Tuesday, February 27, 2007

DIY - Terrarium

With January and February leaving a BIG hole in my greenhouse-haunting life - I have turned to these little gems for getting me through the gray days. Just lift the top and get a satisfying hint of dew, soil, life!

What's even better, they don't need to cost a pretty penny.

What You'll Be A-Needin':

  • Glass container (I've used Salvation Army finds - vases, little fishbowls, I've heard of people using cookie jars, mason jars, just as long as it is clear glass)
  • Cover for container (I just placed pretty plates on top - you may need something more secure . . . .)
  • Gravel/stones/something to provide a little drainage
  • Soil
  • Activated charcoal (available at aquarium/pet stores - helps suppress smells)
  • Plants
  • Interest pieces (rocks, pine cones, funky little figurines)
Layer in the following way from the bottom to the top - gravel/stones, activated charcoal, soil, plants. Sprinkle with a little water, cover and you are done! You may need to water every month or so. And just make sure to give the plants you have chosen for your terrarium the light that they require.

My terrariums have moss, a small fern and baby's tears in them. The baby's tears do well, but are invasive. I just keep giving them haircuts . . . I have found this site to be inspiring and it has helped me get a better sense of plants to try out. I have not ordered anything from them - but the plant names accompanied by photos are a good resource for learning what is what.


I was recently watching a show in which John Lennon and Yoko Ono were being interviewed in their New York City apartment kitchen. In the background, on a large windowsill, was an incredible terrarium. A very modern-looking HUGE rounded-bottom vase with a narrow neck. It looked like there were small trees (!) in it, along with ferns and the like. It was stunning and made my heart ache - for the funds and the where-with-all to have something like that in my little house.

In the meantime, I drool over these (also available at glasshouseworks.com under *Wardian Cases*).

Hip Herbal Product Watch: Earth Mother Herbal

In high school - in the 1980s , I would obsess over this old book in the library called Down to Earth Beauty. During an Aussie Scrunch Spray/Noxema-filled time, the idea of making rose water or a simple oatmeal scrub drew me in and I would pour over the details of each concoction. The exotic ingredients seemed so difficult to find and my mom, understandably, didn't want me in the kitchen making goo with her good pots. I ended up just memorizing the recipes and thought *sigh* "Some day . . . ".

So, it didn't surprise me, after reading Earth Mother Herbal - Remedies, Recipes, Lotions and Potions from Mother Nature's Healing Plants that I wanted to book a flight to Oregon and spend a weekend with the earth momma herself, Shatoiya de la Tour. This beautiful book makes herbs - and the things you can create with them - very accessible and very memorable. Each herb section has details on facts and folklore, growing, harvesting, uses, accompanied by interesting stories and then . . . recipes!

We're talking tinctures, tonics, infusions! Maybe, just maybe, Shatoiya would let me into her kitchen to look over her shoulder and peek into her magical world - teaching me the secrets and the skills I craved 20 years ago.

But her book and nurturing spirit that comes through in her writing, makes it easy to make a go of it on your own and it is now a staple on my bookshelf. From skin care and bath time recommendations to teas such as Spicy! Immunity Chai to healing salves. And, my husband is a huge fan of Bubba's Taters with Eggs and Rosemary. It's great getting back to the earth and back to what has worked for ages. Good winter reading . . .

Monday, February 26, 2007

About Life In Sugar Hollow

Life in Sugar Hollow is a garden blog about my adventures in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Nifty garden and garden-inspired product reviews; local gardening happenings; horticulture, permaculture and organic gardening with a lighter tone; thoughts on native plants; container, vegetable and herb gardening; fun do-it-yourself projects; recipes; and chronicles of my own garden experiments.

Hanging Out My Shingle: Garden Coach

I am a certified horticulturist with a concentration in organic practices.

Gardening does not have to be daunting or stuffy. We’ll take small steps to get you on your way to growing your own food, flowers or herbs. Or to simply create a manageable garden around your home or on your property.

Areas of expertise include plant identification and care recommendations for new house (and garden) owners. Assessing your existing or expected garden/landscape for what suits you at the moment. Establishing organic vegetable gardens. Creative container gardening.

I encourage and foster the new or curious do-it-yourself gardener regarding the cultivation of herbs, annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and native plant recommendations for Central Virginia. We can develop plant, supply and tool lists; planting and maintenance schedules; as well as review area gardening and landscaping resources. Or we can just focus on a particular project, one season at a time.

Location: Charlottesville, Virginia and surrounding areas

Email – sugarholler@hotmail.com or call 434.823.1669.

Compost Tea vs. Plant-tone Showdown

First of all, I am only a recent fan of houseplants. I was scarred at a young age by the basement of our local Woolworth's - filled with variegated, plastic houseplants that collected dust and faded under the fluorescents.

