Getting Ready for the Fall Garden

Last of the Cherry Tomatoes

Last of the Cherry Tomatoes

This week was deceiving. While the harvest was declining and seasons are shifting, I certainly did not feel any less consumed by the garden’s need for attention. Which is really a part of the reward for growing my own goodness. It’s something that requires months of dedication but turns around and rewards me ten-fold. Something that started as a hobby years ago has now become much more of a lifestyle.

Last week, I began letting go of the tomato plants that were no longer thriving. This week, we definitely parted. The last few plants were looking nothing short of pathetic. I decided we needed a trial separation. There was no sense in letting a great friendship get ruined. I needed a break– they needed a break. So until next year, we just cannot see one another anymore. I harvested the last of the tomatoes that were salvageable off the vines.

Some were ripe, some just shy and others still green. I have an overflowing basket of ripe and under-ripe cherry tomatoes ‘Principe Borghese’ that are destined for another round of pickled cherry tomatoes. The first batch turned out so beautifully that I have decided to prepare another batch for Christmas gifts.

Wedding Gifts

Wedding Gifts

This past weekend, some of my husband’s and my best friends finally tied the knot. He’s a chef and enjoys funky and interesting flavors. And she married a chef so she’s down for deliciousness too.

For such events, I try to stamp a personal touch on my gifts. As I’ve mentioned in entries past, my family is English. So for bridal showers I like to give a tea set with several homemade jams and jellies.

For our wedding we attended this past weekend, I also combined my heritage with my hobbies and put together a basket full of pickles, relishes, chutneys and jams to compose a basket for making ‘Ploughman’s Lunches.’

Last week I harvested the heads from my two sunflowers. I let them dry in the sun for a few days and when the seeds were ready to give, I shucked them. Never having roasted sunflower seeds, but having lots of experience roasting pumpkin seeds, I prepared them similarly. I tossed them with a tablespoon or so of sesame oil, lots of fresh cracked pepper and a tsp of coarse kosher salt. I popped them in a hot (375 degree) preheated oven and roasted for about 20 minutes, turning a couple times through the process. Olive oil would work just as well. Sesame oil needs a little more monitoring since it smokes much more easily and gets hot much more quickly.

Sunflower heads

I managed to turn all the available and ready space in the garden for my fall crops. I planted cauliflower and bok choy seedlings and sewed two varieties of beets—heirloom red beets and a gourmet blend of beets that have colorful rings when cut open. I have started using a new- to-me seed company this year, Botanical Interests, and have had excellent results. Not only do they provide a quality product, but it’s also beautiful. Each packet displays an artistic rendering of each plant. I’ve starting looking for vintage frames to display empty packets for my future potting shed.

Grandpa and Grayson Carrot Picking

Grandpa and Grayson Carrot Picking

Grayson and I also did a little foraging and gathering at my parent’s home this week. My dad has been tending to his raised garden where he grows carrots and parsnips. We were able to pull a few carrots this weekend for supper that evening. Grayson was pretty amazed when he saw the carrots emerge from the earth and has been talking about it ever since.

He has also taken to the Asian pear tree that my dad planted this year. Amazingly, the tree fruited nicely given that it has only been grown in a plastic pot until a couple of months ago. Grayson walks right up to it, plucks a pear and lets the juices dribble all the way down his chin and onto his ‘football shirt,’ as he calls the one article of clothing he will no longer remove.

We also foraged around their property for fungi; I like to collect it for drying and crafting. They had a 200+ year old oak tree that started leaning towards the house last year: that quickly had to be taken down. You have never seen a family cry over a tree like we did; for each member of the family it held its own special memories.

I remember my mother meeting me under the tree with an afternoon picnic after I’d hopped off the school bus in elementary school. Now, the pieces that my dad is still working on splitting for firewood, are covered in gorgeous velvety fungi that keep their color when dried. For my sister’s wedding last fall, I made table numbers from wood rounds cut from smaller branches embellished with fungi and moss harvested from the same tree.

I also need to share my most recent up-cycling and repurposing find. At the farmhouse, we have almost entirely renovated our son Grayson’s, bedroom. I painted a 6’x4’ chalkboard onto the plaster walls and my husband Chris framed it out with trim. And then destiny happened. I’ve been wanting a vintage school desk for Grayson’s room but can never justify antique store prices for one.

Refurbished School Desk

Refurbished School Desk

As we were driving around last Sunday, there was one for free on the side of the road! It needed a little TLC, but after some cleaning, sanding, staining, polyurethaning and painting of its legs, it looks awesome. This project is being considered “free.” I did not have to spend an additional penny to fix it up. I already had the sandpaper, stain left over from the cabinet resurfacing kit during the kitchen renovation, poly from staining the floors and a can of left over spray paint from my mother-in-law. I cannot wait for the polyurethane to cure on his freshly stained floors so his school desk and chalkboard can unite.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Watch Out! Elves At Work

Elves at work

Elves at work

I know, I know… It’s way too early to be talking about elves and Christmas but I have been waiting since last January to share with everyone all the new and exciting things we will be offering in our Christmas Shop this year.

