Friday, November 16, 2012

Penguin to Visit Valley View Farms---COOL!

On December 8th, we will be visited by some folks from The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and this blogger's favorite wild animal ---an African Penguin!

Wanting to learn more about this Animal Ambassador from The Zoo, I looked him up on the zoo website. Here are a couple of pages from their website.

African Penguin

Spheniscus demersus

Photo of the African PenguinRange Map of the African Penguin
RANGE:islands and coast of southwest Africa
DIET: CARNIVOREfish, cephalopods, crustaceans
LIFESPAN:Up to 30 years in captivity
OFFSPRING:2 eggs per clutch
WEIGHT:6-9 pounds (3-4 kilograms)
The African penguin, or black-footed penguin, is also nicknamed the “jackass penguin” because its mating call sounds like a braying donkey.

“Where I live”

This species of penguin lives along the rocky coastline of southwest Africa, in the countries of South Africa and Namibia. It is found nowhere else in the world. Its range is restricted to a relatively small area where water temperature doesn’t fluctuate much.
Like all penguin species, the African penguin lives in the Southern Hemisphere. It also lives in a temperate climate, as do most species of penguin. Only a few species live as far south as Antarctica in an extremely cold climate.
At The Maryland Zoo, African penguins can be seen at Rock Island in the African Journey exhibit. This species is also featured in the Zoo’s Animal Embassy collection as an Animal Ambassador.

“How I live there”

African penguins live in large colonies. They spend their days at sea feeding and their nights gathered together on shore. Like all penguins, African penguins are much more agile in water than on land. They are excellent swimmers with perfectly streamlined bodies. They can swim up to 12 mph.
They feed on small fish such as sardines and anchovies, as well as small crustaceans and squid. Each penguin eats about one pound of fish per day. They absorb water as well as nutrients from their diet, but also are adapted to drink salt water. All penguins have highly developed glands over their eyes that filter salts out of sea water.

“Making my mark”

Because penguins gather in such great numbers, the presence of any penguin colony is hard to miss. One colony of African penguins in particular, established at Boulders Beach near Cape Town, South Africa, has become something of a tourist attraction. People go there for the beach, the swimming, and to see the penguins.

“What eats me”

Sharks, Cape fur seals, and occasionally killer whales prey on African penguins. Mainland colonies also have to watch out for leopards, mongoose, genet, and domestic cats and dogs. Kelp gulls steal penguin eggs and newborn chicks. Despite protections in place for this species, people continue to collect African penguin eggs, although not to the extent that they once did. Penguin eggs have traditionally been considered a delicacy to eat, and for a very long time people also collected eggs for public and private egg collections. In the past, the birds were also food for sailors.

Raising Young

African penguins form monogamous pairs that stay together for about a decade, or for life, whichever comes first. Females construct nests out of guano (yes, bird poop!) because their rocky habitat offers little else in the way of nesting material. Each female lays two eggs per clutch, on average. Both male and female take turns incubating the eggs. Incubation lasts 38 to 42 days. Both parents also participate in caring for the chicks once they hatch.
Chicks are able to regulate their own body temperatures at 14 to 21 days. They then begin to form groups of chicks, or crèches, that are guarded by adults. Cooperative care allows individual sets of parents to go out to sea to feed. Both parents also feed the chicks at this time. Chicks fledge anywhere from 60 to 130 days.
Adult birds employ a few different strategies for keeping cool while stuck on shore molting, incubating eggs, or guarding newborn chicks. They stay in the shade as much as possible or stand with their white stomachs toward the sun in order to minimize heat absorption through their feathers and skin. They also cool off by opening their mouths and spreading their flippers (vestigial wings). Also, the hotter an African penguin gets, the more blood circulates to the pink glands above its eyes where air cools it.


