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Freezing Malabar Spinach

September 24th, 2012

The garden is winding down, with night-time temperatures inching toward the high forties, so I decided to start processing some of the Malabar Spinach that’s growing in several beds. Malabar spinach is a wonderful vining spinach (it’s not really in the spinach family) from India that’s used just like regular spinach. It’s a little bit thicker and has more cellular slime, so it’s best in soups and stir fries than as a fresh garden salad.

Malabar Spinach - Before Blanching


This morning I picked roughly 16oz of spinach from the vines, pulled the tough rib from the larger leaves, and started a pot of water to boil for blanching. Above you can see that I had one large pile of leaves spanning about two of my cutting boards across and piled high.

Malabar Spinach - After Blanching


After blanching, all of that reduced down to a small pile of green mush. I cut the pile in half, and froze in two 8oz packages. The whole process took about 15 minutes, and I’ll be able to continue using this year’s garden harvest into the winter!


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2012: Pond and Garden

June 10th, 2012

The garden is in full swing right now, doing wonderfully thanks to the well-balanced weather of rain and sun that we’ve had in the mid-atlantic region. My raised brick pond is taking on a more natural look. Pogostemon yatabeanus has reseeded itself all throughout the pond from last year, which was a definite surprise.

Pogostemon yatabeanus

I also repotted my Crinum americana, which had become so root-bound that I had a terrible time removing the previous pot and separating the plant. I hope they’ll survive the process, as they are no where near as prolific as they have been in previous years.

Crinum americanum

Otherwise, the only other plant in the pond are some Mesanthemum sp. Africa that I’m hoping will eventually flower so my friend can try to properly ID it.

Sweet Potatoes

Elsewhere in the garden, my vegetable plants are all going strong. I got my sweet potato slips (Georgia Jet variety) in our boxes a few weeks ago, and they’re starting to take off.

Husk/Ground Cherry Plants

Our ground/husk cherries have already provided several handfuls of sweet yellow cherries that my wife and I have snacked on while watering.


Some of our heirloom pepper plants from Seed Savers (highly recommended source for transplants and seeds) have peppers forming, but it’ll still be awhile before we harvest anything.

Neon Eggplant Plant

We’re growing three varieties of eggplant this year: regular, neon purple, and white globe. I been manually picking off the flea beetles to prevent the leaves from getting too much damage, and in return all three plants have begun to set flower so it’s a matter of time before fruit appear.


We have about a dozen different varieties of tomatoes growing this year throughout the garden. My most anticipated variety is Kellogg which was an absolutely phenomenal beef-steak style tomato that we grew last year. It stays bright orange, is pretty firm for a large tomato, and is sweet as can be!


What started as an impulsive buy of a market-pack outside of our organic market has turned in a really nice harvest of collards. Our favorite use has been to use the leaves as a wrap, in place of a soft tortilla. I’ve had to begin manually picking off the hungry green caterpillars that had been deposited on the leaves by white moths that regularly visit, but it hasn’t gotten too bad yet.


We did have an excellent harvest of white icicle and red radishes, where we ate more of the radish greens than we did the tuber. In their place, I’ve planted two varieties of okra that are beginning to pop up in the warmer weather. I still need to thin out the rows a little bit this week.

Grapes Forming

Our grape vine is going strong with lots of grape clusters formed. I’m debating whether this will be the year that I put up some bird netting to save the grapes for us. The bird netting worked fabulously for our strawberries this year, but I do worry about having birds and other critters getting trapped in the fabric.

Strawberry Spinach

We eat a lot of greens, and this year, we’re trying a new one in our garden: Strawberry Spinach (above). This plant should eventually produce stalks of red little berry clusters, but the leaves are suitable replacements for spinach, and tolerate the heat a bit better.


The peas are trellising and starting to produce pods. I doubt we’ll have enough to make any substantial pea dish, but they’re another nice treat in the garden. Malabar spinach is planted beneath the peas, so as the hot weather approaches, that red vine will overtake the peas on the support lines, and we’ll have lots and lots of greens for cooking dishes.


We’ve also planted kohlrabi for the first time ever. It looks a little leggy to me where it’s planted, but hopefully it’ll form that alien shaped base as the summer moves along.

Rainbow Chard

Did I mention that we love greens? Our rainbow chard has been prolific, producing seemingly new big leaves every day for harvest. There’s nothing quite like walking out back to harvest dinner!

