Gardening On Delmarva

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Gardening on Delmarva is dedicated to all the enthusiastic gardeners out there who would like to learn, share tips on gardening practices, or just simply increase your pleasure in digging in the soil. Every month these columns will cover a variety of local backyard gardening topics pertinent to the time of year they appear and answer reader's questions. I'll tell you how I do things in my own garden to get the conversation started.

By way of introduction, you might like to know that I have cultivated vegetable gardens for over 40 years, in virtually every place I've lived around the United States and for the past 8 years here on the Delmarva peninsula, near Salisbury, MD. Late in 2011, I completed a Master Gardener course given through University of Maryland Extension. I've also been a beekeeper for 40 years and will have a few things to share about that hobby in this column in the coming months, too.
Currently in my backyard I have eight garden plots, each 4 feet by 20 feet, a few fruit trees, and two bee hives.

About two-thirds of one garden plot is dedicated to a couple of varieties of blackberries and raspberries, another half of a plot is planted with asparagus, two plots have strawberries, and the remaining space is available for vegetables throughout the growing season. I have laid out wide corridors between the sections so I can keep the grass tidy with my lawnmower. The 4x20 foot plot size dimension lets me easily reach the middle of each plot from the sides so I can sow, transplant, weed and fertilize without stepping on and compacting the soil.

I've always wanted to try my hand at fruit growing but never had the space for it until here on Delmarva, so several years ago I started with peaches, apples and pears. The results were terrible! I want to remain as organic as possible but I couldn't find suitable organic methods to eliminate the numerous pests that thrive in our area. They essentially destroyed the apple and peach crops. I do intend to keep trying, but while I learn more about cultivating a successful small orchard without the use of potentially toxic chemicals, my fruit trees are limited to pears, pawpaws and figs-- fruits that attract far fewer destructive pests. If you've had success in this area, I'd be delighted to hear from you! Ironically, two quite ancient apple trees on my property produce a very satisfactory quantity of fruit, from which I make grreat applesauce.

Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby for anyone's backyard. Not only do the bees help with pollinating crops within a mile radius of my home, but every year they provide me with 20 to 40 pounds of honey to enjoy and to give as gifts to friends and family. If you're interested in learning more about beekeeping, a group called the Lower Eastern Shore Beekeepers Association (LESBA) has recently organized to encourage and promote education about beekeeping. They meet the second Wednesday of every month at 7pm in Salisbury at the University of Maryland Extension office on Nanticoke Road, just off Rt. 50 in Salisbury, Maryland. The phone there is 410-749-6141.

Speakers address topics of use to average beekeepers. In addition to their regular meeting on March 14, LESBA will hold a workshop at the Extension office on March 24th from 9:00 - 2:00. The workshop will feature an actual hive and demonstrate how to split a hive (making two hives out of one), marking a queen for easy identification, and how to start a new hive of bees. The cost is $45. Space is limited, so reservations are required.

In the garden, not much is going on right now, of course, although there are still some important tasks that need attention to get ready for planting. Perhaps most important, when was the last time you did a soil test on your garden? Because it had been several years since my last one, I sent a soil sample to the folks at A&L Eastern Laboratories in Richmond, VA ( in November and was surprised to learn my soil pH had risen to 7.4, a very high level of alkalinity for the soils here on the peninsula which are normally acidic. That might explain why I've had a couple of years of rather poor lima bean harvests. I need to apply sulphur to lower the pH to between 6.0 and 7.0, a better range for most vegetables. I will also cut back on phosphorus in my fertilizer application, since that was at a very high level too.

Second, February is the preferred time for pruning fruit trees.

And finally, I need to get in my seed order pretty soon. I use Fedco Seeds in Waterville, ME ( for the bulk of my orders. They are inexpensive, their service is excellent, and the catalog highly informative. I also use R.H Shumway's (, Vermont Bean Seed Company ( and local seed suppliers like Johnson's Feed and Seed in Salisbury, The Hardware Store in Mardela Springs, and Bryan and Brittingham in Delmar.

Well, that's enough about me and my garden for this month. Think you have some things to share on this topic? I look forward to hearing from you and sharing more news in the future. Happy gardening on Delmarva!