Friday, December 23, 2011

WBAL Radio Kids Campaign at Valley View Farms

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

When it comes to Baltimore holiday traditions, there's nothing quite like the tradition of seeing (and hearing) WBAL's Kids Campaign broadcast from Valley View Farms. And being reminded once again of just how generous Baltimoreans really are.

For more than a decade now it is how countless Baltimoreans usher in the Christmas holiday.

And it all benefits the WBAL Kids Campaign!

Once again this year WBAL's Morning News with Dave Durian and Bill Vanko set-up shop in one of the East Coast's best Christmas shops for what has evolved into a Baltimore holiday family tradition.

There's no better time or place to experience the magic of the holiday season in Baltimore.

And how about the many folks who come out to say hi each year at Valley View Farms and support the WBAL Kids Campaign.

In just a couple of hours one morning this year the likes of MRI Global Search, CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield and RK&K Engineers donated tens of thousands of dollars. And like I said, that was just in a couple of hours.

That said, think of all the many other companies and organizations who also come-by to make donations over the course of the two days WBAL's Morning News does its thing at Valley View Farms.

Also, how cool is it to see individual WBAL listeners from all walks of life walk up to Dave Durian, Bill Vanko, Keith Mills, Malarie Pinkard, Johnny Goldsmith and the 'Piano Man' Brent Hardesty to give whatever they can to help their fellow Baltimoreans.

Simply put, every penny, nickle, dime and dollar that is donated to the WBAL Radio Kids Campaign at Valley View Farms and over the course of the year goes directly to the benefit young, economically deprived boys and girls in the WBAL Radio listening area as WBAL Radio covers all the administrative costs of the Kids Campaign.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the WBAL Radio Kids Campaign and to hear the stories of who benefits from the generosity of so many WBAL listeners across the Baltimore-area.

It's also neat each year to see listeners come out to Valley View Farms who renew their friendships with others they only see once a year during these live WBAL Radio broadcasts during the holiday season.

And how about all the great singing groups who get up early in the morning to perform at Valley View Farms on WBAL like from Calvert Hall High School, John Carroll High School and Sum Of Their Parts. Just to name a few.

I've talked to folks over the years who say it just wouldn't be Christmas for them and their families if they didn't come out to enjoy all the fun during the WBAL radio broadcasts at Valley View Farms in the days leading up to the big day.

And how about all the great food and snacks that Royal Farms (their great coffee above), Chef's Expressions and Miss Shirley's brought by this year! Not to mention the great folks at Esskay who have sponsored the broadcasts from Valley View Farms once again.

And if you can't make it out to see and hear all the holiday fun this year and you want to make a donation, you can mail your contributions to:

The WBAL Radio Kids Campaign
3800 Hooper Avenue Baltimore,
Maryland 21211

Thanks to all the generous contributions, hundreds of Baltimore-area boys and girls will have a very Merry Christmas and truly a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Steinbach Nutcrackers

The Steinbach Nutcracker signing occurs on Friday, December 9th this year, from 4-8 pm. Valley View Farms' relationship with the Steinbach family goes back to the early 1990s.

In 2003, we moved many of the nutcrackers out to the greenhouse for some elbow room

Herr Christian Steinbach would visit for a day or two in December to meet and greet admirers of his wooden toy factory's work. Nutcrackers, smokers, small wood carvings and ornaments that had been on display in our International Christmas Shop were brought back by our customers to have them signed by Herr Steinbach.
Herr Steinbach signs a nutcracker as his assistant looks on

But, he did much more than that. Each piece was signed and often contained a personal message. He would stamp or draw little designs on the bottom of the nutcracker and then take the time to fix any minor imperfections he would see in each one. Herr Steinbach would then pose with each collector for a quick Polaroid photo. Dressed in his traditional lederhosen, he was quite the character.

Kathy, Tim and Herr Steinbach delight the audience during a raffle drawing

For the past several years, Karla Steinbach, Herr Christian Steinbach's daughter, has come to Valley View to carry on this tradition. Karla is the 6th generation to head the Steinbach company in Hohenhameln, Germany.

Karla chats with collectors as she signs

She dresses in traditional German clothing as well,and, seated at a desk in the International Christmas Shop, looks at home signing nutcrackers and speaking to today's collectors.

Karla keeps the Steinbach tradition going

It's nice to know that these traditions, much like the art and craft of creating a a nutcracker from the forests of Germany, continue. Stop in if you have the chance, to meet Karla and speak to her about her work. And, if you miss this year's signing, look forward with us, to next year.

