A Statement of Purpose

Since 2012 I have been responsible for
the garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield. The Pry House garden began as a 19th century style medicinal and kitchen garden, including medicinal plants, herbs, and vegetables. As close as possible, these plants mirrored those available to the Pry Family in the 1860s, meaning heirloom varieties. Since then, the garden has transformed to focus exclusively on medicinal plants, becoming an exhibit of the flora that was employed by military and civilian caregivers in the Civil War Era.

I am strictly an amateur, with no real experience in growing a garden. The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences as I learn by doing. It is anything but authoritative and I welcome any comments and advice for a greenhorn. Please be kind!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring Seeds

It has been a while since my last blog post. I have been very busy in the garden lately!

Spring is officially here, though it feels like it has been here for weeks already. This week the perennial plants in the garden are all leafing out and looking healthy with fresh green growth. Some plants already even have flowers!
Strawberries in bloom

This week I planted the first seeds in the freshly tilled garden beds. It is still too early from most of the plants that will grow in the garden (I hope), but these are some of the more cold-resistant vegetables, and can start earlier. With the unseasonably warm weather, I probably should have planted some of these a little earlier. In the ground this week: garlic, two varieties of radish, seven varieties of lettuce, claytonia (miner's lettuce), dill, and peas.
I lashed together some sticks from the woods to make a trellis for the peas to climb on. I think I may try this with some of my other plants that are hopefully yet to come, including cucumbers and calabash gourds. My old skills from the Boy Scouts came in handy.

I will talk in greater detail about some of the plant varieties that I selected for the garden in future posts. It seems unlucky to talk about them before they germinate. Some are familiar varieties, but others are a little unusual.

If this warm weather keeps up, I may risk planting some of my other seeds and seedlings a little bit earlier. I will have to keep an eye on the weather over the next week or so. I would hate for a surprise frost to spoil things, but I want to take advantage of as much good growing weather as possible.

I have been planting some more seeds to start indoors, and my existing seedlings are all doing fairly well. I will save this as a topic for a future post.

I have also started a compost pile, which will be the subject of another future post.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tilling the Soil

On Thursday I began to till the raised beds in the garden in preparation for planting, which will begin in the next few weeks. I received another load of manure from one of our wonderful volunteers, Audrey Scanlan-Teller, who owns two horses. After spreading this second delivery, it was time to start working it into the dirt. My grandfather, Clifton Carwile, was nice enough to come up for the day and help me with the work.

It was a beautiful day, making the work outside all the more pleasant. We did the whole job by hand using shovels and turning forks. We turned over 8 1/2 beds, and the front section of the garden is ready for planting when the time is right. I will wait until April to till the back sections along the fence. It feels good to see an observable difference in the garden!

I also took some time to remove straw from around some of the perennial plants and pull out some weeds that are already starting to grow in the garden. Everything seems to have survived our unusally warm winter just fine.


Unfortunately my indoor seedlings are not all faring quite so well. I have to confess that many of my first round of seedlings have died. However, my more recent planting are doing much better and are beginning to show their first true leaves. These later seedlings are growing in traditional potting soil instead of the coconut husk mixture used in the original seed-starting kit. They have also been exposed to better light from the beginning. I believe that these two factors may be the difference. I transplanted what remained of the first group of seedlings into a mixture of potting soil and dirt from outside, but it remains to be seen whether this will save them or prove too much of a shock. Hopefully pictures of happy, healthy plants are to follow.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Struggling with Seedlings

Because some of the plants for the Pry Garden need some extra time to grow, but it is still cold outside, I am attempting to start them from seed indoors. Unfortunately, some of the seedlings are just not doing very well, and are dying off. I have all but given up on my original plantings of cabbage and onions.

My medicinal herbs are doing somewhat better, but a few of those seedlings have not been looking so great either. I have been very troubled in trying to figure out what I am doing wrong in their care. I am confident that they are getting a good amount of light. I have tried not to over-water the seedlings, but kept them moist. I have given them fertilizer, but not too much.

In frustration last week, I planted a new set of cabbage seeds, but this time in potting soil. These have all sprouted and are already looking much better than the first group of cabbage. They are stronger and a darker green in color.

My sister Samantha is away at college, but I sent her back to school with her own seeds to grow for the garden. She is growing fennel, which was used both as a food and a medicinal herb during the 19th century. So far her seedlings are doing very well, strong and dark green. Her seeds were planted in potting soil in a makeshift dish. Perhaps I should have her grow all of my seedlings!

I am considering transplanting all of my current seedlings into potting soil. I think that expert gardeners might say that this is the wrong thing to do, but I believe that if I leave them where they are now they will only continue to die. The original seed-starting kit I purchased uses a mixture of shredded coconut husk rather than soil as a growing medium. I wonder if this is part of my problem, or if I am just finding it too difficult to properly use.

I have also planted my tomato seeds, but they have not germinated yet, so there is nothing see. Hopefully we will have more on that late.