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While it’s getting late in the Summer garden season, our tomatoes have finally begun to produce. They had a rough start between a later than usual planting and a couple of battles with aphids and yellow spot disease. But we are now harvesting several pounds of tomatoes daily. I only grow heirloom tomatoes at this point out of preference. I love their unique tastes between varieties and stunning color, size and shape array. This year we have planted close to thirty plants with somewhere around twenty different varieties. While heirlooms are trickier to successfully grow than their hybrid counterparts, due to lesser disease resistance, they are too tempting for me to resist. So far we have been able to mostly stay on top of the harvest by incorporating them daily into our meals. However, I foresee canning and freezing in my near future.

An excellent heirloom tomato for sauce making is the San Marzano Roma variety. With lots of meaty and flavorful flesh, and a lower seed and water content, they are a great choice for cooking and sauces. While any tomato variety can be made into sauces, Roma and paste tomatoes are preferable since they require less cooking down. We have four San Marzano plants that are loaded with large green fruit, waiting to change color.

Among my favorite varieties for a general table and sandwich tomato is the Black Krim; a variety almost so ugly it’s beautiful. It has a delicious and sweet tomato flavor, and is large in size and extraordinary in color. It has deep green shoulders near the stem end and a purplish- red blossom end, while the inside flesh has its own awesome color display. In terms of a cherry tomato for snacking and salads, I have been enjoying a new variety for our family called a Black Prince cherry tomato. They are juicy, large and packed with flavor. But additionally appear to be more resistant to cracking and diseases than other grape and cherry tomatoes that I’ve previously grown, such as the Yellow Pear.

I’ve been trying to be creative with our uses of tomatoes, but you truly cannot beat a classic combination of fresh tomatoes, garden basil and balsamic vinegar. Several evenings since the onset of our tomato harvest, we’ve been enjoying a fresh tomato salad as a side to supper. Served as a side to a homemade quiche with eggs from our chickens and baby salad greens, also tossed in balsamic and oil, it makes an easy, colorful and sophisticated meal.  And it’s a great way to use several tomatoes in one go.

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Heirloom Tomato Wedge Salad

3-5 Medium Sized Heirloom Tomatoes
2 Sprigs Fresh Basil
1-2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Slice tomatoes into wedges and basil into ribbons.  In mixing bowl, drizzle tomatoes with oil and vinegar to desired strength. Add basil ribbons, salt and pepper and gently toss. Serve immediately for best taste and freshness. Serves about 6.


Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Environmental Gardening at Behnke’s


Those of you who have shopped here for many years may remember that we used to have our shade and flowering tree display area on the south side of our main driveway (that is, between Route 1 and the parking lot, by the Bonsai Classroom.)  To make things easier to manage and easier to shop, we consolidated the trees with the shrubs on the other side of the nursery, which left us with a half an acre of unused space. We’re in the process of converting this space to gardens and wildlife habitat.

Our president, Alfred Millard, and our groundskeeper, Steven Ricks, have really transformed the area this year.  First, over 4,000 square feet of frontage along US Route One have been planted with sunflowers. In addition to providing a spectacular display, set off by the ornamental border between the sunflowers and Route One, these sunflowers will be harvested for seed and given to customers to feed their birds and squirrels at home.

Our resident beekeeper, Christopher Lewis, has installed a honeybee hive, and the bees are continually gathering nectar and pollen from around the nursery. A favorite haunt of the bees is the new Pollinator Garden, a mixed garden of shrubs, perennials and annuals, designed with pollinators in mind.  This garden has filled in very quickly, and boasts great specimens of Swamp Milkweed, Joe Pye Weed, Anise Hyssop, Mountain Mint, Sweet Pepperbush, and other pollinator favorites.

pollinator-garden insect-hotel

Just so the native bees don’t feel left out, Alfred has also built an “Insect Hotel” with nesting places for solitary bees, plus earwigs, butterflies, and so on.  For the birds, we’ve added a bluebird house, and Walpole Woodworkers has graciously supplied a Purple Martin House.  So far, it’s more sparrows than martins, but we are hopeful that the martins will take over next year.

The really big project was the installation of examples of what homeowners and businesses can do to reduce the polluting effect of rapid stormwater runoff.  The project has been led by the Low Impact Development Center and funded through the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The project was initiated to demonstrate the practices being promoted through the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment (DoE) Rain Check Rebate Program.