Monday, November 7, 2011

John Hessler, City Planner Extraordinaire

John Hessler manages Valley View's patio department for half of the year. He uses his artistic talent to create patio settings that people might enjoy on their porches and patios. But, by late summer, John switches hats as he begins to display our Department 56 Village Collection. John just finished designing and building the 11 different villages that we offer. The display sits in the center of our Christmas shop surrounded by over 100 decorated themed trees. John is a talented city planner---we've got an amazing 80 foot display as proof.

John Hessler shows us how its done!

I asked John which village is his personal favorite and he quickly answered "Christmas in the City". John's own collection includes over 30 buildings from that collection and another 30 from the North Pole series that he began collecting when his daughter Ashlee was just 3 months old. Ashlee is 20 now.
John is happy to share tips and techniques with customers everyday at the store. Every year we showcase John's talent during our Department 56 event, being held this year on the weekend of November 12th and 13th. We are also honored to have Department 56 Village artist Tom Bates with us on Saturday. Tom is the predominant designer of the Christmas in the City series, and also works on The Alpine Village, The Original Snow Village, and The North Pole Series. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to meet Tom and have him sign your Department 56 piece from 12-4 pm.

Tom Bates signing as Cathy Kramer talks to a collector

We are also pleased to have Ken Scwartz with us. Ken will be here all weekend to discuss the villages with collectors. Ken is the founder of one of the oldest Department 56 Collectors Clubs in the country. I'm pretty sure that between Ken and John, every possible question anyone may have about the villages, past and present, can be answered. Also, Cathy Kramer, our representative from Department 56, will be here to talk to folks about their village pieces.

Clockwise from top left: Tom Bates, Ken Scwartz, Kathy Foard, Cathy Kramer and John Hessler

John's display demonstration will be held this year on Sunday at 12:00. We'll all learn some great tips to make our villages more beautiful. I should mention that some of our most avid collectors work at Valley View Farms. Max Barton, whose mom and grandmother both work here, may be working as John's assistant.

John and his able assistant, Max

I would have added the photos of John's 11 villages, but photos just don't do it justice. Stop in and take a look yourself and meet John and the crew.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Planting Bulbs for Spring Color

Planting bulbs identifies a gardener as a true optimist. Who else would plant brown orbs of varying sizes hoping for brilliant Spring color?

The cooler night time temperatures and frosty fall mornings mean it is time to plant. Valley View Farms still has a complete selection of bulbs including daffodils, tulips, iris, hyacinths, alliums and much, much more.

Many of the bulbs are deer resistant, in fact, all animals leave the toxic bulbs of the daffodils alone. Others would benefit from an application of Bobbex when they are planted to keep pesky chipmunks and squirrels away.
Choose an area that receives six hours of sun or more for optimum results. Plant in a well drained area as most bulbs don't like "wet feet".  Add compost to the bed as you plant, but don't worry about adding a fertilizer right now. The best time to feed will be in the spring as the flowers fade.
In general, larger bulbs like tulip and daffodils should be placed 6-8 inches deep. Smaller, minor bulbs like crocus are fine planted just 3-4 inched deep.  Planting them deeper may prevent some varmints from getting to them and allows for adding winter-hardy pansies over the planting bed.
Choose tools that are comfortable for planting. Bulb planters are great for planting individual bulbs. Look for an auger for the household drill to speed things up a bit. Because I plant my bulbs in clumps of 6-12 bulbs, I generally use my garden shovel for most planting tasks. Plant pointy side up, but don't worry if your not sure which end is up; the bulb will grow towards light regardless.
There are many good websites with wonderful ideas for planting. Click here to view the new website from the folks in the Netherlands called Dig, Drop, Done. They have some videos and a gallery for some added inspiration.
Planting bulbs is easy. Add them to your garden now and you'll be enjoying spring flowers for years to come.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pumpkin Art

We have some talented people working at Valley View Farms. One of our long-time employees, Carey Wilkerson, is especially artistic.

She personalizes Christmas ornaments in November and December, and creates hand-painted signs for all of our departments. This time of year, Carey also decorates pumpkins. Here are four of them that we presented to local television stations.

The ballerina pumpkin is painted pink. An added tutu and a tiara make this extreme makeover complete!

Talk about about a whopper of a hamburger;the burger and fixin's are made of felt. The lettuce is tissue paper. I love the sesame seeds made from pumpkin seeds.                                                              .

This scary pumpkin is painted black. Those eyes sure are creepy, but scarier yet are the roots. They are made from that spray foam found in the hardware store. Creepy!

My favorite decorated pumpkin is the puppy. Faux fur was used to create the adorable paws, tail and floppy ears. The puppy's muzzle is some type of clay. She is adorable!

