Monday, October 23, 2017

Pumpkin Power



Another beautiful fall day
I have had the opportunity to be up close and personal with pumpkins since I started working at Valley View Farms way back in 1972.  There must have been a bumper crop of them soon after that because we started selling all-the-pumpkins-you-could-carry- in-your-two-arms for $1.00. Yes, we had to be that specific to keep folks from wearing over sized shirts and jackets to get a big base for the large orange orbs. It was entertaining to watch the kids place piles of pumpkins in dad’s arms and then watch him walk to the cash registers alone and unaided by other family members. Those things were HEAVY!
The search for the perfect pumpkin


Nowadays, pumpkins are a little more expensive and families pick them out with the utmost care and attention to detail. Looking at folks choose their perfect pumpkin is fun. One person will look for a perfectly round fruit; someone else wants the pumpkin to be tall and skinny. A deep orange color is of paramount importance to one person, yet another must have the perfect green “curly-q” stem. Once home, the pumpkin may be painted or carved. Pumpkin Masters has created a huge following for their detailed carving stencils and some really fun, cool tools.
The kid is all about the face
Fletcher concentrating


Pumpkin carving parties are being held all over the place, and, not so surprisingly, for adults. A get together at my home last year produced some really creative carvings using hole saws, drills, super pumpkin guts scoopers and the tools from Pumpkin Masters. Participants used regular orange Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins, white skinned pumpkins, various shapes and sizes of gourds and even some of the mini Jack Be Little types. We repeated the event with the kids a couple of days later, sans saw and drill. They had a blast too.
Evan preparing to carve

Great time with friends

After putting so much work and creativity into carving, it was sad to see one of the pumpkins dry up two weeks before Halloween. The search was on to find a technique to keep the pumpkins nice through trick-or treating.

Here are some hints for pumpkin preservation from Pumpkin Masters.
  1. Spread petroleum jelly on the cut edges of the pumpkin.
  2. Spray the pumpkin with water, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate when the pumpkin is not on display.
  3. Soak or spray the pumpkin with water and a touch of bleach to ward off molding.
  4. Should your pumpkin shrivel, soak it in water for several hours, allowing it to re-hydrate; the more shriveled the pumpkin, the longer it should soak. Dry out the inside thoroughly. It is surprising how pumpkins can be revived using this method.
Spooky (and a little out of focus)

Tyler and the Webelos

Autumn’s cooler weather is perfect for outdoor entertaining. Oktoberfests, Halloween parties and family and friend get-togethers abound. Using pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, mums and corn fodder as decorations create a fall festival feel. Easy projects include hollowing out cool pumpkins and large cushaw melons or squashes and placing mums inside; cooks might place a bowl with stew or soup into a pumpkin too. Small votive candles can be placed in the Jack Be Little gourds to be used as place cards and table accessories. Safe, battery-powered votives are available now as are old-fashioned wax candles.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

William C Goard

The Great Pumpkin arrived at Valley View Farms and will remain on display from Wednesday, September 27 until Saturday, October 28. This year, Valley View Farm's owner Andy named the gargantuan pumpkin after his father and Valley View Farm's co founder, William C Foard, (known as Goard during this pumpkin season.)
Wild Bill from Cockeysville, October 2016
I can still hear Billy say over the phone, "that's Foard; F-o-A-r-d." Billy was also called Wild Bill from Cockeysville; both names will be on the pumpkin's display stage.
I don't know how long Billy and Andy have made their mission to get a giant pumpkin to celebrate fall and to bring some publicity to the garden center in Cockeysville. Back in 1989 , Billy had managed to get the World Record Pumpkin that year grown by Gordon Thompson and weighing in at 755 pounds. It was huge! We saw reports on the pumpkin all over the local news. My cousins on the west coast watched a report in their home state of California. We were even on TV as far away as Japan. The goal to garner publicity for the garden center was a success. People came from all over to see the pumpkin, picked out smaller versions from our displays, sipped on apple cider and gathered mums and other fall decorations for their homes.
Since then, we have hosted larger pumpkins, including one weighing in at over 1700 pounds. Andy began naming the pumpkins several years ago.
Cool Tim with Cool Moose

