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Gardening

If you’ve ever wanted your own fresh eggs, Michele Allman can help you decide if keeping hens is for you

I am not alone in imagining chickens in my back yard. Backyard flocks are on the upswing in suburban and urban America, Chesapeake Country included. Why, the state’s capital allows city-dwellers to raise them.     I’d appreciate their weeding skills to keep the violets, dandelions, and chickweed in check and to work compost into the soil where I’d like to install new garden beds. Most of all, I’d like just-laid eggs, firm with bright orange yolks.

You need bees to get fruit, nuts and berries

At a recent garden club lecture, a member complained that she was not seeing apples on any of the five trees she planted three years ago. The trees were growing in full sun and had a full compliment of blooms this past spring. All were of the Golden Delicious variety.     Were any flowering crab apple trees in her area, I asked.     She was not aware of any.     That’s why her trees have no fruit.

Not too early for garlic

Gail Martinez of Fairhaven Cliffs reports with excitement harvesting the season’s first heads of garlic. Planted in fall and well composted, garlic puts its roots down before winter so it’s got a head start on the new year’s growing season.     The Bay Gardener suggests Martinez must have been out to harvest so soon. Prime harvest time for garlic nor onions is about usually in July, when the foliage dries out. Until then, the bulbs are swelling, he says. Upon full growth, each bulb forms a skin, called a tunic, that helps protect it in storage.

Gardening expert Rick Darke strives to create “liveable landscapes” using both natives and exotics

You won’t find the word invasive — at least in connection with plants — in gardener, award-winning author, photographer and consultant Rick Darke’s vocabulary. Meet him on March 2, when he makes the trek from his garden oasis in Pennsylvania to Annapolis, and you’ll hear about balancing natives and exotics in the garden. His talk and slide show come at just the right time for gardeners thinking about spring plantings.

Winter Cauliflower

I am at best a haphazard gardener. To my delight, I recently discovered these cauliflower, which I had given up for a loss, the leaves a lacy design after the insects had eaten their fill. I am amazed and feel the thrill of the winter gardener. I made cauliflower-cheese soup with this small head.     –Gail Martinez, Fairhaven

Out of the Hill of Giant Sweet Potatoes

The best thing about giant sweet potatoes is digging them up with seven-year-old grandson Aiden in the kitchen garden behind our house in northern Calvert County. Aiden and I picked out one of the largest hills. Mt. Kilimanjaro, we called it. When dug out, that hill yielded 55 pounds of potatoes, with one 20 inches long and big around as the calf of your leg. Another weighed 11 pounds.

Fennel provides plenty for butterflies and me

Observe and serve. That could be my motto with our fennel plants.     The larvae of swallowtail butterflies feed on umbelly plants: fennel, cutting celery and parsley going to seed. I appreciate the mature butterfly, but in the summer of 2011 I removed a number of the larvae to save my plants. I deposited them in the woods across the way. Late last year, the woods were sprayed to stop the poison ivy. The spraying meant moving caterpillars from my plants would no longer be an option.

Jelly from Heaven’s Hedges

This is lemon verbena jelly I made from my garden. While Aloysia triphylla is not reliably hardy here, I’ve had good luck with it over the last several mild-winter years. If I could only have one herb, this would be it. Heaven’s hedges are surely lemon verbena.     –Cathryn Freeburger, Prince Frederick What’s growing in your garden? Send a photo and description of your latest harvest to editor@bayweekly.com

Who Ate the Cantaloupe?

Something has been nibbling on husband Charlie’s cantaloupe. I suspected the squirrels, and Charlie blamed mice or voles. Friend Fritz Riedel happened to snap another candidate: an eastern box turtle. It’s circumstantial evidence, but very convincing. Charlie’s conclusion is a new twist on the fable of the turtle and the hare: Turtles are faster than humans at getting to a ripe cantaloupe.     –Sandra Lee Anderson, St. Leonard

Doug Sisk’s Towering Tomatoes

Those plants that are taller than me were all volunteers sewn by last year’s plants.