Thanks, Carey, for sharing your creativity with us. Now when I pick out my pumpkins, it won't necessarily be for carving.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall To-Do list

 Calling all gardeners! Now is the BEST time for several tasks and projects for the home landscape. We've received plenty of rain late this summer. The soil temperatures remain warm even as the air cools. The timing is perfect for transplanting trees, shrubs, perennials and grass seed. And, if you're like a lot of us, most of the planting around the house was completed in spring, providing beautiful blooms and color in April and May but leaving the landscape a little bland right now.
 Here, in no particular order, is a fall to-do list.

  • Plant pansies, mums and ornamental cabbage and kale for autumn color in pots and the garden.  

  • Renovate the lawn; check our website for some seeding and fertilizing tips.
  • Plant spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils and other colorful flowers.

  • Plant perennials, trees and shrubs. They get a chance to be well rooted in time for spring. Look for plants with colorful leaves, late season flowers and attractive bark. Consider trees and shrubs with berries, like pyracantha, hawthorn, beauty berry and various hollies. They are beautiful and the birds love them.  

  • Protect houseplants and tropical plants. Be prepared to bring them in before the first frost. Check leaves and stems for insects; spray with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap before moving plants inside. Repot  plants in the spring if necessary. 

  • Dig up summer bulbs like dahlias, cannas and caladiums. Store them in a frost free area and replant in spring.
  • Visit our water gardening department for information and a handout on how to overwinter your pond. Better yet, attend Tim's seminar on October 8th at 9 o'clock for tips from the expert.
  • Tidy up. Recent storms have left branches and leaves in the lawn and garden
  • Edge perennial beds.
  • Remove spent flowers from daisy-flowered perennials and annuals to keep them flowering for the remainder of the fall season.

  • Remove perennial weeds that have taken root in the garden.
  • Empty the compost bin. We'll be filling them back up with leaves in no time.
  • Keep a journal of successes and challenges in this year's garden. Take some photos to keep with the journal for reminders of the past season.
  • Clean bird feeders to get ready for any of our feathered friends that aren't flying south.
Mostly, enjoy the fall. We'll have all the gardening supplies you'll need plus everything to decorate your home for autumn. Pumpkins of all sizes, gourds, Indian corn, corn stalks,and other fall decorations are displayed in abundance outside.

Fall wreaths and garlands, many ornaments for Halloween and our famous Halloween shop are stocked up and ready for visitors.

And, if you want to take a sneak peek at our Christmas display, you might find our elves hard at work.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Hottest Pepper in the World?

 Buddah's real name is Al Goldenberg. He is a renowned 'chilehead', hosting a website called I Love it Spicy. Buddah reviews chile pepper products, lets others know about upcoming 'chilihead' events and hosts a forum where other like-minded pepper lovers can meet.
Last week, Buddah stopped by Valley View Farms to talk with Kathy and Carrie about hot peppers. Buddah, along with other chile pepper aficianados, had watched the world's hottest pepper designation change at least 3 times last year, going from India, to the UK and finally to Australia. Peppers are measured in Scoville units. The Australian pepper was measured at 1,300,000 Scoville heat units, making it 300,000 units hotter than the Bhut Jolokia pepper. Take a look at the following chart for an idea of just how hot this pepper is. I can hardly handle Jalapenos!
Buddah traced the latest pepper, known as Trinidad Scorpion Butch T's Strain, to a garden center in Cockeysville, MD. You guessed it; the hottest pepper in the world was traced right back to us. It  is our famous Trinidad Scorpion pepper! One of Valley View Farms' founders, Punkey Foard, collected several very hot peppers on his trips to Trinidad and Tobago during his winter vacations over many years. He took  the seed to our greenhouses where we started growing Trinidad Hot Peppers as part of our vegetable transplant offerings a couple of decades ago.Though we've made the claim that Trinidad Scorpion is the hottest pepper in the world, it wasn't until Buddah's interview that we learned it may be recognized by the world's experts for its fiery heat.Click here to watch the interview in its entirety.
Thank you, Buddah. See you in April 2012 when our pepper transplants will be available once again. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cherry Dazzle Crapemyrtle

We've all seen the beautiful red, pink, purple and white blooms of crapemyrtles in many yards and landscapes.

Look closely and you'll notice interesting bark patterns on many of the large trees as well. Crapemyrtles, in both tree and shrub forms, will add color from July through most of September. As an added bonus, once established, they are drought tolerant in our area. 

