Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dem Bugs, Dem Bugs, Dem Bad Bugs

I've been researching some homemade formulas for use against the bad bugs. I've not tried most of them. If you are allergic to any of the ingredients, please do not use. Always test in a small place first.

Original formula Listerine (the yellow stuff) in a spray bottle would repel mosquitoes (Dave's Gardens). Broadcast spraying in an outdoor area seems to cause the pests to vacate the premises. (One has to assume this is temporary and used for gatherings and guests) I've no idea if it also leaves the entire yard smelling like a dentist office.

Use garlic cloves in an open rain barrel and it may work for a week or two to keep larvae down. This idea was highly debated on the net - it works vs. it doesn't work. There are recipes for boiling garlic and spraying on plants - guaranteed to smell up your house for the day.

American beauty berry plant, Callicarpa americana, may have potential as a natural insect repellent. Research is being done on making it into a lotion but scattering crushed leaves from the plant among animal bedding may be effective. The FDA has not approved it in lotion form.

One place claimed catnip is 10 times as effective in repelling mosquitoes as deet. Catnip also works for roaches and apparently termites too! Lemon balm, and marigold are promising plants for repelling certain species of mosquitoes. If you see someone who has planted marigolds around their garden, it is with the hope the smell will repel crawling insects.

Dragonflies eat flying adult mosquitoes, and the dragonfly nymphs eat the mosquito larvae.

Absorbine Jr. rubbed on the skin will fend off gnats. (Jeff Lampe of the Peoria Journal Star)

Chimney swifts can eat 1200 mosquitoes a night - a third of their weight in insects every day. Build a chimney-like structure where Chimney Swifts can roost and nest. Should you want to do this project, let me know - I have the plans.

Bats in our area typically eat night flying insects like mosquitoes and moths. They live in trees, attics (not the best) and bat houses. I also have plans for bat houses or you can buy them from NAGS and other sources. Street lights and farm nite lites attract the night flying insects which in turn attract bats. Do not kill bats - 30% of our bats are endangered in the US. Do not play with bats because they are afraid of you. You do not want them to bite you even though less then 1/2 of 1% have rabies. Let them go about cleaning up the 600 bugs they eat an hour.

Toads and frogs eat insects, slugs, grubs, crickets and worms (most any crawling or fluttering insect). They will not eat dead insects.

Birds eat insects because they need protein to grow in readiness of migration, to molt, and to fly. All birds eat insects at times in their lives especially the young. Dead trees attract insects which in turn attract over 85 types of birds to Illinois.

Skunks and lizards also eat insects - good luck on that one.

Cedar oil spray (get at places like PetSmart) may be an insect repellent for animals & humans.

Rubbing alcohol rubbed on the skin and let to dry may repel mosquitoes.

Vicks Vaporub rubbed on pants and legs is said to repel ticks. It may stains on clothes.

Avon Skin-So-Soft oil mixed half-and-half with rubbing alcohol and rubbed on the skin. This hint was from a Marine who had to camp out a lot.

A spray of half real clear pure vanilla and half water. This is the vanilla you get in Mexico or health food stores.

Plant garlic next to or around rose bushes.

Lavender oil put on pulse points (wrists, ankles, knees, ears, where skin folds.)

It appears most herbal oils have been used at one time or other as a repellent on the skin. Make totally sure you are not sensitive by testing first. Oils can be pretty strong.

I use Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castle peppermint natural soap (available at Uncle Billy's health food store, Target or on Amazon.com) to wash the dogs. It keeps flies and other pesky bugs away for about a month. It is safe for humans and clothing if you would like to give it a try (see image). It comes in other "scents" which may work for you. (Picture of Dr. Bronner's from their web page)

These are a few of the hundreds of possibilities - hope it's just in time to help you this summer "bug" season.

"I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I am man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming of being a man?" Chuang Tsu

Monday, June 29, 2009

Daylily Madness #2

Images: Daylily Anatomy picture and Hemerocallis Daylily "Ed Murray"

This may be more than you ever wanted to know about the parts of a daylily. Before you zone out, it will help you to know a little about the names of parts should you decide to catch the Daylily Madness disease. It will even help the person who orders from pictures and printed descriptions. 

Here is a description of Ed Murray Daylily from an Oakes Daylily on-line catalog http://www.oakesdaylilies.com/

ED MURRAY: * 4" bloom, 30" tall, Mid Season, Dormant One of the best darks - winner of the Stout Medal and the Lenington All American Award - count on it for gorgeous blooms and dependable performance. Hybridized by Grovatt, Registered 1971. Blooms June and July. Full sun, Zone 3-9.

Compare this description to the picture I have posted of my Ed Murray. Here's what catalogs don't usually have space to tell you:

  1. It is a mahogany dark red. The Petals are darker than the Sepals.
  2. The Stout Medal is given by the American Hemerocallis Society each year to the Best of the Breed and is the A.H.S.'s highest award. The Lenington All American Award is for the Best Performer Over a Wide Geographic Area. Both these awards tell you a lot about the lily.
  3. Dependable expands to mean it spreads better than most and easily divides.
  4. Zone 3-9 means it does not have winter kill in the coldest our area has to offer.
  5. Registered 1971 means it's so popular with growers that it is still featured in catalogs after 38 yrs.
  6. 4 inch bloom, in this case, means from tip to tip of the Petals. It also means on average.
  7. 30 inch scapes is the average height of the flower stem. The height of the leaves are not measured.
  8. Gorgeous blooms is in the eye of the beholder. I do agree Ed Murray is a beautiful daylily.
  9. Blooms June-July does not mean June 1st to July 30. My Ed Murray just started blooming June 29 but will probably bloom a good two months.
Now, go out and have a great Day - Lily!