Made me die little deaths.

My interest was peaked in recent years by an article I read on houseplants that actually clean your air. Lordy, sign me up!

Here's a quick article on plants and the toxins they clean from the air.

And a book I've had on My List for a while . . . "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office" by B.C. Wolverton.

I have since bought a snake plant, pothos, peace lilies, spider plants, ferns, English ivy . . . and have learned that simple watering doesn't suffice. Which led me to the showdown - half of my houseplants received a side dressing of Plant-tone - the other half had high-tea with Merrill's Compost Tea.

Plant-tone boasts that it contains "all 15 essential nutrients" - nitrogen, phosphate, potash and others through organic materials - manure, crab meal, bone meal, dried blood (eeek!) and other stinky treats that our dogs go CRAZY over.


Merrill's Compost Tea is Rodale Certified Organic - compost, sea kelp, plant soluable humates and a mixture of plant essential nutrients. Hmmmm. And a note - "Not for human consumption" - well, I'm glad THAT has been cleared up. (Note: Compost Tea is just that - compost in little tea bags. Very clever. One tea bag per gallon of warm water. Steep for 10-15 minutes.)

I'll be curious to report the results - although I think at this point, the plants will take anything I throw their way . . .

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Peeking Out From Behind The Shrubbery

Why, Oh, Why a Blog About Gardening?

My husband was absolutely intrigued when I showed him the first attempt at my blog. Knowing me to be a very private person, he wondered where this all came from . . .

Well . . . gardening can be a very solitary endeavor. And when you live in a hollow in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, even more so. Jus' me scratching away at the dirt, muttering to myself at my guffaws, and listening to the echoes of my victory yelps when something goes/grows well. A sense of community and sharing of ideas keeps me going - therefore, I blog.

Oh, yes, and I'm originally from right outside Manhattan and spent my first ten years out of college in Manhattan and Long Island. So, the experience of moving to five acres has been humbling and humiliating on levels I never could have imagined as a New Yorker. I have found, that this is a huge part of the whole adventure. My carefully cultivated skills from office jobs and the indulgent laziness of apartment living don't cut it. There's no take-out, no mass transit, no crowds - just the woefully inept me and the sound of my panicked gulps as a I learn a new skill.

So far, it has run the gamut from my learning how to operate a tractor (*many* gulps accompanied by dry mouth and a racing heart) to building raised vegetables beds to buying my first, very own 4 X 4 truck.

The disclaimer here (in case you haven't picked up on this point already) is that I am no expert. Just someone who daydreamed about this life while I sat in my fancy office in NYC . . . and actively sought it out.

I do enjoy researching and reading as much as possible - so I'm hoping I can chronicle and share what I have learned about gardening in the Albemarle/Charlottesville area (Zone 7 - for you sticklers for detail). LOTS of experiments, lots of do-it-yourself projects, with a nod to the use of recycled materials, as well as incorporating the world of organic gardening practices and permaculture into our life (I'll try to keep that last bit more fun than preachy . . . ).


What People Are Saying

*Featured Blog* - digindirt.com

*Editor's Pick Blog* - Bust Magazine

Local Resident, Tracey Crehan Gerlach, chronicles her victories, failures and obsessions in her Zone 7 garden - right in Sugar Hollow. Her gardening experiments and do-it-yourself projects will inspire with wonderful photography." - Albemarle Family Magazine, June 2011

"I saw your blog post about your visit to Maymont. We would love to have copies of the images…Thanks for the wonderful comments about Maymont!" - Carla Murray, Assistant Director of PR and Marketing, Maymont Foundation

"Beautiful garden photographs, tips on growing fuss-free veggies, reflections about outdoor life with little ones . . . check out www.lifeinsugarhollow.blogspot.com." - Albemarle Family Magazine, May 2010

"If you are into gardening, then you must know about a local blog called "Life in Sugar Hollow". In addition to local gardening tips, she has some gorgeous images and stories about her own garden." - cvillestyle.com

"If you’re a lonely-hearted gardener, Tracey Gerlach’s blog, “Life in Sugar Hollow,” is great therapy: It offers tips and stories from her garden in the heart of Central Virginia. How’s that for sympathy? Not only does Gerlach possess the know-how on raising plants in Virginia’s moody climate, she also visits local spots, such as the Crozet Farmer’s Market, that are of interest to other garden enthusiasts." - C'ville Weekly, July 2007

"Life in Sugar Hollow is a Dirt Lover's Dream." - cVillain, October 2007

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Breathe Magazine - The Scents of Spring

Spring. It is a heady, klutzy time for me. I spend a good part of it tripping over curbs and walking into things because I am too busy looking up into the trees. Or distractedly trying to get a glimpse of someone’s front garden through an inviting gate. Or snapping my head around to figure out what scent I just walked past/under/through. 