Plant Nanny

Finally, we’ve been experimenting with these terra-cotta “Plant Nanny” spikes in several of our containers. I try to water regularly, but containers often seem to dry out on our patio unless they’re watered twice a day. With these spikes, water is absorbed through the terra cotta into the soil as the soil dries out. For medium pots that only have a single plant in them, they seem to work pretty well. Larger areas, like shown above, would probably need several spikes to make any kind of a noticeable impact.

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Lily Flowers Attract

June 5th, 2011

Every spring, one of the things I most anticipate is the blooming of our tiger lilies. These flowers are so fragrant, and so beautiful, that they attract both people and critters alike to them. One of the all-time-favorite photos that I’ve taken happens to revolve around the lily as well (below).

Ant Lily Marching

This year, I decided to go out and take a few more pictures that might complement the above photograph.

Ant on Lily Flower

Fortunately, there’s always lots of ants on the lily flowers, so I didn’t have to wait long before snapping a few pictures.

Ant on Lily Flower

These are all sugar ants, shot with a Canon MP-E 65mm 1X-5X lens at various magnification levels. I was using a twin flash + diffusers to light the critters.

Ant on Lily Flower

I love how macro can open up an entire other world to photograph without having to travel great distances. The picture below looks like it could be taking place on another planet.

Ant on Lily Flower

Now, of course, every good extra-planetary story has to have a villain, so enter the spider mites Homopterans, which unfortunately, are also taking up residence on the lilies.

Spider Mite on Lily Flower

These tiny insects have a cotton poof coming from their rear, that looks like might it be full of eggs.

Spider Mite on Lily Flower

These guys would scurry to the other side of the stamen whenever I tried to get a shot, so I had to do the awkward maneuver of holding the camera in place, while using my other hand to shew the mite back toward the lens.

Spider Mite on Lily Flower

I suppose I ought to try to get rid of these critters to keep them from damaging the plants. Any suggestions on organically killing them?

Spider Mite on Lily Flower

I also found a lightning bug taking shelter at the base of one of the flowers. There seem to be less lightning bugs today than there were when I was growing up, which I’ve read may be due to light pollution at night.

Lightning Bug on Lily Flower

I hope you’ve enjoyed my photographs! In a week or so, the flowers will be gone, and I’ll have to wait until next year to see what critters the lilies attract.

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Growing Garden

June 2nd, 2010

I’d like to share a few photos that I snapped while I was outside in the garden today. The garden itself is really starting to take off with the warmer weather that we’ve been having lately. I have a number of volunteer tomato plants that came up from an heirloom assortment I grew last year. I’m sure they’ve hybridized now, but the outcomes have produced some very unique looking flowers (below).

Tomato Flowers

I’ve planted Nasturtium throughout the garden as a pest deterrent, and a wonderful peppery addition to salads. The Nasturtium leaf reminds me an awful lot of pennywort in our aquarium.


I’m also beginning to put some of my aquarium plants outside in the pond to grow for the summer. Already, at least four frogs have taken up residence in our small watering hole; more than in any previous year. That’s okay with me, however, as they certainly bring more intrigue to the backyard.


We’ve been picking a huge amount of lettuce greens from the garden. We have 8-9 different varieties, so our salad plates have been very full and tasty. In combination with a handful of strawberries, we’ve loved our early harvest.

Pick'n Lettuce

On Monday, our first tiger lily flowers opened up, revealing one of my most anticipated photo subjects each year. The colors that these flowers exhibit is nothing short of breathtaking. Even the unopened pods are pretty with striking orange colors.


I’ve been spending some time picking the flowers off of our thyme plants in order to encourage them to keep producing more leaves. The small purplish white flowers are abundant and fast replenishing after every picking.

Thyme Flowers

The pea vines are now several feet tall and producing the first pods of the season. The white flowers are a nice precursor to what I hope will be a plentiful yield of peas this year.

Pea Flower

Finally, it looks like our spinach season is over before it really even began. I got the spinach seeds in the ground too late this spring, so we only managed to snag a few flavorful leaves before the plants began to bolt from heat. I will replant in the fall, and try to overwinter them for a great harvest next year. I also have some warm-weather spinach in the ground now, which I hope will soon satisfy our spinach fix.

Bolting Spinach

I would love to hear how everyone else’s gardens are progressing. Please feel free to leave a note in the comment section.

