Monday, January 30, 2012

Time to choose your tomato varieties for 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012
Penn State's Extension office in Chambersburg has been running variety trials focusing on tomatoes since 2000, evaluating more than 300 varieties across the complete spectrum of tomato types in that time.
Penn State's Extension office in Chambersburg has been running variety trials focusing on tomatoes since 2000, evaluating more than 300 varieties across the complete spectrum of tomato types in that time.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It may seem early, but now is the time to pick the tomato varieties you want to grow in your garden this summer, according to an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
You may have noticed that your seed catalogs showed up earlier than ever this winter, noted Steve Bogash, Penn State Extension horticulture educator based in Franklin County. "With the rapid growth in vegetable gardening, demand promises to be higher than ever," he said. "If there are specific varieties of vegetables that you truly want for the coming season, you may want to get your orders in early."
And Bogash knows -- perhaps better than anyone -- that there is a huge range of tomato cultivars from which to choose.
"Here at the Penn State Extension office in Chambersburg, Pa., we've been running variety trials focusing on tomatoes since 2000," he said. "We've evaluated more than 300 varieties across the complete spectrum of tomato types in that time. Every year we examine 30 to 70 varieties, looking at taste, production, disease resistance, ease of training and appearance.
"Some varieties have floated to the top of our list as great for your garden."
Following are some varieties Bogash recommends that you consider for the coming season, along with his comments about them:
Cherry/Grape types:
-- Sakura Honey. "When you examine and taste many tomatoes, it's rare for one kind to make a major impression, but this variety really stood out from the pack in 2011 with amazing flavor and beautiful, pink, grape-shaped fruit. This was easily the standout in flavor in last season's program."
-- Red Pearl. "Excellent flavor, tender skin, high production and moderate disease resistance made Red Pearl another top pick from our 2011 trial program. This variety has good red color and is highly resistant to cracking."
-- Five Star. "2011 was the year of the grape tomato in our trials program. Five Star was another great producer with good-looking, well-flavored fruit. This one has very few seeds and is highly resistant to cracking."
-- Maglia Rosa. "This is a very unusual variety, as the fruit are an elongate, cherry type that are mottled pink. Our tasters describe the flavor as ketchup-like. In both 2010 and 2011, the plants produced for only about five weeks, but they did make a lot of fruit that was well worth the garden space."
-- Sun Gold. "No tomato article is complete without a mention of Sun Gold. This yellow-orange tomato is the candy of the tomato world. Production is high, the plants are moderately resistant to disease, and the fruit taste is awesome, but the fruit crack like mad. Every gardener should have one or two of these plants, so there is something to eat while gardening."
-- BrandyBoy. "The Brandywine tomato long has been heralded as the best-tasting tomato in numerous trial programs, but each plant produces only a few fruit, which are very inconsistent in size and shape, and the plant's highly susceptible to diseases."

