February 2010: Green Scene

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Winter greens

What better way to keep the springtime spirit alive during winter than growing an indoor garden? Chives, cilantro, and parsley aren’t too fussy and require just a little water and light. If you don’t have a sunny corner, use reflector lights with fluorescent bulbs to give your plants some artificial sunshine.

For the more adventurous growers, try growing your own sprouts. Soak seeds overnight in water, in a clean jar or pot covered with cheesecloth or nylon. Drain the water and pick out any dead or broken seeds, then loosely spread the seeds into a jar. Add water, but let it drain. Give the seeds space and air to prevent decaying or rotting. Wash the sprouts twice daily and use when roots are about two inches long. Always refer to the specific growing instructions on seed packets.

If you want a more minimal-commitment system, you could opt for a pre-packaged kit like the Aerogarden, which comes with space age-y seed pods and grow bulbs, letting you grow flowers, greens, or herbs. Aerogarden is priced from $80-$250, and can be found at aerogrow.com or at Bed, Bath and Beyond and Sears.—Lucy Kim

Martha Stafford will get your veggies into shape.

Veggie smarts

Did you resolve to cut down on your meat consumption at New Year’s? Have you been living since then on a diet of grilled cheese sandwiches and the occasional pint of ice cream? The Charlottesville Cooking School will straighten you out with a three-part series, Basic Vegetarian Skills, happening March 4, 11 and 18.

Each class runs about three and a half hours and the whole series costs $195. We think these skills will be useful for anyone who cooks at home, vegetarian or not: stir-frying, using dried beans, roasting potatoes and squash. Once you can manage those meat-free tasks, your smaller carbon footprint will taste a whole lot better. Call 963-COOK or visit charlottesvillecookingschool.com.

The sharp eye of winter

Outside the casement window, ‘Scarlet Curls’ willow poses Kabuki-like against a dull gray hillside with pools of snow still puddled against bare tulip poplar boles. Double panes on a far wall show branches of witch hazel ‘Diane’ where birds peck and preen among rosy brown leaves and dangling suede flower buds. To a gardener’s hungry eye, it’s as good as a feast.

Pussy willow, star magnolia, and dogwood (with colored stems as well as flowers) likewise pulse with hoarded winter energy. Think of windows as picture frames for plantings that see you through sere seasons as well as the lush. But don’t forget the evergreens. ‘Scarlet Curls’ wouldn’t put on nearly as good a show without a sprawling dark eleagnus nearby to contrast with her delicate form and coppery coloring.

Think of windows as picture frames for plantings that see you through sere seasons as well as the lush.

When I began learning trees and shrubs, I was more taken by flashier deciduous types (Japanese maples, dogwoods, crape myrtles, hydrangeas, lilacs and the like) with their changing leaves, bark and varied flowers. Broadleaved and needled evergreens seemed static in comparison and, under the care of certain gardeners, evinced an unfortunate tendency to morph into green meatballs.

But the years have educated me. I’ve learned to appreciate the enduring structure and subtly textured greens of hollies, boxwoods, camellias, junipers, spruces, and pines, especially those placed so well as to allow them to assume their natural habits. With all the dwarf varieties available, it’s really not necessary to shear shrubs into unnatural shapes unless you happen to be into topiary.

The great snow of ’09 caused a lot of damage. Pines and red cedars seem to have fared the worst from the extra weight on their boughs. Cut back ripped branches to the trunk or next strongest branch, just outside the ridge on top and the swelling of the collar beneath. Leaving stubs is sugar candy for insects. Don’t flush cut or use wound paint. If possible, chip the debris and use for mulch or compost.

My inkberries collapsed like a pile of toothpicks. As soon as their cones of ice melted, they got a good hard cut back and shaping—fortunate timing since all hollies like a good trim around mid-February—and good practice for inkberries in general when they become leggy as they are prone to do.

Dark green American boxwoods, lower branches weighted down like a hoop skirt glued into a rime of ice, proved much more flexible. Once they sprang free, they needed just a little cutting back to the next vigorous growth, preferably to the outside of the twig. Treat English boxwoods, lighter green with a denser habit, the same way.

An easy way to tell the difference between boxwood and Japanese holly, often confused, is to put a leaf on a white piece of paper and look to see if the edge has any waves, or serrations, however slight. A leaf that’s toothed, even very faintly, is a holly; if smooth, boxwood.—Cathy Clary

Home fires burning

Warning: Betty is about to put a serious damper on your cozy fireplace scene (pun intended). Most fireplaces and woodstoves are energy losers, sending heated air (and money) right out the chimney—not to mention air-polluting carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PMs (particulate matter), and other toxic emissions.

You can, however, reduce wood smoke pollution and get more heat for your fuel dollar. Consider using fire heat by installing a heat air exchange system and tempered fireplace glass doors. A gas or electric fireplace or fireplace insert can save money on heating. Check out EPA-certified ultra-efficient wood appliances. Not using your fireplace? Seal the damper permanently or purchase a fireplace draft stopper (95-98 percent sealed).

Can’t break the habit?
Keep the damper tightly closed when not in use. Caulk around the hearth and anywhere air could escape. Creosote buildup reduces efficiency and increases the threat of chimney fire, so hire a local chimney sweep for yearly cleaning. Darker smoke means more pollutants, so check your smoke plume from the outside regularly.

Always use seasoned firewood (dried for 6-12 months) from sustainably harvested forests (FSC label) or locally felled wood (check Munson’s at Whole Foods). Tree-free options are Dura-flame or Enviro-logs made from recycled cardboard. The absolute cleanest burning fuel alternative (virtually no particulate emissions) is pellet fuel made from sawmill waste. It’s easy to store and lightweight for transport. Check manufacturer’s instructions for compatibility.—Better World Betty

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource list at www.betterworldbetty.org and blog at cvillebettyblog.blogspot.com.

Mushroom-growing workshops include a bag of spawn to get you started!

Fungi fabulous

Ever envied those people at the farmer’s market selling home-grown mushrooms? If you’re wondering how they do it, you can learn at one of Sharondale Farm’s mushroom-growing workshops this spring. Farm owner Mark Jones will teach five workshops—March 20 and 27, April 3, 10 and 17—meant to demystify the process. Two focus on outdoor mushroom cultivation ($55) and the other three are geared toward would-be growers who live in the city ($50). Did you know you can grow mushrooms on your coffee grounds?

Attend any workshop, and you’ll go home with a bag of spawn to get your own little mushroom farm going. Contact Jones at 296-3301 or mark@sharondalefarm.com to find out workshop fees and more info.—Erika Howsare

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