The shop, while in the same location as the last few years, is still under construction. “Head Elf” Orion Taylor and his trusty assistants have been very busy creating an “Old County Store” look to the shop this year. Each time I walk in, more and more changes have been made and I know you will be impressed.

We will be having our first official look at the Christmas Shop at our Gardener’s Night Out, next Friday, Sept 19, 2014 from 5 to 8. Plus of course all of our Fall and Halloween decorations will be out if you’re looking for something new this year.

I hope that you can come and check out  the horticultural demonstrations during the evening! Once there, make sure you take time to wander into the Christmas Shop have a taste of wine from Old Line, Fine Wine, and start making your list for Santa.


Mrs. Shopzalot


We are also having a Scarecrow Contest that will be judged that night.  Our staff has been hard at work creating some pretty cool scarecrows.

Check out Orion’s Mrs. Shopzalot leading into the Christmas Shop Area. These scarecrows will be going up this week and next and will stay up throughout the Fall season.

You will be able to vote for your favorite scarecrow, just ask at customer service for details.

Posted By Stephanie Fleming

Fall is in the air with Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup

I am so absolutely excited that Fall is in the air. The weather this week has been refreshing and rejuvenating. I’ve been working on arranging my Fall garden this week. I don’t remember a time in my life where my family did not have a vegetable garden. But this will only be the second year that I’ve attempted extending the harvest season into later months.

My heart was a little heavy this weekend as I pulled and bagged the majority of the tomato plants. Most had shriveled and put forth the last of their fruit. There are about five plants still remaining that refuse to stop producing. On the other hand, I now have plenty of space for my new seedlings.

With the farmhouse renovation still going strong, time has certainly had its limitations. So I cheated a little. I picked up a few seedlings for bok choy, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and broccoli from a local farm stand to pop straight in the ground. I also have my own purple kohlrabi, red and Chiogga beets, rutabaga, leeks and spinach to sow directly into the soil. I’ve also tried rainbow Swiss chard and rainbow carrots in a fall garden.

Sundays Harvest

Sundays Harvest

This week’s harvest was quite diverse. There were still a few pounds of tomatoes, lots of jalapenos and fish peppers, gomphrena flowers, and a couple of sunflower heads for drying and roasting.

Grayson with dipper gourds

Grayson with dipper gourds

But the best part was the dipper gourd harvest. Dipper gourds are a fall gourd that can be grown and dried out for a variety of purposes. I trained my one plant to grow up and over and through the 8’ deer fence we have surrounding the garden.

I have never seen anything quite like it. I couldn’t believe the tendrils on this plant, some reaching lengths that I estimated to be about 30’ long! From my one plant, I was able to gather 40 gourds.

After being wiped down with a light bleach solution, they can be dried when laid out in a single layer, turning daily for 6-8 weeks. I have ambitions of making birdhouses; lots and lots of birdhouses.


Canned Asian Pears

On the canning front, I of course couldn’t help myself. My husband’s boss’ neighbor found out I was a canner and offered me a basin full of beautiful Asian Pears, which quintessentially looked like autumn.They taste absolutely delicious. Raw and fresh, they are sweet and juicy and crisp and light. Not at all like the standard pear.

Canned, they have a very similar consistency to a regular canned pear, but have a very light flavor and a slight crispness, reminiscent of an apple. I know Grayson is going to love them come cooler weather. I can already taste them as an after-supper treat swimming in a little bit of heavy cream. My English grandmother used to serve us canned fruit this way as children–after supper rather than cake and pastries.


Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

This week I also tried pickling cherry tomatoes for the first time. What an easy way to preserve an abundant harvest. I pickled them in apple cider vinegar with a sprig of fresh rosemary and a clove of garlic. The recipe suggests using them for anything you would use a fresh cherry tomato for. I imagine they are tangy and sweet on a winter salad or fun on a ploughman’s cheese tray. At the very least, they are possibly the prettiest concoction I’ve ever put up.

As previously mentioned, I am greatly looking forward to fall. As if that weren’t obvious. It is, hands down, my favorite time of year. So on top of a pumpkin latte this week, I also made up a batch of one of my most favorite Fall suppers with a few garden goodies and farmer’s market finds.


Roasted Vegetable Soup

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup

8-10 Cups Mixed Root Vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, turnips, butternut squash, sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips)
2-3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning (See entry from 8/27 for Home-made recipe)
¼ tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 Cup Dry White Wine (Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio)
1 Cup Fat Free Half and Half
½ Cup Low Fat Sour Cream
64 oz Chicken Broth
½ C Grated Parmesan Cheese
¼-½ C Walnuts, toasted in a dry skillet

Preheat Oven to 375 degrees. Coat chopped vegetables in oil, Italian seasoning, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Roast for 45-60, minutes turning once midway through cooking, until veggies are fork tender and caramelized. Add veggies to large stock pot with half of chicken stock and wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. In food processor, blender, or with emersion blender, pulse veggies and stock until smooth and creamy. Add remaining chicken stock as needed to obtain desired thickness. Return to stock pot and add remaining ingredients and gently cook until all ingredients are incorporated and Parmesan is melted. Serve garnished with 1 Tbsp freshly toasted walnuts.