The African penguin is an endangered species whose population has declined by 90% since the turn of the 20th century. The current wild population is estimated at about 52,000 birds. Human interference of one sort or another has always posed the greatest threat to African penguins. Collecting eggs for sale and collecting guano for fertilizer (thus destroying nesting sites) nearly drove this species to extinction in the 20th century. Today, although better protected as a species, African penguins still must compete with commercial fishermen for access to fish.
They also remain vulnerable to pollution of their ocean habitat, particularly oil spills from big tankers. An enormous oil spill off the coast of South Africa in June 2000 impacted 19,000 adult African penguins at the height of their breeding season. Volunteers from The Maryland Zoo traveled to South Africa to help with the rescue and rehabilitation effort initiated by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. To date, this remains the largest animal rescue and recovery operation in history, with 91% of the affected birds rehabilitated and released successfully.
The Maryland Zoo maintains the largest colony of African penguins in North America and breeds the species at the recommendation of the AZA Species Survival Plan for African penguins. Since 1967, more than 1,000 African penguins have hatched at the Zoo.


Spring 2006 Zoogram, “News from the Zoo” spread, p. 4.
“Penguins: Caught on tape,” special to The Baltimore Examiner, 2/26/2007, p. 30.
Spring 2007 Zoogram, “News from the Zoo” spread, p. 4.
“Chick Season!” Zoogram, winter 2008, p. 5.

We'll have our cameras and promise to share some photos on our facebook page. But, wouldn't it be cool to meet one of these cuties up close and personal? See you on December 8th.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Saving Seed

Fall has finally arrived, bringing with it shorter days and cooler temperatures. Parts of the garden have gotten a light frost, but the plants are hanging on as long as possible.

Various native seeds
 Now is a great time to get into the garden and collect seeds for next year. Heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable seeds can be harvested. In my own garden, the Black Cherry, Mortgage Lifter, and Yellow Pear tomatoes are all good candidates for seed saving. The Jupiter peppers and some of the peas are good to harvest now as well.
In the perennial garden, many of the daisy-shaped flowers, like cone-flowers and black-eyed Susans have gone to seed. I’ll harvest some, but leave plenty of seed heads for the birds. They will do some direct-sowing for me.  In the annual garden, zinnias, marigolds, cosmos and calendula are easy flowers to grow from seed.

To collect the seed, look for mature plants. Clip the seed heads and pods and place into paper bags. Open up any pods and remove any chaff, stems and leaves from around the seed.  If you’ve kept the plant labels, staple them onto individual envelopes or include them in airtight jars. Several seed-savers exchanges can be found nationwide. I was luck enough to visit the Native Seeds Search in Tucson, Arizona, earlier this month.
Native Seeds Search is located in Tucson, Arizona
They are a great resource for vegetable seed used by Native Americans in that region. Corn, squash and pumpkin seeds are very prevalent. Store seeds in a cool, dry area or a refrigerator.
One of the many native corn varieties collected through Native Seed Search
 We save our Trinidad hot pepper seed year to year. Imagine our grower, John, in a face mask, goggles over his eyes, a long sleeved shirt and gloves. He waits until the fruits are fully ripe, and harvests the seeds from the center of the pepper. He removes the seeds, allows them to dry for several days and then puts them in jars or envelopes. They will be sown in February, and be sent from our farm greenhouses to our store in mid-April.

Trinidad pepper seed

In early November, seeds are collected from the giant pumpkins that have been on display at Valley View Farms for over a month. Each seed is cleaned and spread out into a single layer on a cookie sheet or window screen. EVERY seed is then packaged and sent back to the pumpkin grower so that he or she has a great chance of successfully growing another scale-busting pumpkin next year.
Seed saving is a wonderful way to keep the diversity of plants available for generations to come. For more information, visit the National Gardening Association site  online. Click on the Mid-Atlantic Regional report by Charlotte Kidd. Also, visit Seedsavers Exchange to find out more about seed exchanges in the gardening community.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Growing Lemons and Limes

Foodies know how fresh ingredients take a recipe from good to great. For gardeners, the idea of harvesting fruits and vegetables and being able to serve healthy, tasty meals, is a source of pride. And, with success, comes the anticipation of being able to try more exotic plants to grow different foods. So, its not surprising that more and more people are asking for citrus trees, particularly lemons and limes to add to their fresh food mix.
Key limes