Today’s post is about the scents of spring. Giving latin words and plant names to those scents that invoke so much – whether it be nostalgia or straight up, old-fashioned spring fever.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus). This one is a doozy and very underused in our landscapes, which is a shame. A native plant to Virginia, it is a smaller tree (around 15 – 20 feet high) and the white, puffed flowers arrive shortly after the dogwood show. Keep an eye out for it.

Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii).  I discovered this shrub during late April’s Historic Garden Week and was lucky enough to be at a house that had many of its plants labeled. Woot! I am planting a few of these on our land this year – along a path and outside our living room windows so the scent from the gorgeous pale pink and white clustered buds can hit me several times per day.

Linden (Tilia). I went to a lush dinner party last year and the owner of the house had clipped linden flowers filling bowls all around her house. I found any excuse to linger next to one whenever I had a chance. This tree has ancestors in Europe that go back centuries and its heart-shaped leaves and sweet-clean smelling flowers keep it on my wish list.

Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioica). Last spring, friends invited me over during a spring evening to spend time under their Kentucky Coffee tree. I felt as if this scent would be what one would smell during a Eudora Welty short story – very Southern gothic. George Washington had several planted at Mount Vernon. This one is actually a later bloomer – late May to early June. I am already working on securing a return invite from the neighbors for this year’s show.

Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia).  I have watched bees, drunk and heavy, bobbing from one pepperbush flower to the next. I have also visited gardens where they have set benches in circles – surrounded by this shrub – so humans can sit and have their heads nod, drunk and heavy, as well. Some describe it as spicey or clove-like. I call it awesome and addictive. Not surprisingly, the spikey flowers attract hummingbirds, too. 

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). This is an understated one. Shade-loving and delicate – its scent is more woodsy and green and actually gets stronger once the leaves are dried. A very loved, low-growing, spreading herb that is a good groundcover, it was used in times past for nosegays and foot-step activated deodorizers to mask the sewer and rotting meat smells of the Middle Ages. These days, its call to duty is less dire and grim as it is used to make things like May wine. 

Tracey Crehan Gerlach lives on five acres in Sugar Hollow, west of Charlottesville, Va., with her husband and daughter. Their organic gardens include edibles, perennials, natives, herbs and vegetables. She blogs about these gardens at Life in Sugar Hollow.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Breathe Magazine - Planning for Preserving

I have a vision. An image in my mind’s eye of how next winter’s pantry will look. It will glimmer a little with glass and metal. It will hold much promise. It will provide for my family. I will feel accomplished and domestic. It will be filled with rows of canning jars twinkling and inviting with the harvested treasures tucked away for future consumption. 

But this dreaming involves a bit of planning, which I heartily welcome during the late winter months. 

First, supplies. I just discovered that our local agricultural co-op has the most extensive, comprehensive canning section I have ever seen. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before – but it has jars, lids, grabbers, pectin, citric acid, etc. Hardware stores can also be a very good resource for these supplies. (Now is a good time to stock up, before spring hits and everyone is buying supplies for jams and jellies.)

If you have a nice sized-freezer, freezing is another super-fast way to keep things. I always have a few boxes of freezer bags in our house when the growing season is in full, coming-at-you-from-all-sides swing.

{Oh! A side thought on canning to take that overwhelmed edge off. Start with small batches. There is no need to go for three dozen quarts during your first go-round. I am *not* an all-day canner. I do maybe eight jars at a time – carving out less than an hour per canning job.} 

And, finally, what to plant. Here is my list of some existing plants I plan to use for preserving and some things I will add to our gardens.

A good pickling cucumber. I make sweet pickles from regular sized cucumbers that need to stand up to four days of hot brine being poured over them. I am going to try the ‘Ashley’ variety from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

A good canning tomato. I read somewhere that it is best to can tomatoes that you would normally enjoy fresh, as well. I am going to try some of our preferred heirlooms like ‘Brandywine’ and ‘German Johnson’ and ‘Mortgage Lifter’. You can also core your tomatoes and pop them in the freezer.

Garlic – This was planted this past fall (I buy the variety ‘Music’). I am going to roast some of it like Leni and store the jars in the fridge. 

Okra – I am hoping this is the year for okra in our garden. (Last year it was the year of deer eating okra in our garden.)  I am also hoping to home in on a good pickled okra recipe, too.

Figs – We planted a ‘Chicago Hardy’ last year. It produced fruit! So, maybe this year, some fig preserves to go with goat cheese and a nice crusty ciabatta.

Rhubarb – One of the hits around our house is rhubarb syrup (easily canned or stored in the fridge) for cocktails (try a Rhubarb Cosmopolitan) and seltzer spritzers. We have eight-year old rhubarb plants that manage to thrive on our land - so there’s lots to spare.