The goal of stormwater management is to reduce the volume and speed of runoff to reduce the load on the storm sewer system.  This is done by reducing water impermeable surfaces (e.g., concrete) and creating ways to catch runoff to either use the water or to allow it to filter into the groundwater supply.

Homeowners and Businesses can get generous rebates for properly installed projects.

permeable pavers

permeable pavers

Projects include: removing impermeable surfaces (at Behnke’s, this was a blacktop walkway); installing permeable paving systems (at Behnke’s, where the blacktop previously lay); planting shade trees; installing rain barrels, cisterns, and green roofs; and planting a properly designed rain garden.  Installation of samples of all seven of these are nearly complete at Behnke’s, with five of the seven on the “South Side” and the cistern and green roof near the perennial sales area.

The rain garden was built by Stormwater Maintenance and Consulting, with the plants and planting supplied by Behnke’s. The garden will capture a portion of the water from our parking lot, and it will drain and filter through the garden to the subsoil over a 24 hour period.  It will fill in nicely over the next year, and will be quite an attractive garden in its own right.  All of the plants in the rain garden are native plants.



rain garden at Behnke’s

We are very excited to be a part of this project.  The County’s DoE staff has been very generous with their time in the past, and always has information tables at our events like our Garden Party and Spring Open House.  We are pleased to provide a venue for hands-on examples.  It also provides us a platform for future presentations and demonstrations on the various pieces of the South Side.


Wait Wait…Don’t Toss That

Our favorite nurseries and garden shops are brimming with products that promise to deliver the lushest of foliage, the healthiest of roots, and little to no lingering pests.

There’s no doubt that there are some fantastic options out there, but you could take your garden to new heights for FREE. So, before you pull out that wallet, consider these easy options that won’t cost you an extra dime.


orange peelOrange Peels – One Pleasant Pest Preventor

We’re all familiar with the power of oranges thanks to all its Vitamin C. It’s no surprise that this fruit can help boost the nutritive qualities of your soil and compost, which is always a good thing, but it serves as a strong pest deterrent too.

Aphids, ants, and even cats are known to detest the citrusy scent of oranges. You can grate peels or simply tear them into pieces to be placed around affected plants. In the case of aphids, orange peels may be wrapped around the stem of the plant for an easy, aromatic fix. If cats are the problem, you can gently work peel pieces into the surface of the soil so kitty has a citrusy surprise the next time she’s digging around.


Eggshells – Simple Little Seed Starters

eggshellInstead of throwing your empty eggs in the trash, keep them around for seedlings. Clean eggshells make free seed-starting pots that won’t just save you money. They’ll also provide your plants with important calcium that will boost soil quality and ward off blossom-end rot.

When you’re done making those Saturday morning omelets, give your eggshells a good rinse with warm water. Grab your bag of seed-starting medium, and pour some into a bucket so that it can be lightly dampened with water. Add the soil to your eggshells until they’re nearly filled to the top. Sprinkle seeds on the surface of the soil, and gently press them into the starting medium. Water your pots daily with just a few drops of water. When your seedlings outgrow their eggshell, you can simply move them into a larger pot. Gently crush the eggshell pot so that roots may extend out, and they’re ready to move into their new home.


Coffee – A Soil-rific Addition

coffee groundsGardeners everywhere make regular trips to Starbucks, and for good reason. This popular garden additive helps boost soil quality by aiding with drainage, water retention, and aeration. While used coffee grounds won’t spike soil acidity as is popularly believed, they will provide your garden with important nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Thanks to their rough texture and slight acidity, coffee grounds are a natural slug deterrent. Try making a circle of grounds around your slug-loved plants as a cheap defense system. If you have some extra eggshells around, crush those up and sprinkle them in too.

If you have a compost pile, then it’s worth making a stop at the local coffee shop for a free bag of garden grounds. Coffee gives your compost a cup of nutrition that every plant will appreciate. If you want to learn more about how or why to use grounds for compost, take a look at Oregon State University’s great list of tips for composting coffee grounds. It’s a rare opportunity to maximize benefits with minimized efforts.


Wood Ash – Garden Harmonizer

If your soil is on the acidic side, then wood ash is your garden’s best friend. Used liberally, it can help balance soil’s pH. As an added benefit, dry wood ash can also scare off insects like snails and slugs.

Being a former plant itself, ash provides an excellent source of nutrients that make a great addition to compost and tomato plants. However, you do need to use it with caution because of its pH level. New plants can be traumatized by sudden soil changes, and it won’t make friends with acid-loving plants like blueberries. Basic tendencies aside, it’s still easy to use and it comes with plenty of benefits. So, give yourself a minute to read tips on using wood ash, and then you can get to work cleaning out that fire pit.