Goard brothers with Cool Moose 2016
Copius Gus, Gourdzilla, Rolling Thunder (the sound of the pumpkin in the back of one of our large trucks), Sasquash, Big Earl, and Cool Moose have all taken center stage.  This year's orange orb weighs in at 1536 pounds. Several others will join William C. Goard on display for the next month.
We get a kick out of people entering the contest to guess the number of seeds in the pumpkin. Tom Tasslemyer, WBAL's Chief meteorologist, counts the seeds on October 28th.
Tom and Billy a few years ago
Once the seeds are counted, we will look through the book for entries to see who's guess will win the $300 gift card for 1st prize and the subsequent guesses that will win $200 and $100 gift cards. Guesses range from 10 to millions of seeds.
The farmers and growers of the big pumpkins will get their seeds back to help them grow an award winner again next year. Bill always painstakingly cleaned all the seeds, spaced them out on a large cookie sheet or screen to air dry, and then carefully packed the seeds to return to the growers.
 Billy left quite a legacy at Valley View Farms. Andy's naming of the Great Pumpkin after his dad and business partner is a fitting tribute to the man.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Top Ten Fall Gardening Projects

Fall tasks in my garden look a little different this year. Take a look at the last blog post to see some of the ways I've had to change directions to allow my own garden to thrive after numerous summer storms.

Working with nature is a statement that gardeners take to heart. We want beautiful gardens that the deer won't eat, but that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. We embrace native plants, but also enjoy the colors and forms of some 'foreign' trees and shrubs. We will tolerate some insects, but hate the invasive ones like stink bugs and Japanese beetles. We're outdoor people who love summer storms until hurricanes and hail effect our flowers and vegetable harvests. Nature is showing us who's boss in a big way lately. I, for one, am looking forward to a calm, cool fall devoid of too many weather events.

Here are the top 10 things that gardeners in our area will be working on in the landscape.
  1.  Add fall colors. Mums, pansies and other autumn annuals do the job well; mix it up to add calibrachoa, celosia, petunias and other annuals that will continue to thrive well into October and November.
    Verbena, calibrachoa, petunias, euphorbia and other annuals thrive in cool autumn temperatures
  2. Add perennials to extend the season for wildlife. As an added bonus, perennials planted in the fall will be well-rooted by spring.
    Goldenrod is an excellent choice for fall perennial beds


    Allium ' Millennium' is the Perennial Plant Association's choice for 2018 Perennial of the year!
  3. Plant spring flowering bulbs. Ideally, wait for a frost or two before planting tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and many of the special bulbs. Most only need 12 weeks of dormancy and will do much better planted later. That being said, get the bulbs now to get the best selection, and keep them in a cool spot until November 1 or so and plant them then.
    Camassia, wild hyacinth, can be planted in the fall and will bloom beautifully in spring
  4. Continue to harvest late-season vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, and other cole crops. These plants are tolerant of frosts.
    Fall vegetables
  5. Prune dead branches from trees and shrubs anytime. Wait until mid-December to prune back roses and other late-bloomers. Do not prune azaleas, rhododendrons or other early to mid-season flowering shrubs as you will be removing spring's buds.
    Pruning out dead hemlock branches
  6. Fall is the single best time to feed and seed the lawn. Bring in a soil sample for our staff to check for pH to see if lime should be added to the soil. Grass seed is available for lawns in full sun, shade, those with heavy traffic and all sorts of other situations.
  7. Look for shrubs and trees for fall color.
    Clethra has nice fall color and is a wonderful butterfly plant
    Also, consider evergreens. They will be great to have during the winter holidays to decorate. Or, prune greenery to make into wreaths, winter arrangements or live garlands.
  8. Consider growing a plant for holiday gift giving. Make a terrarium or fairy garden. Start some beautiful amaryllis. Design and plant a succulent wreath. By starting these projects in the fall, plants will have plenty of time to grow into unique gifts.
    Start a succulent wreath now for holiday decor and gift giving
  9. Mulch...but wait until the garden's soil has cooled to avoid having plants break dormancy. Be careful not to put mulch too close or too deep around plants as it could contribute to rot.
  10. Make notes, and  take pictures to identify successes and challenges, and to prioritize tasks for early spring.
Enjoy the cooler weather and quiet times in the garden this fall and winter. Do take some precautions to help the garden survive and thrive this fall season and get it ready for 2018!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Summer Storms and the Garden

The storm that rolled through my neighborhood on Thursday was a doozy. I sat in my family room with my trusty Alaskan malamute by my side. Staring through the skylights, we watched hail coming down, high winds moving through the large trees that surround my home and hoped the storm would pass quickly. Like many others, I looked a the weather app on my phone to see how long the storm might last. After about 15 minutes, the weather settled down a bit. Looking out the front window, traffic had stalled where a tree had come down across the street. Cable wires were down, power kept going off and on again, and the sounds of emergency vehicles and chainsaws soon filled the area.