One of our favorite new varieties is called Cherry Dazzle. A dwarf, compact crapemyrtle, it grows just 3-4 feet high. Cherry red blooms add color to garden borders, containers and mass plantings. I love them in perennial borders where their rich, red blooms combine well with all sorts of plants, including ornamental grasses, echinacea, and liriope. Cherry Dazzle continues to add interest in the garden in autumn with its bright red foliage, contrasting beautifully with the rest of the fall garden and landscape.

You'll find many varieties of crapemyrtles ready to plant into gardens and containers now in our nursery. Our helpful signage will indicate height, width and care for each variety that is available.

Photos courtesy Gardener's Confidence Collection

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer-Time for Vegetables

Summer vegetables just can't be beat. And, what is more rewarding than harvesting them from your very own garden? The cool, wet April seemed to be perfect for many of the cool weather crops like peas, broccoli and lettuce.

Then, as summer temperatures soared, it was tough to keep up with the daily harvest of cucumbers and squash. More than one friend on facebook spoke of a record zucchini harvest. Lots of zucchini bread will be baking in kitchens all around Baltimore.

Now, the tomatoes and peppers are ripening, ready to add to salads and the backyard grill. And the eggplant; you've got to have these beautiful purple, lavender and white fruits for a proper ratatouille. Yum!

 That beautiful yellow flower on top of the 4 foot tall plant will soon start producing okra, a necessity for any good gumbo, in just a little while.

Summertime is when our plates finally hold that perfect ratio of fruits and vegetables to meats and starches. It's easy to eat right when the food is fresh and tastes so darn good.
Herbs have been growing very well in the summer heat. Basil flavors vegetable and meats. And could we go without pesto when the basil harvest is so plentiful?

Enjoy the summer garden. Just think, by August 1st, it will be time for that second round of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and lettuces. What a great way to spread good nutrition into fall.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds

Jan and Marian presented a seminar on attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. Both women are experienced gardeners and, though they have been gardening for years, get excited by every hummingbird and butterfly that visits their respective flowers. Last summer, Marian noticed eggs on the Asclepias tuberosa, aka butterfly weed and Asclepias incarnata aka milkweed. A project was born! The Monarch butterfly eggs were collected and placed in a terrarium with a screened lid. As the eggs developed into chrysalises, the watch began. Marian and Jan took lots of photographs tracking the metamorphosis of the butterflies.

As the time grew near for the butterflies to emerge, coworkers and customers stood nearby to watch the first flights of these winged wonders. Marian and Jan told the story of this summer project with a slide show.

Hummingbirds are regular visitors to many of our staff member's gardens.

We have learned through trial and error which plants attract the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. Most of us also use hummingbirds feeders to keep these diminutive creatures nearby.

And, our signs at Valley View Farms depict whether a plant is attractive to the hummingbirds and butterflies. We strongly suggest that little if any pesticides be used on or around the garden where hummingbirds and butterflies may be feeding.

The photographs were taken by Jan and Marian. Many were viewed during the seminar. They were fascinating! Thanks for sharing, ladies.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Wow Time!

Maybe those of us that work in the garden center take it for granted. The colors here are unbelievable. Today I tried to go through the front gate and just look at the garden center from someone elses eyes. Here is what I saw on this slightly overcast day.

Pottery and beautifully planted containers greet everyone as they approach our entrances to both the outside and indoor sales area.

The outdoor pottery shed is full of pots for outdoor plantings for all sorts of beautiful plant pairings.

Azaleas are finishing their main blooming season. Three large plants are being installed in my own landscape next week.

Roses in a kaleidoscope of colors take up a huge area in our nursery. The Knockout roses, with their fantastic performance, are customer favorites.

Upon entering the greenhouse, table after table of bedding plants, annuals, tropicals and vegetables are displayed with easy to read signage indicating sun and shade compatability. Want to know if butterflies like it? It's on the sign.

Hanging baskets are grown in our farm greenhouses in nearby Hydes, Maryland. Should we run out, we are blessed to have some other fantastic growers ready to supply area porches and patios.

Step inside and see the adorable and witty t-shirts. Fun gift ware and indoor pottery are all around.

Kids like gardening too. Plenty of colorful tools are available in child sizes.

Patio umbrellas and cushions, tableware and more offer unbelievable color for outdoor home entertaining.

A walk over to the display ponds is a necessity to see the ponds and our demonstration butterfly gardens. Take a peek into the water gardens to see the koi. The kids love to help feed the fish everyday at 12:30.

It's easy to walk through here everyday and forget to take a look around. Take a few minutes and just enjoy the surroundings. I have; it's amazing. 

p.s. Thanks to Marian for taking the great photos!