"BrandyBoy tomatoes were introduced several years ago, and they immediately took top honors among red, slicing types in our program. When gardeners ask what single tomato to grow, this is the one. BrandyBoy is highly productive with large, pink, great-tasting fruit that taste nearly identical to Brandywine."
-- BHN 589. "BHN are the letters used by a tomato breeder in Florida who primarily provides seeds to a commercial-grower cooperative. Don't let the letters and numbers discourage you from growing what are usually excellent varieties of hybrid tomatoes. BHN 589 has become a standard for many regional tomato growers as the plants produce copious amounts of great-tasting, good-looking, medium-sized, red tomatoes."
-- Scarlet Red. "Like BHN 589, Scarlet Red is primarily a commercial tomato, but it makes the crossover into the home garden extremely well. This is easily the deepest red tomato that we've trialed, and it has that perfect sugar/acid balance that often is referred to as 'real tomato flavor. Production hint: only remove about three suckers, or you really will reduce production."
-- Big Beef. "This variety has been around for a long time, and it still belongs on a top-tomatoes list. These are big, great-tasting fruit that run on the soft side. The plants are very robust."
-- Celebrity. "For years, Celebrity was the standard red that we compared others against in our trials program. While it has been surpassed by some of these other varieties, it is still a great producer of medium-sized, good-flavored, round, red tomatoes."
-- Pineapple. "While there really aren't any great yellow/orange/red tomatoes, Pineapple is the one that provides the most consistent production and good flavor. It's soft and cracks readily but is the best of this type that we've trialed. Pineapple makes an excellent addition to homemade tomato juice."
-- Mortgage Lifter (Radiator Charlie). "Excellent flavor and high production make Mortgage Lifter the No. 1 large, pink heirloom. I recommend it to growers. High production and moderate disease resistance separate this variety from most heirlooms."
-- Arkansas Traveler. "This variety makes relatively small fruit at 5 to 8 ounces, but the production is good and the flavor excellent."
-- Marianna's Peace. "This variety originally came into our program as one of those sample packets included with your order. The fruit are very large -- often more than a pound -- pink and very flavorful. The plants are enormous and require very tall supports. Even after every other heirloom has started to fade in the fall, Marianna's Peace will keep on producing."
-- Stupice. "A lot of tomatoes claim to be early, but most don't taste like much. Stupice is the one early tomato that tastes like a real, mid-season tomato. The fruit are small at only 3 to 6 ounces, but they will beat most other tomatoes onto your plate by two to three weeks."
Patio or Container:
-- Bush Early Girl. "Without a doubt, Bush Early Girl is the 'top of the heap' among slicing tomatoes that you can grow in a container. A single plant will produce a huge number of great-tasting fruit. Be sure your container is at least 14 inches across (bigger is better) and feed them well to get the most from these robust plants."
-- BushSteak. "Second only to Bush Early Girl is BushSteak. These plants produce heavy crops of large, meaty fruit about a week after you start to pick Bush Early Girl. Again, use large containers and feed them well."
-- Sweet 'N Neat (Red, Scarlet, and Yellow). "We've looked at a lot of container-type cherry tomatoes, and while most varieties are at least OK, the entire Sweet 'N Neat series produces copious amounts of delicious fruit on very compact plants. You can grow them as hanging baskets or in ground pots. Plant single plants in 8-inch pots or three plants in 14-inch pots."
Bogash said that consumers should be able to find some of these seeds from their favorite garden center, but some varieties will be more difficult to locate.
"We have examined so many tomatoes over the years, and these are only a few of the standouts from our program," he said. "There are many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tomato varieties. Our goal for this program has been to introduce new varieties to growers."
More information, including a list of seed companies that supply seeds to the Penn State Extension variety trials program, is available in "Tomato Report 2011: The Best of the Penn State Tomato Trials," available on the Web at

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Planning for this years garden.

Garden Journals      
Should you or shouldn't you?
Michele Koskinen   Philadelphia Master Gardener

Seed catalogs are mailed, gardeners are clipping, using stickies, dog earring pages, making list, making a new list, it is winter doldrums waiting for spring. So how many gardeners take the time
to journal about their garden? I would think the really organized and serious gardeners know the value of journals. They have learned that gardening is an adventure in trial and error. Keeping track of the plants, insects, weather and growth habits of their favorites help decision making in the future. I have taken notes, photos, drawn maps and a used a variety of other tactics. I have them all, stuffed in a notebook with a rubberband. I do go through them but since I have no times or dates it is useless.

Note the color and divide for the fall.
This year I am vowing to be more organized. To know what I need to make my garden more productive and beautiful, good note taking practices are essential. If growing from seed keep the packet and detail date of planting and how the seedling matured. Map out perennials already established and look to see if they have similar growing habits, take a photo and use in selecting new plants in the future. Record the vegetables planted and how they produced and any possible problems with insects. Detail what needs to move in the spring of the following year. Nothing too involved just enough to jog the memory next year when I am planning my garden. I bought a notebook now to work.

Your journal should contain photos of the garden and notes with dates and observations. Why? Because if you are like most we forget from month to month year to year. Another idea is to take your camera or phone with you to photograph flowers or ideas you have seen in nurseries or in other landscapes. It is another way to learn about your likes and dislikes.           