We went outside to survey the damage. We were lucky. Most of the branches that had come down were small. A few container gardens had tipped over, but the damage wasn't too bad. I'll be replacing some begonias that broke, my single tomato plant lost many branches, and leaves and twigs littered the landscape. The hail shredded some of my plants' leaves, but they'll grow back. Checking in over the next couple of days with neighbors, they weren't as lucky. One lost a cherry tree (it came out of the ground, roots and all) and saw damage to his pollinator garden. Another had contractors over to repair damage to his roof. Many, many others had major tree damage to fences, outbuildings, even cars. Luckily, no water damaged occurred as my property sits relatively high to the surrounding area. While we can't stop the storms, we may be able to prevent some damage to our yards and gardens by taking a few precautions.

A fifty foot tall hemlock hedge borders on side of my yard. Some branches did come down in the storm, but, happily, I had Bartlett Tree Experts do some work to limb up and remove damaged branches earlier this year. Some pottery had fallen off of the plant stand in front of my house. Next time, I will move them to the ground to minimize damage. After a quick yard clean-up Thursday night, we took a load of branches to the Cockeysville landfill where they will be recycled into mulch or compost. The place was crowded with many Baltimore County residents doing the same.

Here are a few tips to help minimize damage to the garden from summer storms:


  • Keep gutters and downspouts clear. 
  • Use downspout extenders or drainage hoses to divert water away from the house and gardens.
  • Install rain barrels at downspouts.
  • Create a rain garden in low lying areas of the yard and garden.
  • Avoid non-permeable surfaces near the garden. Consider gravel, mulch and other soil covers for paths and walkways.
  • Use raised beds in areas that don't drain well.
  • Consult with a certified arborist to see if any trees are at risk because of weak limbs, branches previous faulty pruning or any other reason. Bartlett Tree Experts offers free consultation. Our local office can be reached at 410-526-6655. I have one tree that has a major branch that juts out at a 90 degree angel from the tree trunk. Bartlett cabled the branch to the tree as much for my peace of mind  as anything.
  • Dig a channel  around gardens or dig an edge in to avoid losing mulch from around planting beds and trees.
  • Plant trees that will withstand elements of heavy rain, wind and snow. Leyland cypress and Bradford pear trees are easily damaged in storms.
  • Harvest vegetables before a heavy rain to avoid cracking on tomatoes, shredded lettuce, toppled tomato cages...
  • Tidy up debris frequently.
  • Place patio pots on pot feet (or pot toes) to keep drainage hole clear to allow excess water to drain.
Summer storms can wreak havoc on an area, as they have around the Baltimore area over the last few weeks. I hope these tips can help prevent some of the damage that our plants may have experienced. 
Now, on to replace my begonias!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Visit to Bob's Market in Mason, WV

We hit the road as a group to attend Cultivate '17, THE conference/trade show for people in our industry. Held annually in Columbus, Ohio, it is the perfect place to get away from the store to look back at spring '17 while looking forward to 2018.
My companions on this trip were Valley View Farms' owner Andy Foard, GM Tim McQuaid and our grower, John Miller. We traveled together, driving to Ohio, taking one stop on our way out to Mason, WV. Mason sits on a bend of the Ohio River in the northwest corner of the state.
Tim, Andy, our host, Bobby and John

We took the opportunity to drop in on one of our young plant suppliers, Bob's Market, to meet the folks who grow our baby plants.
John receives the plants in 144 or 288 count plug trays, then moves them up to a 4 1/2" pot to finish them to sell at our garden center. Bobby Barnitz took the time to show us around a part of his family business. It was incredible to see what goes into producing millions of plants for growers and garden centers in our region!