Pallets – Creativity and Function Have No Limit!

We’ve all drooled over the amazing pallet projects being shared on Facebook and Pinterest. While the uses and thriftiness of wood pallets are old news, they’re potential is being taken to a higher level each and every day. If you’re not on the bandwagon yet, these garden projects are sure to turn you into a pallet hunter.

Are you itching to grow more plants, but you’re short on space? Pallets can be turned into a vertical garden in just minutes. Add in some paint, stains, and easy modifications, and you have yourself an attractive addition to any landscape.


pallet garden
If you’re trying to get creative with filling an empty space or covering up a mud zone,  then put a pallet to work. You can pull it apart with fancy tools or a simple hammer and a crow bar, providing you with a supply of wood slabs that can be put to all sorts of creative use.


pallet walkway
Whether you’re looking for a garden workspace, or a safe and sunny spot for growing seedlings, pallets can do the job. You can make your garden table as fancy or as practical as you need, and you can pull it off with a matter of dollars and minutes.


pallet potting bench
Now that we’re armed with garden tips, let’s get to work! We still have a few weeks to put our new tricks to the test, especially if you follow Jessica’s tips on prolonging harvest.


Photo Credits:
Flower Egg by David Pacey
Fine Guatemalan Black Powder by Niall Kennedy
Triple Spiral One-Piece Orange Peeling by Fdecomite
Pallet photos courtesy of Design Rulz


Posted By: Ashley Stevens, Behnke’s Guest Blogger


Meet Ashley Stevens – Behnke’s Guest Blogger

Ash StevensAshley Stevens is a gardener, a writer, and a fan of all things green. Her love for health and sustainability began with her journey into motherhood, and it’s grown exponentially ever since. She’s passionate about living a healthy lifestyle through gardening, cooking, and spending time outdoors. If she isn’t writing or reading up on exciting green trends, she’s probably playing Connect Four or swimming in the river with the kids. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.  



September is almost here.  We already see yellow school buses everywhere…and soon we will see yellow leaves…mixed with green and orange and russet…all signaling the approaching arrival of autumn.  Some will reluctantly let go of summer while others embrace all that autumn brings.  Leaf-peeping, football, chili suppers, and “house jewelry”.  Yes, “house jewelry”…a beautiful wreath on the front door of a house, proudly worn like one would wear a necklace, a brooch, a tie clasp, or a lapel pin.  An ornament that can draw attention, or better yet, focus attention making the sum of various elements look totally complete!




One of the things that I enjoyed the most as a florist and floral designer was creating decorative wreaths made of “permanent” materials…in other words, not live foliages, flowers, or berries.  Some wreaths were “made to order” with careful consideration to customers’ choices.  Most were made as spec-wreaths to be displayed in the shop so that customers would have a variety of wreaths to choose from.  The designer who created the wreath decided on the colors and materials for the design.

Autumn wreaths are my favorite to design.  I love the season!  Fall-toned “silk” leaves come in many varieties…maple, oak, beech, dogwood, etc. which give an array of color and leaf shapes to choose from.  Faux berries also come in many colors that combine beautifully with fall leaves.  Larger faux accents that work well in fall wreaths are apples, crabapples, pears, and Chinese lanterns.

Most of the fall wreaths that I have created were made by using a glue gun to attach materials to a grapevine wreath.  Before using materials that would be going outside, I tested them to determine whether or not they would bleed color if exposed to rain or snow.  Most of the fall leaves formed the base.  Then the accent berries or fruit or Chinese lanterns were added last.  Sometimes I used supple twigs or angel vine to add a natural element for interest.  Some had bows—many did not.




If you would like to create your own autumn wreath so that your home can proudly wear “house jewelry” this fall, remember how important it is to test the materials with water if the wreath will be used outside.  Balance the placement of the accent elements (berries, fruit, etc.) so that your eye moves easily around the wreath.  Your wreath will be more interesting if it has depth.  When forming the base with fall leaves, sink some leaves deeper than others for more of a 3-D effect.  Add a bow if you like.

I will adorn my home with its autumn wreath “house jewelry” on September 8th this year—the day after Labor Day, the last red, white, and blue holiday of the summer.  I don’t want the wreath to divert attention from the small American flag display that will sit on a rustic cabinet just outside the front door.

Maybe my wreath will have a bow this year…


Posted By: Evelyn Kinville, Behnke’s Garden Blogger

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