Going back to the grass roots

March 18, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN


Two more days.

The green is starting to peek up from the ground after a long, cold winter.

Welcome the season this weekend at "The Bountiful Garden," the 10th annual Flower & Garden Show at Hagerstown Community College's Athletic, Recreation and Community Center.

Admission costs $4, is free for kids younger than 12 and benefits the college's Alumni Amphitheater - a venue where performances can be enjoyed in nature's glory.


The Flower & Garden Show is a growing thing, said Lisa Stewart, HCC's alumni coordinator.

Her pun was unintentional but appropriate.

In its previous nine years, the event - which has "grass-roots" origins (Stewart punned again) has netted more than $178,000. Proceeds have been used to pay off the amphitheater debt, and when that is taken care of, funds will continue to benefit the college - perhaps by means of scholarships.

"It's going to go back to the school - one way or another," Stewart said.

This weekend, about 100 floral and garden vendors will be on hand to show their wares. Local garden clubs will have displays, there will be activities for kids, including face-painting and seed-planting, and things to eat at the Delightful Garden Caf.

Both days will feature seminars and demonstrations.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Kurt Bitikofer of Kurt's Pond Creations in Fort Loudon, Pa., will present a program titled "Pond Construction and Filtration."

Bitikofer, who studied earth science at Shippensburg University, worked as a biologist for four years at Mount Parnell Fisheries in Fort Loudon, where koi and goldfish are raised.

He calls building his first backyard pond a learning experience. A lot of his business is redoing ponds people have started themselves, ponds that don't quite work.

Bitikofer compares building a pond to building a house. You need to have a good plan, he said.

Ponds are becoming popular in people's yards. Bitikofer's business has doubled every year during his four years of operation. He installs pond systems, but he also sells them to do-it-yourselfers.

He's worked with a variety of landscapes. Ponds can be placed around patios, and streams and waterfalls can be included.

With proper filtration, ponds require little maintenance - a lot less work than his flower garden, Bitikofer said. He recommends spring and fall cleanups.

Fish - Bitikofer has koi he feeds by hand - can live in the pond over the winter as long as the pond is deep enough and there's an open spot in the ice for gas to escape, he said.

With the sound of running water, attractiveness to birds, frogs and dragonflies, having a pond is like having your own little ecosystem in your back yard, Bitikofer said.

"It's just relaxing," he said.

Two Sunday seminars will offer advice on another way to relax. Dawson Ahalt and Richard Penna grow wine grapes in southern Washington County's Pleasant Valley.

Together, the longtime friends and neighbors will present "Starting Your Own Backyard Vineyard," at 1:30 p.m. and "Home Winemaking as a Bountiful Hobby," at 2:30 p.m.

Ahalt and Penna are wine hobbyists. Maryland law prohibits them from selling the bottled fruit of their vines.

"That would be moonshining," Penna said.

Their vineyards produce grapes that exceed their winemaking capacity, and they can, however, sell their surplus wine grapes to other home winemakers.

Ahalt has an acre, Penna two acres in grapes. Red varieties include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, chambourcin, Norton (an American grape) and Lemberger; whites include chardonnay, Seyval blanc and Viognier.

"We both call this a hobby run amok," Penna said.

More work is involved than uncorking a bottle and pouring a glass. A vineyard needs a lot of attention, Ahalt said. Trellises must be maintained, and once the vines are established, they need to be carefully pruned in late winter and early spring. During the growing season, excess foliage needs to be trimmed to prevent too much shading. Wine grapes need lots of sunshine.

Growers also need to combat plant diseases and insect pests.

After the grapes are harvested early in the fall, there's the wine to make.

All of this, of course, is contingent on the weather. Wine grapes need long sunny days and cool nights

The Pleasant Valley is a good part of the state for growing very good wine grapes, Ahalt said.

Sounds like a lot of work, yes?

Yes, Ahalt, admitted, but it's a labor of love.

There is pleasure and satisfaction in a glass of wine made from grapes grown on your own land.

"We think it's pretty good," Ahalt said.

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