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Garden Progress

April 17th, 2010

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year, with the cold weather slowly being replaced with the warm, the greening of the trees, and of course the start of the gardening season. I’ve been spending a lot of time in my backyard tilling soil, mixing in compost, and otherwise prepping my beds.

Young Spinach

I’ve also sowed several seeds a few weeks ago, which are now beginning to spring to life. I got the Spinach in a little bit late, but the first real leaves are beginning to show up on my plants. Other gardeners have told me that I should sow Spinach seeds in the fall to have an even earlier crop. That’s on my to-do list for this fall.


Our chives are always one of the first things to pop up in the spring, and now they’re fully grown in. Our oregano, tarragon, mint, thyme, and sage have also sprung back to life from the winter. Unfortunately, 3 feet of snow seemed to kill our rosemary, so we’ll have to replace that soon.

Young Dragon Carrot Plant

I’ve sowed the seeds for a couple of root vegetables, Dragon Carrots (purple carrots) and beets. Both are popping up and starting their growth. I also have some swiss chard and several lettuces in the ground.

Strawberry Flower

After planting our small strawberry patch 3 years ago, I’m hopefully that this year will finally be the year we have a decent harvest. The plants all look very healthy, with a lot of flowers. Since we do only have a small area dedicated to them, I need to cover them with some bird netting, as I believe the birds were the main consumers of the berries last year.

Snap Pea

I love watching our vines spring back up after reseeding themselves from the previous year. Yesterday, I spotted the first string bean shoot emerging from the soil, and our snap peas (pictured above) started popping up a couple weeks ago. I put a couple cucumber and squash plants in the ground to try and get an early start on them, covering the plants at night, but it’s still too cool for them to really take off it seems. Either way, it’s so exciting to be out in the garden, watching for new surprises everyday. The only downside: my aquariums suffer from a bit of neglect. I’d love to hear what you’re planting in the comments section!

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GWAPA: Carnivorous Plants Nursery

August 24th, 2009

On Saturday, GWAPA’s meeting was hosted by Michael Szesze, the owner and operator of Carnivorous Plant Nusery, in Derwood, MD. Michael runs an impressive local and online business, exclusively selling bog plants, with a huge emphasis on carnivorous plants. He currently has two greenhouses, filled with healthy plants.


Walking through the nursery, it could have been easy to overlooked all kinds of interesting plants. The sheer number of pots was quite staggering. Michael explained to us that carnivorous plants are pretty easy to keep provided you follow a few strict rules. Provide a nutrient-free environment, water with nutrient-free water, and don’t overfeed.

Carnivorous Plants

He pots all of his plants in a near 50/50 mixture of peat and quartz sandbox sand. For some plants he may adjust the ratio slightly, but he says that if you start with a 50/50 mixture, you’ll be able to grow just about any carnivorous plant. He collects his own rainwater, linking all of his home’s downspouts to a subterranean series of cisterns to store the water.

Pitcher Plants

Outside of the greenhouses, Michael keeps several boxes of carnivorous plants. He is able to overwinter these plants in place, covering them and monitoring the temperature under the cover to ensure that it does not reach 22 degrees F. He explained that 22 degrees F is the bursting point for most vascular plants, so if you maintain the temperature above that, your plants will be fine.

Grow Boxes

Michael recommended against explicitly feeding carnivorous plants, as enough insects will find their way to the plants on their own. He leaves his greenhouses open during the summer to allow critters to come in and fall prey to his plants. He has also effectively used carnivorous plants as a fly and pest control method on his porch.


In addition to the grow houses and boxes, Michael has maintains an attractive bog/pond area in his backyard. Many of the plants in the pond are not specifically bog plants, but he has filled the surrounding areas with the peat/sand mixture, so various carnivorous plants line the pond’s border.


Despite being a steamy rainy day, I very much enjoyed visiting this Carnivorous Plant Nursery. In addition to perusing the greenhouses and grounds, we also held our regular GWAPA aquatic plant auction. There were some serious deals to be had on plants this month!


Of course, the dangerous thing about going to places like this is that now it’s tempting to try and start a little bog to try and grow these plants. I was able to forestall that impulse at the meeting, but I could foresee a bog plant or two in my future. Comments welcome!