The citrus plants that we carry at Valley View Farms are shipped in from either California or Florida. While not winter-hardy here, they can be grown outside in spring, summer and early fall, and inside during cooler weather. The sour fruits, including lemons, limes, kumquats and miniature oranges, do better in our area that sweeter citrus like grapefruits and oranges. The lemon trees that we received this spring were chock full of ripening fruit. Twenty or more yellow and green fruits loaded the tree, causing their branches to droop with weight. In addition to the beautiful fruit on citrus, the fragrance of the blossoms as they open is wonderful!

On a trip to Florida, many years ago, I brought back a small lime tree in my garment bag for a friend who had asked me to get him a citrus plant. The plant survived the trip, was repotted into a larger pot, was given sunshine and superb care. The two foot tall tree rewarded my friend with fifty-five fruits! The plant was so heavy with limes that it had to be supported with a scaffolding system made with small bamboo stakes and string.

Citrus plants are relatively slow growers especially when grown in containers. Following are a few facts about growing citrus here in Maryland.
  • Indoors, citrus should be placed in front of a window that gets plenty of direct sunlight. Plants can be moved outdoors when all danger of frost has passed.
  • Once outside, provide six hours of direct sun. Water when soil is dry to the touch. Provide a good, well-drained potting mix.
  • Consider placing larger pots onto a plant dolly, making the transition indoors when temperatures fall much easier.
  • Feed with Espoma Citrus Tone according to package directions.
  • Repot into a larger container every 2-3 years.
  • Scout for insects, particularly scale, and treat promptly with horticultural oil.
Lemon and lime trees produce a plentiful harvest. Use fruits fresh or freeze the juice from both to use in recipes later.
    Jan's Key Lime Squares
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup butter
    1/4 cup powdered sugar
    1 cup granulated sugar
    3 teaspoons grated Key Lime peel
    2 tablespoons Key Lime juice
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 eggs

    Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
    Mix flour, butter, and powdered sugar. Press in ungreased 8x8x2 baking pan.
    Bake crust for 20 minutes.
    Beat granulated sugar, lime peel, lime juice, baking powder, salt and eggs with mixer at high speed for about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Pour over hot crust.
    Bake 30 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched lightly in center. Cool. Dust top with powdered sugar. Makes 25 squares.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Native Perennials

Native plants have become very attractive to gardeners over the last several years, and with good reason. Most provide food, nectar and shelter for wildlife, including butterflies, songbirds and hummingbirds. Many perennials are deer resistant. Native plants don't tend to be invasive, needing little care in the garden. There are thousands of species from which to choose. I asked Jan in our perennial department to name ten of her favorites. They are listed below. For additional information, go to The National Fish and Wildlife Service's list of plants for the mid-Atlantic area.

10 Favorite Native Herbaceous Perennials

Asclepias tuberosa, also known as butterfly weed, is an absolute must-have for the natives gardener. Butterfly weed is the preferred nectar-producing plant for Monarch butterflies. Asclepias thrives in sunny areas of the garden.


Aster novae angliea, commonly called New England Aster, is a staple in the fall-blooming natives garden. Blooms abound through autumn, particularly in the northeastern United States.

 Baptisia australis, or False indigo, is an attractive plant with sometimes hard -to- find blue flowers. It is a robust plant that blooms in mid-summer, made even more interesting as seed pods appear in the fall. The pods rattle as breezes pass through the garden. Baptisia grows best in a sunny, well-drained garden.

Eupatorium pupureum, or Joe Pye Weed is this blogger's favorite native plant. Blooming in mid-summer, it is a butterfly magnet, particularly for Swallowtails. Growing naturally at the forest's edge, Joe Pye Weed is a beautiful roadside plant along most of the eastern United States.

Lobelia cardinalis, nicknamed Cardinal Flower, is a wonderful shade-loving plant that thrives in a wooded area. Lobelia flowers are bright red and tubular, providing nectar for the Ruby-throated hummingbird in the mid-Atlantic region.