Stormwater management Winter de-icing

Winter De-icing
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management            Philadelphia Water Department
As snow piles up in the winter, we oftentimes turn to 
salt to melt snow and ice. Salt, however, causes adverse environmental impacts, especially on our streams and rivers, our drinking water source in Philadelphia. Excess salt can saturate and destroy a soil’s natural structure and result in more erosion to our waterways. High concentrations of salt can damage and kill vegetation. Salt poses the greatest danger to fresh water ecosystems and fish. Studies in New York have shown that as salt concentrations increase in a stream, bio- diversity decreases. Excess salt can seep into groundwater and stormwater runoff. Effective ice control can help prevent excess salt runoff to our waterways.
De-icing in the Winter
There are many alternatives to salt including potassium chloride, calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, corn processing byproducts, and calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). Most can be found in your local hardware stores under various trade names, so check the labels for chemical content. While these alternatives can be spread in a dry form or sprayed as
a liquid, their best use occurs when they are used with salt. They tend to increase the efficiency of salt thereby reducing
the amount that needs to be applied. When over-applied, all chloride compounds can be harmful to the environment. Non- chloride corn byproducts recycled from mills and breweries have been shown to be effective de-icers as well. While they are often advertised as organic or natural, they can have extremely high phosphorus content, a major water pollutant. Numerous studies have shown calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) to be the most environmentally benign de-icer. Many northern states use CMA on roads in sensitive areas (wetlands, endangered species’ habitat, drinking water supply, etc.). A couple of disadvantages with CMA however, is that it does not work
well below 25° Fahrenheit and it is the most expensive de-icer. Because all de-icers can be harmful to the environment when applied in excess, the best strategy is to reduce the use of these chemicals as much as possible.
    The first line of defense should simply be to shovel sidewalks and pathways to keep them clear and to prevent ice from forming. Also, consider that salt and de-icers are not effective when more than 3 inches of snow have accumulated.
    Consider the temperature. Salt and calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) have a much slower effect on melting snow and ice at temperatures below 25° Fahrenheit.
    Track winter weather and only use salt and de-icers when a storm is about to come through. If a winter storm does not occur, sweep up any unused material, store, and reuse for the next big storm.
    Apply de-icing products discriminately, focusing on high-
use areas and slopes where traction is critical. Apply the least amount necessary to get the job done. This will save money in product costs and will also help minimize property damage to paved surfaces, vehicles, and vegetation.
    Reduce salt and other chemicals by adding sand for traction.
    Become familiar with various de-icing products and wetting agents such as magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, which can improve the effectiveness of salt and reduce the amount needed.
    If you observe ongoing issues of ineffective ice management or examples of poor application, such as excess piles of road salt left to disperse, share your concerns with the property manager of your residence or business, or with the City of Philadelphia Streets Department. The Streets Department Hotline is 215-686-5560 and their website is streets.
    Plant native vegetation that is salt tolerant in stormwater drainage swales and ponds that may receive salt-laden runoff. Not only will these native species have a greater chance for survival, but they will continue to act as an effective buffer for our local waterways.
    Store salt and other products on an impervious (impenetrable) surface, such as a basement floor, to prevent ground contamination. Also store products in a dry, covered area to prevent stormwater runoff.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Who Knew? Part 2 Okra

Other People's Gardens----------WHO KNEW!!!!!!!!! 
Patricia Beynan     Philadelphia Master Gardener 

As the gardens grew I saw tall green plants that were unknown to me.  They were growing to over five feet, waving in the breeze, and looking suspiciously like marijuana plants.  But nobody would dare grow that, would they?   Then they started to flower, and make pods. I finally figured out it was okra, known to me only from crossword puzzles. Used in gumbo, I think.  I asked the grower what she did with it and she told me it's part of her usual repertoire in soups and stews, and would occupy a corner of her freezer.  She pickled some, and even used the fresh leaves as a soup thickener.  Who knew?

New to Okra, try the recipe below.

Peppery Grilled Okra With Lemon-Basil Dipping Sauce
Prep: 15 min., Chill: 24 hr., Grill: 6 min., Cool: 5 min.
Peppery Grilled Okra With Lemon-Basil Dipping SaucePhoto by: Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Buffy Harget
  • YIELD: Makes 8 servings
  • COURSE: Side Dishes/Vegetables


  • Cheesecloth or coffee filter
  • 1 (32-oz.) container plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 2 pounds fresh okra, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Garnish: freshly ground pepper


1. Line a wire-mesh strainer with 3 layers of cheesecloth or 1 (12-cup) coffee filter. Place strainer over a bowl. Spoon yogurt into strainer. Cover and chill 24 hours. Remove yogurt, discarding strained liquid.
2. Preheat grill to 400° to 450° (high) heat. Combine strained yogurt, basil, next 3 ingredients, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
3. Toss together okra, olive oil, and remaining 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper in a large bowl.
4. Grill okra, covered with grill lid, over 400° to 450° (high) heat 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until tender. Cool 5 minutes.
5. Transfer okra to a serving dish, and serve with dipping sauce. Garnish, if desired.
Southern Living JULY 2009

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Demonstration Gardens Planning 2012

Planning for the 2012 demonstration garden began with six members brainstorming ideas to refresh and expand on the demonstration gardens. The gardens include a pollinator and an edible garden. The gardens are behind the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park and near the Japanese House.