This soup is tasty with a salad or sandwich for a hearty lunch or supper. This recipe makes quite a bit of soup and makes excellent leftovers. I send them with my hubby for work lunches. You can experiment with root veggies. The base of this week’s batch was a butternut squash out the garden. The onions, beets and purple Peruvian potatoes also came from this summer’s garden. I’ve found that an onion or two is necessary; it adds a caramelized sweetness. This recipe is also a great way to use up leftover veggies from Sunday’s roast as roasted veggies don’t always re-heat nicely. Oh and you’ve been warned, even just one beet with yield hot-pink soup!

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Jessica’s Garden: The Summer Garden’s Last Hurrah


Although the heat was a little late to Summer’s party this year, it’s apparent that the seasons are gearing up to change. I saw the first signs of leaves changing this week on the Sumac trees. While some plants are still thriving in the garden, others are beginning to fade.

It’s time to get fall veggie and herb seedlings in the ground. My tomatoes are showing signs of defeat to insects and tomato blight, while the summer squash have surrendered to the vine borers. On the other hand, the pepper plants are still producing beautifully and flowering profusely.

As it’s nearing the end of squash season, chances are you’ve seen enough, grown enough or been gifted enough zucchini and squash by desperate neighbors that they’re losing their shine. As promised last week, I am providing another recipe for utilizing an abundant harvest. Summer Squash Casserole is an easy and cheesy bake that’s an easy and excellent side to most meals year-round. It also keeps well for leftovers.

Summer Squash Casserole

5 Cups Sliced Summer Squash, Zucchini or mix of the two; ¼” slices (About 2 pounds)
1 Large Onion; sliced or diced
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp All Purpose Flour
1 C Milk
1 Cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese; shredded
Salt & Pepper; to taste
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp Celery Seed
½ C Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp Italian Seasoning (See Last Week’s Entry for Homemade Recipe)
2 ½ C Ritz Crackers; crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, boil onion and squash for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a small saucepan, melt butter and add flour to make a roux. Over low heat, cook roux stirring constantly, for a few moments until it begins to turn a creamy brown in color. Gradually whisk in milk. Cook on medium-low heat until sauce thickens. Add Cheese, thyme, celery seed, salt and pepper. Once cheese is melted, add to squash and onions with 1 C of the Ritz Crackers; mix gently and pour into casserole dish. In a mixing bowl, combine parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and remainder of crackers; sprinkle evenly over squash. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes until browned and bubbly.


Life's a Basin Full of Tomatoes

Life’s a Basin Full of Tomatoes

Although tomato season is winding down at the farmhouse, the harvest this week was still awesome. Once again, there was lots of blanching, peeling, coring, seeding and chopping tomatoes for canning and freezing. I managed to wrangle my sister and mother into making another double batch of tomato salsa and a large batch of peach salsa. But only under the pretense of a percentage of the profits.

The peaches came from my local and favorite pick-your-own farm, Larriland Farm  where I worked for 8 seasons starting at the age of 15. Grayson helped the three of us make the peach salsa. However, he’s only interested in stirring the pot, no pun intended. At his age, his tolerance for the kitchen is limited, but he absolutely enjoys being outside and in the garden. He even helped my Mom, his Jummy, in her garden this week.

Pizza Sauce

Homemade Pizza Sauce

After salsa night, Grayson and I returned to the garden and over the next couple of days harvested another countertop full of colorful heirlooms. After all the canned tomatoes I’ve already put up this season, it was time to get creative. So we made and canned pizza sauce!

Our family loves homemade pizza nights. Our local grocery store sells fresh pizza dough that thaws and proofs on the countertop for about $1 per crust. Between homegrown fresh and preserved ingredients and a fresh and tender pizza crust, we can affordably and more nutritiously have delicious pizza from home.

By the end of this week, I hope to have my fall garden under control and underway. I have been granting myself a little organizational forgiveness this year because we are involved in a full-blown farmhouse renovation and have been for months. That being said, it’s time to get those beets sown!

Posted By: Jessica Crawford, Behnke’s Garden Blogger

An Amazing Collection of Bonsai at Behnke’s


As you probably know, Ducky Hong has been exhibiting and selling his bonsai here at Beltsville for the last several years.  Prior to that, he had a bonsai nursery in South Korea. Ducky has expanded his offerings and inventory, and will now be working full time at our location, continuing as an independent business.

He has an inventory of 3,500 bonsai plants, 1,000 of which are on display now at Behnke’s in Beltsville. In addition to selling the plants, he will be selling a line of supplies, and teaching bonsai technique classes here. (He has been offering classes in English and Korean, he will be teaching more classes during the week.)

He says that the plants are primarily Japanese and Korean in origin, and there are many specimen plants available here at Beltsville. Ducky’s enthusiasm is contagious: you may come in to look and leave with a whole new hobby!

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