Brenda lives in northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and other various creatures who share their backyard wildlife habitat. Brenda became a Master Gardener in 2007, after attempting to put down roots in a yard filled with clay, stones, and poorly laid sod. Little by little, she and her family removed grass, amended soil, and replaced invasive weeds with native plants.

The family now grows vegetables in raised beds year-round. Brenda, who subsequently became a Master Food Volunteer, cooks mainly with seasonal ingredients from her garden, or from local farmers markets. She invites you to join her on her mission to build an eco-friendly habitat, grow organic food, and sustain the small plot of earth we each claim. Brenda shares her gardening, cooking, and beekeeping experiences at beehappygarden.com.

 

 

Strawberries Provide a Lovely, Delicious Garden Border
by Brenda Lynn - posted 06/02/15

Just when I noted the cool and rainy spring, the weather turned, and we had some of the hottest, driest May days on record. That’s Virginia spring weather for you – predictably unpredictable. All things considered, we have a great climate, and a wide range of choice in what we can grow.

Everbearing 'Tribute' produces berries throughout the season.

Of all the things to look forward to in spring, few compare to sweet, juicy berries. Strawberries top my list of favorites, and fortunately, they’re quite easy to grow. There are two types of strawberries that grow in our area: June bearing and everbearing.

 

Everbearing send out fewer runners and produce from May through September in my zone 7 garden. Juneberry plants tend to live longer and bear more fruit, but their harvest is limited to, well, June. Juneberries produce fruit when the plants are one year old, while everbearing produce at 4 months. It’s nice to plant a combination of Juneberry and everbearing, for a complementary harvest. I’ve had great success with June-bearing ‘Delite’ and ‘Earliglow,’ but there are many varieties to chose from. I also use the everbearing cultivar 'Tribute' as a border in the raised-bed herb garden. By pruning runners and stray plants, I'm able to maintain a lush, green border with pretty white flowers and abundant fruit from spring through late summer.

 

Strawberries adapt to a wide range of soils, but they prefer well-drained, slightly sandy loam that is high is organic matter. Early in the year, I cover the strawberries with netting to protect them from birds and squirrels. Straw mulch helps the soil retain even moisture and keeps the fruit off the ground. I periodically feed the plants with compost tea, but by mid-summer, when the first flush of fruit winds down, there’s only time for more pressing garden needs. The squirrels and birds also move on to more abundant food sources, and the strawberries are left alone to regenerate.

 

I don't grow many delicate plants at this stage in my life. There are simply too many other living things, indoors and out, that need nurturing. That’s why I love ever-bearing 'Tribute' - a tribute to the unlikely pleasure of ripe, red berries in September, and to the fact that even with a little neglect here and there, life goes on.

 

Brenda Lynn blogs about gardening in the great state of Virginia, garden-to-table recipes, and pollinator-friendly practices at www.beehappygarden.com.

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Grow and Eat Kale in Spring, Fall, and Winter
by Brenda Lynn - posted 05/21/15

Kale is one of the easiest crops to grow. It tolerates cold temperatures and survives all winter in my zone 7 garden. Despite record cold and snowfall this winter, kale is still standing strong in late May. A layer of straw mulch insulated it through winter, and in early March, the crinkly green leaves appeared once again. In some ways, we're fortunate to have had a cool, rainy spring. We're really getting the most out of cool season crops. Before digging under all that wonderful kale, why not put it to a last, good use?

Kale survives winter in Virginia gardens, given a layer of straw mulch.
If you didn't plant kale last fall or earlier in spring, you can plant some now, before temperatures warm up. Kale grows well in the shade this time of year, but if planted in full sun, it'll bolt as soon as temperatures consistently reach the low 80's. It's a lovely addition to ornamental potted arrangements. Pair it with other shade lovers, like impatiens and coleus. Kale also grows well indoors, in a sunny window, or under grow lights. Try several varieties for a colorful and tasty array. I planted "Red Russian," "Dwarf Blue Curled," and "Lacinato," all from Seed Savers Exchange. 
Kale bolts when temperatures heat up.
Unlike store-bought kale, which loses nutritional value as well as texture the longer it sits on the shelf,  home-grown kale remains crisp and full of vitamins A, C, calcium, and iron. Pick it just before using to ensure the freshest, healthiest flavor. Kale can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. When grown at home, you don't need to tack on the time the kale spent traveling from to the grocery store and sitting on the shelf, nor do you have to worry about any pesticides. Kale is relatively disease and pest free.
 
Kale Recipes
 
Once kale is harvested, it's easy to find delicious recipes that last all week long:
  • toss it into soups and stews (lentil soup with kale is my favorite!);
  • make chips by rubbing baby kale leaves with olive oil and roasting them in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes; 
  • spruce up salad; or 
  • make a kale strata.
 