Monarda didyma, also known as Bee Balm, is considered an herb as well as a perennial. It attracts birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bergamot tea is made from the leaves of the Monarda. While not invasive, Bee Balm is a robust plant that will demand lots of space. It does best in full sun in an area with good air circulation.

Mertensia, commonly called Virginia Blue Bells, is a spring bloomer with delicate, blue flowers. The state flower of Virgina, Mertensia grows well in a well-drained shady location.

Osmunda cinnamonea, aptly nick-named Cinnamon Fern, has large, beautiful fronds. Newly emerging fronds start out light green, then brown as spores appear. Like most ferns, the Cinnamon variety does well in moist, shady areas.

Rudbeckia fulgida, known as Black-eyed Susan, is a summer bloomer and a favorite in mid-Atlantic gardens. Often growing in fields and meadows, Black-eyed Susans thrive in full sun; they are wonderful companions to many native grasses.

With a botanical name like Schizachyrium scoparium, its easy to see why we need common names like Little Blue Stem to talk about plants. The stems are blue in the spring, transitioning to a beautiful mahogany color in the fall.

Valley View Farms is a great source for many native plants; they can be found in our perennial area and our tree and shrub department. The aforementioned Mid-Atlantic Native Plant List is also a good, (downloadable) resource to use to avoid planting invasive species.
Enjoy the garden and the beautiful and functional native plants found in our wild spaces and cultivated gardens.

Thank you to Ball Floraplant for providing most of the images appearing in this post.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Billy's Gardening Lessons

Our plant department gets together for an 'after the big season' party every year at Billy's house. Billy owns Valley View Farms with his son Andy.
One of the highlights of the party is Billy's garden tour.

Billy is serious about tomatoes. He takes a well- deserved vacation in late June, but always returns for a garden visit halfway through to check on his plants. Believe me, no one else is allowed to water, feed or otherwise take care of them. Billy shares his harvest beginning in July, bringing bucket after bucket of beautiful, ripe, Celebrity tomatoes for many of us at the store.

But I digress; let's get back to the tour. Our plant department is made up of novice and experienced gardeners. Like most people in the garden center business, we are able to share our challenges and successes with customers and each other. No one shares his expertise more than Billy. He shows us how his tomatoes need extra support because of his plants heavy fruit production.

 He shows us how the different varieties grow in the garden. This year, he planted Mortgage Lifters, Plum Crimsons and his favorite, Celebrity. Billy patiently explains how he sanitizes all of his tomato cages every year to keep his plants free from overwintering diseases.

 Best of all, he tackles question after question of the hows and whys of vegetable gardening from his staff.  It's wholesome stuff taught from the best classroom imaginable--- his vegetable garden.

Thank you, Billy, for inspiring all of us to be better gardeners.

By the way, Billy grows a pretty good crop of peppers too!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Maintaining a Pollinator-Friendly Garden

The other day, a friend's daughter asked her mom why she had the herb fennel in the garden. "You don't even like fennel; why in the world are you growing it?" My friend replied without hesitation, "Fennel is a larval host plant for butterflies". In fact, the right plants attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and many other beneficial insects to the garden. Most important for gardeners, hobby orchardists and vegetable growers, is  providing attractive conditions for pollinators.
An oasis amid U. S. government buildings

 On a visit to the National Botanical Gardens, situated in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, I was able to see a sample of a pollinator garden.

A sign in the garden provided the following tips.

  • Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall. Include native plants. Remember night-blooming flowers too.
  • Eliminate pesticides whenever possible. Many common pesticides are dangerous for bees.
Notice the pollen on the bee's legs

  • Avoid hybrid "doubled" flowers that have little pollen ot nectar.
  • Include larval host plants. If you want butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars to eat.
A Swallowtail butterfly enjoying the nectar from a lantana

  • Create a damp salt lick for butterflies and bees. Create a muddy area and mix in a bit of salt or wood ashes. Sea salt has more micronutrients than table salt.
  • Put out slices of overripe bananas, oranges, or other fruits for butterflies.
  • Spare that limb! Leave an occasional dead limb or tree to provide essential nesting sites for native bees. Make sure thay are not a safety hazard for people.
Marian's photo of a Ruby-throated hummingbird at a feeder

Provide a hummingbird feeder. For artificial nectar, use 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Never use artificial sweeteners, honey or fruit juices. Clean the feeder with hot, soapy water at least twice a week.