Fall Clean up

Edible Garden

Pollinator Garden 

                                                                       Opposite the Japanese Tea House

Monday, January 16, 2012

Travels to the Farm Show

A visit to the Annual Pennsylvania Farm Show   By Patty Latanzio

The Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA is a long-honored tradition showcasing Pennsylvania's agricultural heritage and the vision for future innovations.  It is nothing short of spectacular with championship cattle, cowgirls racing barrels, and educational displays to dazzle the mind. It is the largest indoor agricultural exposition in the country, with nearly 8,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and several hundred commercial exhibits.  Whether the home crafts, evergreen tree displays, or hatching baby chicks entertain you, there is educational value in every step you take.
As gardeners, our eyes seem to pick out the natural elements of green spaces around us.  
The miniature landscape displays at the PA Farm Show are dainty art palettes of architectural designs and miniature flora.  Even in these small-scale versions of green spaces, elements of eco-friendly materials, recycling, green roofs, and sustainable practices emerge.  The larger learning displays of sheds and cottages showcase the practicality of rain barrels, green roofscapes, recyclable planters, and easily-incorporated garden practices for small spaces. 
The PA Farm Show incorporates science, entertainment, and an exhibition of agricultural ingenuity from farm gate to dinner plate Visitors are welcomed to experience a sense of Pennsylvania culture and unlimited venues of the mind.  

Meet the Master Gardener------Brian Olszak

Penn State Extension Philadelphia Master Gardeners come from a variety of background and experiences in gardening. Becoming a master gardener for each person is a decision based on these experiences.
In the upcoming months we will meet some of these dedicated gardeners.

My name is Brian Olszak and I'm a graduate student in the Community and Regional Planning department at Temple University, with a concentration in Sustainable Communities Planning. As part of my University Fellowship there, I'll be working in Temple's Center for Sustainable Communities for the 2012-2013 school year. I'm also on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Orchard Project. Some of my interests include vinyl records, community and economic development, bicycling, and (of course) gardening.
I first encountered the Philadelphia Master Gardeners at an Earth Day event at the Constitution Center. Combining horticultural and gardening know-how with outreach and partnership with the community made all the sense in the world to me, especially in light of the current threats to our environment today. I wanted to both enhance my skills as a gardener and also lend my expertise to those in the community in beautifying and sustaining their gardens and neighborhoods. I can't wait to get started. Brian is giving a talk on fruiting trees for the Second Saturday Workshop in 2012.

The presentation on Fruiting Tees for the Master Gardeners training.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hot Hort Trends For 2012

By Kimberly Labno, Penn State Extension Master Gardener Coordinator and Master Gardener since 2008

Gardening has become a way of life in the popular culture of the United States.Accordin to the National Gardening Association’s new survey, “The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America,” finds a 19 percent increase from 2008 in the number of Americans planning to grow their own food. Whether new to the gardening world or seasoned horticulturalists, gardeners are always innovating and exploring new ways to connect with the natural world. Here are some trends to look for in 2012:

1. More front yard gardens
The number of front yard gardens is also on a steady rise (29% in 2011, compared to 27% in 2010 and 25% in 2009), according to the Garden Trends Research Report’s Early Spring 2011 survey (conducted for the Garden Writers Association Foundation). Meanwhile, the number of backyard gardens has taken a 3% hit, down from 50% in 2009 and 2010.
2. Vertical greening
Vertical gardening, green walls and green roofs continue to grow in popularity. The technology and cost associated with these amazing features is diverse and able to fit any gardener’s imagination. A blue ribbon winner from the 2011 Independent Garden Center expo in Chicago was a vertical culinary herb wall fashioned using repurposed pallets – look for more low-cost and ecosensible ways to go vertical in 2012.

3. Hot new cultivars
Hort Couture, a leader in the most tropical en vogue have amazing new cultivars to make your containers dare to be different. The Alocasia ‘Nile High’ variety promises to make a big splash having the look of an African mask coupled with bring orangish-red stems. Other plants to watch for is the new variety of Cordyline ‘Flamingo Road’ and a colorful handful of new Phoriums including ‘Rainbow Surprise’, ‘Apricot Queen’, and ‘Pink Flamingo’.

In general watch for the popularity of dark and black colored varieties that have recently been embraced and have not run their course in popularity. A few examples of this trend are  ‘diamond head’ and ‘mojito’ varieties of Colocasias.

4. Backyard beekeeping
Over the last three years more than one in three cultivated honey bee colonies has died nationwide, posing a serious risk to our national food supply. The Rodale Institute believes the answer to saving the bees is the backyard beekeeper.