Here are two of my favorite recipes:
 
Kale Salad with Blueberries and Pine Nuts
 
Ingredients
  
1 lb kale (use baby leaves from Lacinato or Tuscan kale, or chop up full-grown leaves)
4 Scallions, white and green parts, chopped
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. orange juice
6 Tbsp. olive oil
2 teaspoons Honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup Athenos Fat Free feta
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced
1/3 cup dried blueberries
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
 
Directions
 
Prepare the Salad:  
Wash and dry kale leaves. If using full-size leaves, strip leaves from stems. Finely shred leaves and place in a large bowl. 
Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and add them to the bowl.
Chop the green onions and add them to the bowl.
Mix the orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, and honey. Add pepper to taste.
Mix vigorously to combine.
Add the crumbled feta cheese to the salad.
Add dressing to kale and toss to combine.
Mix in the pine nuts and blueberries.
 
Kale Strata
Kale Strata
 
Kale Strata combines leftover kale salad and whole-grain bread.
This is one of my favorite weekend breakfast recipes, because it uses both leftover kale salad from earlier in the week, and leftover bread. I usually make fresh bread on Sunday. By Friday evening, it's too stale for sandwiches, but it pairs beautifully with eggs for Saturday morning breakfast. 
Ingredients
4 large, Eggs
2 large, Eggs - White only
¼ cup skim milk
½ loaf wholegrain bread, or 3 cups cubed 
1/2 prepared Kale Salad with Blueberries and Pine Nuts
Instructions
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and eggwhites with the milk.
Chop the bread into ½ inch cubes.
Using an 8-inch square glass baking dish, spread 1/3 of the bread cubes evenly on the bottom. 
Add a layer of the kale salad.
Pour ½ of the egg mixture over the kale and bread cubes.
Add another layer of bread cubes, feta, and kale salad.
Pour ½ of the remaining egg mixture over the greens.
Add any remaining bread cubes, salad, and feta cheese, and pour the remaining eggs on top. 
Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate over night, or for 6-12 hours, to allow the egg to soak into the bread cubes. 
 
Baking Instructions
 
Remove the dish from the refrigerator. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 40 minutes in the center rack of the oven, until Kale is crisp, eggs are solid, and bread cubes are browned around the edges. The dish should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. 
 
Brenda Lynn blogs about gardening, pollinators, and Virginia outdoor destinations at www.beehappygarden.com.

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Spring Ephemerals
by Brenda Lynn - posted 04/22/15

What better way to spend a spring day than walking through the woods, listening to birds call, and spotting the first spring blooms? April is one of those months that virtually begs us to get outdoors and join Mother Nature’s colorful party. First to arrive are spring ephemerals, evanescent blooms that appear before trees leaf out, only to disappear as soon as the forest canopy blocks the sun. Found throughout the U.S., many spring ephemerals are native plants that are the first form of sustenance for newly emerging butterflies, bees, and other important pollinators. Most grow along stream banks, or in the rich soil of the forest floor. By mid-June, they’ll vanish back into the earth.

Some of the best places to search for spring ephemerals are parks with protected paths, where native plants are cherished. In the northern Virginia area, Riverbend Park is famous for its bluebell trail. In fact, most of the parks along the Potomac River feature large swaths of this springtime favorite, as well as lesser known short-lived flora. Further south, the Andy R. Guest Shenandoah River State Park devotes a mile-long trek to the eponymously named Bluebell Trail. Less traveled trails mean less trampled flora, so why not take advantage of the great weather and trek out to one of our fabulous VA State parks, or explore the Blue Ridge? I’d love to hear what’s in bloom in southern areas of the state, where I haven’t had the opportunity to explore as thoroughly.

 

While bluebells may be the most recognizable spring ephemeral, they are far from the only spring blooms to keep an out for. Here are just a few of the wildflowers you might spot in the next few weeks:

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) bloom as early as February and as late as May. The white petals with pink veins grow on 6-inch stalks and are an important nectar source for Mason bees.

Yellow trout-lily (Erythronium americanum) has wide green leaves covered in brown spots, resembling a brook trout. Native Americans used the flower to treat a range of maladies, from ulcers to hiccups.

 

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is sometimes harder to spot than other ephemerals. The daisy-like white flower springs from one lone, long stem, above a slowly unfurling fan of green leaves. It blooms for only a few days. The name bloodroot derives from the sticky, red sap that leaks out when the stem is broken. The sap is toxic and may have been used by Native Americans as an insect repellent.

 

Trillium grandiflorum is perhaps the queen of the ephemeral forest. It takes 7 years for one Trillium seed to produce a flower; but what a flower it is! A single stem rises from the elevated basal leaves to sport a three-petaled large, white bloom. The flower, which turns pink as it ages, has a yellow center, supported by three green bracts.

Hepatica

Other early bloomers you may spy along the trail include rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), and yellow lady slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum). Some early flora are unique to specific habitats, and it’s worth a hike to seek them out. On a recent camping trip in the Shenandoah River State Park, I spotted many of the above, in addition to bluets and hepatica. While the combination of beautiful blooms and the steep climb may have you catching your breath, the view of the top is none too shabby and well worth the effort! 

For more photos and info on the beautiful hiking paths and flora we at Shenandoah River State Park, check out my blog post at www.beehappygarden.com

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