John, Tim, Andy and I learned so much from our visit with Bobby
Bob's Market custom mixes soils for planting along a gigantic conveyor, where peat, perlite, bark, water, fertilizer and other ingredients are combined to make the perfect media to grow any number of particular plants.
Two stops on the flat filling machine 
Seeds are housed in a temperature controlled room until planting
The automation is astounding. Once flats are filled, they go to one of several stations where seed is dropped into the mix, watered and sent to a germination chamber for a few days. Once the seed has started to grow, Bob's has an incredible machine that takes photos of 1/2 a flat at a time to see if any seeds failed to germinate in their 288 trays. Little mechanical fingers are guided to a donor tray, where tiny plants are taken and placed into the missing cells.
Each and every cell have a seedling...I counted:)
Flats are then moved to greenhouse benches where they will grow on.
This single greenhouse was 8 acres
They will be shipped via Bob's Market trucks directly to greenhouses, like ours in Hydes, MD.
Our visit in late July occurred just as our fall pansies were being planted. What a treat to see the process from the very beginning.
Thank you, gentlemen, for a fantastic stop on our way to Columbus.

Three generations of Barnitz's at Bob's Market
Alan, founder Bob, and Bobby




After our visit, we hopped into Andy's SUV and headed to Columbus, now just 2 hours away.

The next blog installment will feature the show itself.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

PLANT OF THE WEEK: Tropical Hibiscus


Sizzling hot hibiscus colors mirror the temperatures outside this June in Maryland. Shipped to us from southern Florida, hibiscus thrive in our hazy, hot and humid summer environment. Treated as annuals or overwintered indoors as tropical houseplants, hibiscus put us in a Caribbean state of mind. It's no wonder it is often calls 'The Queen of the Tropics'.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the perfect companion to patio pots, poolside containers and sidewalk cafes. The flowers are everblooming with proper care. They'd love to have four or more hours of sun, although on extraordinarily hot days, hibiscus would enjoy an afternoon respite. Flowers last a day or two, but are quickly replaced with new ones. Hibiscus will bloom less in the winter with reduced light availability,
Hibiscus do well with regular watering. They do not like to dry to the point of wilt as the leaves will yellow and buds may drop off. In pots, make sure the soil drains well and do not allow the pot to sit in a saucer of water for more that several minutes. Outside, use pot feet to keep pots elevated from solid concrete and stone patios to allow for good drainage.
Fertilize during the growing season. Let hibiscus rest and discontinue feeding from late November to early March. Bring plants indoors before the first frost and treat them like houseplants.
Hibiscus are available in several shapes and sizes. Small plants are great for tabletops and windowsills. Larger tree-like standards make superb focal points at entrance ways.
Can't get away this summer? Bring the tropics to you with a gorgeous, blooming hibiscus.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a magic day for plant people. Those of us in the business look towards Mother's Day with anticipation. The cold weather has usually passed us by now, flowers are blooming everywhere, and our mom's are ready to get in the garden with new plants. It's a perfect storm when everything comes together to create our busiest time of the year.
The state of Florida has been shipping gorgeous hibiscus, gardenias and mandevillas all month to garden centers in the north.
Hibiscus
This year has been a bit challenging, as colder weather last week meant all those tropical plants had to spend a couple of nights under a light cover of fabric.
New Guinea Impatiens baskets are almost ready!

Calibrachoa is a favorite for sun

They'll be spilling over by Sunday

Coco baskets are customer favorites
Gorgeous hanging baskets have been loaded up on lines in our greenhouse, moving just 12 miles east of where they were planted at Valley View Farms' growing range of greenhouses. We're lucky that we have fans installed in our outside shadehouses that we can turn on at night to "stir-up" the air. I hope that's all behind us for the season, and we can look forward to Maryland's comfortable spring and warmer summer weather.
Aisle after aisle of beautiful color

Begonias are made for the shade

We've always been so focused at work this time of year, that many of our moms have had to take a raincheck for a true celebration. My mom passed 9 years ago, and I feel a twinge of guilt even now as I think back to so many Mothers' Days where I was late to the party.
My mom...Happy Mother's Day

 On the bright side, she could always count on receiving beautiful hanging baskets, a pink mandevilla, and assorted roses, annuals and perennials as most of my siblings stopped by to add plants to her garden.
Gerber daisies

Begonias

Orchids too!
Yep, we grow these too!
In her later years, we determined that we should plant the items too so she would not be overwhelmed with gardening work. She took so much pleasure in her yard and the pots she planted.

Many of our key staff members are moms. They do not hesitate to work on Mother's Day as they understand the importance of the weekend for the business. Thanks to all of you. We even have a few mother-daughter pairs that will work together on Sunday. Mom Valerie and daughter Colleen (other daughter' Grace will have the day off) will be at the checkout area while Dotty and Suzanne will be busy in the plant department.

Here's to all the moms out there. Happy Mother's Day!