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U.S. Botanical Gardens Production Facility

April 7th, 2009

After our tissue culture workshop on Saturday, one of the attendees offered to take a few of us on a tour of the U.S. Botanical Gardens Production Facility where she volunteers. I have been to the U.S. Botanical Conservatory downtown in the city, but the production facility is a set of more than a dozen greenhouses which support the conservatory and other federal initiatives.


Simply put, this tour was a plant geek’s heaven! The size of the greenhouses are tremendous, and the vast quantity and variety is probably beyond compare in the country. The only thing I noticed they were missing was a large aquatic plant section, but that’s more than forgivable.


They had one greenhouse entirely dedicated to houseplants. Why would a place like this waste space on plants you can pickup in any hardware store or garden center? They provide a service to congressman who need plants for their offices. Each office is allowed to pick out up to six plants per year. If they kill more than that, they’ll have to get their own plants!


Just like at the conservatory downtown, the premier greenhouse at the production facility is their orchid room. I’m not someone who knows a lot about orchids, but some of the other members in my group were pretty bowled over by the species they saw in this room. One of the volunteers told us that this facility is one of two in the country that is legally permitted to grow out restricted orchids if they are confiscated by growers or poachers possessing them illegally.

Tree Frog

The facility does have to use pesticides to control pests from taking over their greenhouses. They mentioned that they often see the notorious D.C. cockroach, which is several inches in length. Aphids, bacteria, funcus, and others give them trouble just like in any garden. Of course, some favorable intruders take up residence as well, such as the common tree frog above.


One of their other greenhouses consisted entirely of succulents and cacti. Of all of the areas, this greenhouse by far had the most bizarre looking plants. These cacti were so specialized to their environment, that they looked other-worldly. Some looked like rocks, plastic, wax, etc. Really neat plants!

Crypt wendtii emersed

Of course, I did finally find a few aquatic plants. I remembered that they had some Cryptocoryne in the gardens downtown, so I knew that they must have some in the greenhouses. Sure enough, we found several pots of lush Cryptocoryne wendtii, both red and green varieties. We also saw some Anubias species, and a couple of other water plants.


Another greenhouse had bog plants, including many varieties of sundews (shown above), venus flytraps, pitcher plants, etc. With so many carnivorous plants in one place, I did wonder if they have to add flies to the greenhouse, or if they artificially feed them. Unfortunately, I never got to ask that question.


We noticed in one of the other greenhouses that the majority of the plants had either purple leaves or flowers. Before we could ask, our volunteer explained that purple is Michelle Obama’s favorite color. Therefore, for an upcoming event involving past and present First Lady’s, they are preparing a slew of purple plants to transplant into the White House garden, and other beds.


The shear variety of plants in this facility was astounding. I took far more pictures than I can narrate in a single post. Therefore, the rest of my post is made up purely of some other pictures I took there. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed my visit of the U.S. Botanical Gardens Production Facility.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Tree Frog Visit!

July 9th, 2008

I was inspecting my beast of an Amish Squash plant the other day, and on one of the neighboring zucchini leaves, I noticed that a tiny little frog had taken refuge. In past years, I’ve always had bullfrogs and common pond frogs take residence in my raised brick pond, but I’ve never seen a tree frog in my backyard before.

Gray Tree Frog

Doing some research online, I suspect that this is Hyla versicolor which is supposed to be one of the most common tree frogs in my area. The common name is the Gray Tree Frog.

Gray Tree Frog

He wasn’t particularly fond of my camera, and kept inching away from me. Quite typically, he had to have a piece of mulch stuck to his back, so that I couldn’t get an unencumbered picture.

Gray Tree Frog

I love the pads of tree frog’s feet, when spread out, gripping the surface of the leaf. It’s amazing how similar these local frogs are to their Amazon counterparts that I photographed last summer. Of course, the coloration of those frogs were a bit brighter in many cases.

Gray Tree Frog

After chasing this guy across a few zucchini leaves, I decided to leave him be. I hope he stays around for awhile, as a small army of frogs might come in handy once the squash bugs and cucumber beetles arrive!

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Pond and Garden Update

June 17th, 2008

CrinumI haven’t officially planted my raised brick pond yet, but somehow I’ve managed to just about completely fill it up. About a month ago, I tossed out a whole bin of clippings from my aquariums into the pond to stay damp until I could get around to planting them. Well, with the exception of the crinum pot, I never got around to planting anything. Instead, a number of stems have started growing up out of the water, anchored by the frogbite roots, which are getting thicker every day.

