalk into Chesapeake’s Bounty North Beach store. A smile from Veronica Cristo and an aroma of apple cider warmed the room. The wood floor creaked as they drifted through waist-high aisles of sweet potatoes, apples and stacked jars of local honey and jam, on their way to a table of dinosaur kale and bright green spinach.

Sometimes you need fertilizers

Am I an organic gardener? I’m often asked that question. I suspect that many who read this column conclude that my frequent reference to composting and compost in gardening means I must be an organic gardener. They seem shocked when I say that I use chemical fertilizers in addition to amending my soils with compost. My reasoning is that of a scientist.

Agricultural program grows at Phoenix Academy

Next time you cruise down Cedar Park Road in Annapolis during school hours, you may well do a double-take as you pass the field next to Phoenix Academy. You’re likely to see rabbits munching greens in a sturdily built hutch, hear nanny goats bleating or glimpse teens carefully weeding a row of curly-leafed kale. Three years after a Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education was launched at this K-12 Anne Arundel County public school, there’s plenty of evidence that impressive hands-on learning is going on both within and outside the school walls.

But not so great for forests

Robins and sparrows sing the praises of our unending rain. Their beaks and bellies are filled with wriggling worms.     Earthworms surface as wet conditions make easy work of relocating. No, worms don’t come up to escape drowning. They are capable of surviving several days submerged.     The vibration of raindrops sounds like the predatory rumble of moles looking for a snack, causing the worms to head for the surface, where fishermen and hungry birds find them. Some birds have shifted to eating an earthworm-only diet.

Test your soil to put them to work

Horticulture is a science, not a guessing game.     I can remember my pipe-smoking, tobacco-chewing grandfather putting garden soil in his mouth to taste if it was sweet or sour. I was impressed at the time, but looking back on his method of testing soil, I know it would have been impossible for him to make any determinations of the pH or of nutrients by taste.

One of gardening’s incomparable pleasures

There is nothing like sneaking into the garden in mid to late July after the potato plants have finished flowering and stealing a few thin-skinned potatoes. If you hill your potatoes with compost in place of garden soil, you can harvest potatoes without disturbing the plant. At the final harvest, you get the added benefit of potatoes that are almost dirt-free.

How to control these and other web-builders

Those white webs expanding in the crotches of cherry, crabapple and Juneberry trees are made by eastern tent caterpillars. Last summer and early fall, the adults laid their eggs in these favorite trees. As the larvae emerge, they spin a web around the nest, giving it protection from the weather. In the evening, the larvae crawl out from under the web to feed on nearby tender young leaves. Just about the time the sun rises, they return to the web for protection. As the population of larvae increases and the larvae increase in size, so does the webbing of the nest.