For additional information on pollinators, contact The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. Also, stop in and pick up a copy of our own handout on Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to the Garden. It is an invaluable resource listing plants for larval feeding and nectar production.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Heat-Loving Angelonias

Trial gardens featuring Angelonias

Several years ago, a few of us headed to West Chicago, Illinois to see some garden trials. Much like the weather recently suffered by Chicagoans, temperatures topped 100 degrees. I don't know who was wilting more, our group or the flowers. We walked for hours, judging plants grown side by side. There were two standouts. One, the Dragon Wing Begonia, was looking great in both sun and shade. Even in our store, they look wonderful no matter where they are planted in any type of pot. The other, Angelonia, stood tall, not showing a bit of weakness as the sun shone hot upon it.

Angelonia Archangel

Also called Summer Snapdragon, Angelonias thrive if full, hot sun, planted in borders or in pots. The whites are bright; darker colors like purple and raspberry look great all summer long. Now, it is a  favorite in the summer garden.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Our garden shop has a new diagnostic tool. You've got to see it; you'll be so impressed by our brand new microscope. It attaches to a computer monitor, allowing the magnification of any critter, disease or problem that may be causing leaves to yellow, fall off or just look bad.
Our new microscope can get up close for diagnosing plant samples

 Every day, gardeners come in to Valley View Farms, baggies in hand, to ask us to identify the cause of their plant's problems. We can now send them to our garden shop and view the leaves under the scope.
Ryan takes a look at some leaves

 Thrips, aphids, two-spotted spider mites, scale and many other creatures show up on screen and can be readily identified by our staff. Brian, Ryan, Jack, Jimmy, Mary Beth, John, Noel, Scotty and the rest of the garden shop staff can make an accurate diagnosis and recommend the best course of action to eliminate the pest and suggest cultural techniques to bring the plant back to its former, healthy state.
"Yes, this leaf has some Two-spotted spider mites."

Plus, it's just really cool to see these tiny things up close...they look prehistoric!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hanging Baskets

Over the years, hanging baskets have gotten a new look. Annuals are combined with ideal growing conditions in mind that are best for all of the plants in the basket.
Verbena and Million Bells

 Better soils have been formulated to keep plants from drying out while still allowing for good drainage necessary for healthy roots.
Always look for lightweight potting mixes for excellent darainage

 New pots are available, many being more decorative than those offered in the past; others are larger which is important as the hanging baskets facing hot summer temperatures tend to dry out relatively fast. Bigger pots hold more soil volume, which in turn encourages more root growth and better water holding capacity.
Bonfire begonias attract hummingbirds

Greenhouse growers like hanging baskets because the baskets don't take up valuable bench space during late winter and spring. Hanging baskets allow for two tiers of growing. The growers have gotten more creative with planting too, realizing that all hanging baskets don't end up on a hook on someone's porch. More and more of the people we talk to love the instant gratification they get when they transplant one of the hanging baskets right into one of their cast iron urns or other porch planters. Plants like Dragon Wing Begonias fill out a large planter in no time. Geraniums with calibrachoa are another favorite, as both plants have vigorous growth to fill out a planter quickly.
Calibrachoa keep on blooming!

Hanging baskets and other container combinations benefit from a weekly fertilizer regimen. Use a water soluble fertilizer like Monty's Joy Juice or Jack's Classic for feeding. Cut plants like petunias and calibrachoa back occassonally to keep them compact and blooming. Plant breeding has come a long way in recent years so that deadheading individual petunia flowers are no longer a necessity, but a little maintenance still goes a long way.
Enjoy the flowers of summer.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Congratulations, Scott!