5. Climate Change — (The biggest environmental story of 2011?)
Gardeners, famers and almost anyone else interested in plants probably noticed the changes in weather patterns in their environs this year. One only has to look at places like Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia to notice roses blooming n December.
Climate change delivered the second summer ever in the US and the year-end report is likely to confirm 2011 as the second hottest year overall (European nations are already declaring that 2011 the second hottest year on record), making this phenomenon the top environmental story of  2011 — and the most important ecological issue facing 2012.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Who Knew? Part 1

Other People's Gardens------------Who Knew!!!!      
By Patricia Beynen        Philadelphia Master Gardener

One of the joys of community gardens is the view of other people's efforts.  Whose beans are up, whose tomatoes are in flower, and what is that thing with the huge leaves over there? 

That guessing game about other people's gardens goes on through the whole season.  Our gardens are
12 x 12, so devoting a fourth of it to any one item seemed extravagant to me.  What was that little purple leafed plant covering so much ground in the next plot?  And why would anyone grow so much of it?   My garden neighbor and I were finally working in the dirt on the same day, and she told me the purple plants were her favorite variety of basil, the one she thought made the best flavored pesto.  But why so much?  Pesto is her number one Christmas present, and she needed a LOT to meet the demand.  Who would have thought?


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Retiree Doris Stahl was honored at the December meeting of the Master Gardeners for her service as a horticulture educator with the Penn State Extension Philadelphia Master Gardeners.

Forcing paperwhites for winter flowers.

Narcissus Paperwhite
Narcissus----------A little sunshine in the winter.

My favorite flowers to brighten a dark winter day are the Paperwhite Narcissus or the Soliel D'or which is yellow with an orange cup. Below are instructions for this winter sunshine.
Paperwhites will grow happily and bloom with nothing more than water and stones or beach glass. To "plant" your bulbs in a soilless container begin by carefully placing a layer of stones or glass to a depth of about 2 inches in a small vase or about 4 inches in a larger vase. Next place a layer of bulbs close to each other, roots facing down, tips facing toward the middle. Put a few stones or pieces of beach glass around and between the bulbs to anchor them in the vase. Leave the tops of the bulbs exposed. Finally, add water until the level reaches just below the base of the bulbs, but no higher (if the bases of the bulbs sit in water, they will rot). Follow the instructions for "Rooting and care" below.

Soliel Narcissus

Bulbs in different containers

To pot the bulbs with potting mix, begin by placing the potting mix in a plastic tub. Slowly add water and stir until the mix is moist but not soggy. Add moistened mix to the accompanying container until it is about 3/4 full. Set the bulbs, pointed end up, on top of the mix. Space the bulbs very closely; they should almost touch. Then add more mix, covering the bulbs up to their necks and leaving the tips exposed. Water throughly. Follow the instructions for "Rooting and care" below.

Rooting and care: Set your container or vase in a cool (50-60°F is ideal) place away from direct sunlight. Check the bulbs frequently and water thoroughly when they potting mix is dry 1 inch below the surface (but not more than once a week until the bulbs begin active growth), or when the water level is more than an inch below the stones or glass in your vase. If your bulbs are in a bowl (a pot without a drainage hole), water with extra care: Bulbs sitting in soggy potting mix soon rot. Once a week, tug gently on the bulbs to see if they have begun to product roots. When your tug meets with firm resistance (usually about 3 weeks after potting), move the container to a sunny window. Keep a close eye on watering. Bulbs in active growth can dry out in just a day or two. When Paperwhites are forced to bloom indoors, they have a tendency to topple when in flower. Hold them upright with bulb supports or with bamboo stakes and twine (available at garden centers). 

Face the growth toward the center, my preference
Good root growth around the peebles and the water
is not covering the bulb.

The bulbs took about 2 weeks to get to the 4" height in darkness and cool climate. Moved into a bright area they grew and began to bloom within the next week. If they are kept away from heat sources and in the light they will do well.

If you don't want to start your Paperwhites right away or you want to hold some in reserve for a staggered display, store them at cool but not cold room temperature in a dark place.

After Paperwhites finish blooming, we recommend that you throw the bulbs out or toss them on the compost pile. They won't bloom again indoors. Happy forcing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A visit to Winterthur Gardens

 Winterthur in the winter is lovely. You can still find the late bloomers:



The landscapes offer picturesque panoramic views:

It is a great place to take nature photography:

Magnolia fingers

While birds take over the tree branches
Apartment Complex!

And to watch squirrells frantically forage :
Luckily the freezing cold weather hasn't hit us yet, there's still time to enjoy the outdoors! Hope you all had a great holiday!