So far, the most prolific stem plants are Ludwigia arculata x repens, Limnophila aquatica, and Rotala sp. ‘Nanjenshan.’ Otherwise, some Didiplis diandra is still around as well.

I’ve only partially stocked the pond with a few Endlers thus far. I’m hoping to put out the rest of my Endlers before long. To this point, I have just enough to discourage mosquitoes from taking residence in the water. The frogs still haven’t managed to find the pond yet — something I hope happens soon because I love taking pictures of those guys.


The frogbite is starting to send its leaves up out of the water. I have some water lettuce floating in the pond as well, but only a few small pieces. I’m hoping to have more of that this year than frogbite, just for a change of pace from last year.

Marsilea quadrifolia

One of the interesting things that I have going this year is Marsilea quadrifolia growing emersed in the same pot as my crinum. What’s interesting is how delicate the four-leaf-clovers are right now. I have a pot of this same plant growing immersed inside, but the leaves are much darker, thicker, and waxier. Outside, it doesn’t look much different than the clover you seen growing in your lawn.

Water sprite

Another change from last year is some water sprite that I threw in there. Within a week, it was already growing up out of the water, despite not being planted in any container. I wasn’t planning on growing water sprite, but the price was right at one of the club auctions, so I decided to give it a try.

Radish Flower

Otherwise in the garden, flowers are starting to bloom. White icicle radishes just produced flowers this week. I’ve never grown root vegetables before, so hopefully it’s not a problem to let them flower. Any expert root-vegetable gardeners out there? The radishes themselves don’t seem big enough to pick yet. (I pulled a couple already in anticipation.)

Ant Lily Marching

Also, the lilies are in full bloom and a beautiful bright orange! I love this picture above of an ant traveling down one of the flower petals toward the center of the flower.

Bee on Chamomile Flower

My chamomile pot overwintered last year, and has quite a few flowers right now. I think I’ll actually have enough to harvest for tea this season. The bees seem quite drawn to these flowers.


And of course, whenever I’m out in the garden, Bella, one of our dogs who is obsessed with everything outdoors is always by my side.

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Gardening – That’s Where I’ve Been

May 5th, 2008

I realize that I haven’t posted in about a week, which is quite a long time compared to my normal rotation. We’ve been blessed with wonderful weather outside, and I’ve been afflicted with a drive to take every available second of my time, and spend it working in our garden. Yes, the aquariums have suffered a little bit, so for now, I may as well update you on the garden.

Raised Brick Pond

I’ve started putting a few things out in the raised brick pond, with the most prominent being a severely trimmed back onion plant that I got from another GWAPA member. I potted the two stalks in their own pot with some fresh aquasoil, and planted Marsilea quadrafolia and Riccia fluitans around it. Unfortunately, I think the tannins in the aquasoil has stained the water a bit brown for the time being.


Elsewhere in the garden, I’ve prepared a number of beds, transplanting some plants into the soil, while in others, I’ve planted seeds, such as the Okra seeds above. Pond Bean Tripod

I’ve setup my usual tripod for pole beans, but this time, am experimenting growing some grape tomatoes underneath the same tripod, which should hopefully act as a nice tomato cage. I also added some everbearing strawberries in the bed around the tripods, which hopefully should be fully established by next spring.

Grape Buds

The grape vine has new growth shooting out all over the place, with countless little grape clusters starting to form like the one above. Last year, nearly all of the grapes were enjoyed by birds (or possibly neighborhood kids), so we’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out this fall.

Collard Green Flowers

Also leftover from last year, the collard greens have all gone to flower, sending up 6 foot tall shoots, covered with pretty yellow flowers. The blooms have really added a nice touch of color to the garden while most of the other plants are just starting to get going.


We’ve got a vast array of herbs in the garden, which eventually end up in some wonderfully seasoned, fresh meals throughout the summer. So far, this years’ herbs should include parsley, oregano, rosemary, dill, sage, lemon grass, lemon basil, Thai basil, Italian basil, lavender, marjoram, catnip, spearmint, cilantro, chives, and chamomile.


Finally, I’ve hung up some beautiful baskets of purslane from a great local nursery near us. Hardy, ever-blooming, and drought-resistant, they’re almost the unkillable, beautiful flower. And did I mention that they’re pretty?

Now that most of my garden plants are in the ground, I’m hoping to get back to my aquariums. Aquarium updates coming this week, I promise!

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