You may have met Scott if you've shopped for trees and shrubs over the last few years here at Valley View Farms.
 Scott Carbone has been a part of our nursery department for the last three years, working with manager Alan Thomson, John Perdue, Seth Funk, and our other nursery 'regulars'.  During that time, he has attended CCBC and the University of Maryland as a full time student. He has racked up several scholarships, including one recently awarded to him from the Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association. Scott is often complimented by customers for his broad spectrum of plant knowledge and his friendly manner. His coworkers, both within the nursery and outside of his department, know that he is one of the 'go-to' guys for help and information.
Scott had the opportunity of a lifetime recently when he took a trip with his school to New Zealand. We're sure he studied hard while there, though the photos of him skydiving and kayaking make it look as though he managed to have some recreational time as well.
We congratulate Scott on all his accomplishments and look forward to working with him in years to come.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


A few weeks ago, we mentioned that the time to get seeds is early in the season to get the best selection. Well, the time is NOW!

You can't believe the number of seeds that Donna Steele has organized and placed in our seed racks. And, not surprisingly, many gardeners have already been in to take a look at the tremendous variety offered.

Vegetable Seeds Galore 

Close to 60 sunflowers, more lettuces than one can imagine, Asian vegetables and organic and heirloom seeds fill two aisles. We love that Donna arranges them in alphabetical order by the type of seeds. That way, all of the tomato seeds are in one area and we can compare the offerings from Ferry Morse, Burpee, Renee's Garden, Botanical Interests, Livingston, Lake Valley, Baker Creek and Meyer seed companies.
A Small Section of our Seed Aisles

Brian, our garden shop manager and buyer, has brought in excellent seed starting potting mixes, heating mats, starting trays, mini greenhouses, grow lights and peat pots in many sizes. We even spied some live moss and mushroom kits.

Everything for Starting Seeds

We have seed starting seminars scheduled during the winter months; check our website for a list of events. So, it's ready, set GROW! See you in the seed aisles.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions for the Gardener

Year after year, we make the same resolutions; lose weight, get organized and get more exercise. This year, I'm suggesting a bit of a twist by offering ideas for gardening resolutions. Here it goes!
  1. Test the soil. Bring in a baggie to our garden shop and we will test it free for pH. Refresh your soil with organic matter by adding compost from your own garden or by the addition of Leafgro.
  2. Purchase seeds early for the best selection, but be careful not to plant them too early. Most seeds take only 8 weeks or so to grow to transplant size. Bigger is not necessarily better. Check individual seed packets for information.
  3. Sort and clean tools now. Donate tools no longer in use. Upgrade to ergonomic tools, like those from Radius, if it will make gardening more comfortable.
  4. Speaking of which, start 'Spring Training' to get into shape for stooping, weeding, digging and the like. 
  5. Take some photos now of your garden areas to see the 'bones' of the garden. Look for ways to add vignettes, seating areas and, naturally, more plants.
  6. Share plants and ideas with gardening friends. A group of us here at Valley View Farms visit each others gardens for inspiration and a chance to see what a great job each has accomplished. As a bonus, there are always plants to divide and give away.
  7. Take the time now to read and attend classes about gardening. We offer seminars here in February, March and April. Go to the  Grow It Eat It website for a schedule of vegetable classes as well. Our gardening resources have increased in the last few years with the addition of classroom space at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore and The Baltimore County Agriculture Center in Hunt Valley. 
  8. Plant more pansies! Planted in spring or fall, they add smiles to every one's faces. If the ground is too wet, plant up some pots to set around the garden and front entryway to your home. 
  9. Add a bench, a piece of statuary, a bottle tree, a birdbath or some gazing globes. These little additions to the garden add a dramatic flair and keep the eye searching for fun.
  10. Keep a journal. Last year's weather was unique, but I will soon forget why. (Drought in early summer, record rainfall in late summer). Journaling on a smart phone, through photographs, or the old-fashioned way, a pencil and notebook, will help with future challenges in you garden. 
I might have a shot at keeping some of these this year. Happy New Year!