Daylily Madness #1

Image: Daylily - Hemerocallis "Over There".

Every gardener has their favorite flower or plant. It often changes throughout the seasons and years.

I have the "Daylily Madness" and it is a doozie of a garden obsession.

I've decided to do a short little piece every now and again during the daylily blooming season. If you simply can not abide by this flower, skip these pieces.

I'll give a particular lily and a different bit of information each time. There is a load of information about lilies and it would be too much reading for one article.

Over There Daylily has 3 1/2 inch brilliant red velvet blooms with slightly darker red halo around a small yellow throat. It's a very vigorous grower with many blooms. The scapes (stems) are 28 inches. It is a dormant variety. It blooms early to mid season.

Other qualities: Slightly recurved petals, mid vein slightly pronounced, velvet texture, holds color and texture even in hot sun, hybridized by Apps and registered in 1983, may rebloom, no fragrance.

Remember: Size, color, quality, and a host of other traits may be different between your garden, my garden, and the catalog descriptions.

For today - that's my "Over There" madness review.

Friday, June 26, 2009

More Than A Day Off Work

O! thus be it ever when free men shall stand

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation;

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land

Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just;

And this be our motto, “In God is our trust!”

And the star spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

This is the second verse of the National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.

Gardeners, farmers and others that work the land are often the most aware of what a precious resource we have been allowed to tend. We mow, plant, weed, and fertilize. We take an old homestead and revitalize or a new plot of land and energize.

I've often thought those of us who work the soil spend more time contemplating how blessed we are to have been situated on this rich abundant portion of the United States. We may complain about too much rain, not enough rain, snow, ice, tornadoes, and flooding but we've actually "got it made in the shade."

I may be prejudiced, but how much more perfect can life be where so much is given back to those that toil this soil. As I look out my window, a vast green landscape is before me, sprinkled with flowers in every color of the rainbow. The soy beans, corn and wheat are growing in every field within view; soon to be harvested to feed many.

In about a week, we will be watching parades, waving flags and enjoying fireworks. Join me in being thankful for this farm country and our privilege of living right here! Thankful to all those who've made it possible.

We do not look out on bomb craters, we do not nurse starving children, we do not have to beg for the things that make life so wonderful here in the Midwest, we do not have our yards and fields trampled by angry men.

My children and grandchildren can be in public and not be the target of a suicide bomber, my family can visit one of many parks and not be arrested, we can hear and see the fireworks and not mistake them for bombs.

God has Blessed us abundantly over the land of the free and the home of the brave!
(Image from web)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hotter than a Texas Fire!

Images: This is the Jackmanii Clematis I referred to yesterday. 

Both then and today, the humidity (98%) and temperature (111.3 in the sun at the moment) are high. Both pictures are looking West.

The picture with the dogs is how the plant looks early in the morning and after the sun sets in the west enough that the plant is shaded. During the heat of mid day, with full sun, it wilts.

Amazingly, about 3 p.m., the plant looks good as new. It certainly doesn't need water because we have had about 3 inches in the last few days. Perhaps it is just conserving energy, protecting the petal face and pollen, or an emotional response. Kidding on the emotional response.

I found it interesting because it's never done this before. But then again, I've never wilted quite so fast outside as I am this week. Stepping outside at 7:30 a.m. to take a few pictures of newly emerged plants, I was drenched in about an hour. I can't do something quick like that without stooping to pull a few weeds, add a missing plant marker, document something or tie up flopping stems. Water and brush a cat and dog, wash a window and by 9 a.m., it's definitely time for a shower. It's an emotional response I'm sure.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Clematis and Cats

Images: Clematis magenta "Ernest Markham", purple "Jackmanii", pale lavender double "Belle of Woking" and lavender/blue "H.F. Young"

Clematis have the disposition of a cat. They demand to be treated like a queen, take a long time to warm up to you, and reward you with their beautiful presence.

I was afraid to grow Clematis - so many rules, so fragile, so complicated. They often take several years to do much and that reaffirms all my insecurities.

My first Clematis is the Jackmanii or Jackman's purple. I planted it on the back side of my clothesline support with a bittersweet on the other side. For several years it did very little. Then BAM, the last three years the vine has been huge and stunning. Today, there are hundreds of blooms.

Clematis take a deep mulch because they won't live if their roots are not insulated both from winter cold and summer heat. The mulch should be organic not stones or rocks. It helps to have their feet in the shade in the afternoon.

Clematis have pruning requirements. They don't die if they are not pruned at the right time but they might not bloom. At the opposite end of the pruning rule, I didn't prune anything this year and it's the best my Clematis has ever looked. Like a cat, about the time you think you have them figured out, they fool you. The label should have the Pruning Group. Here is a brief summary:

Group 1: Flowers in spring on last year's growth. No pruning required.
Group 2: Flowers early summer on last year's growth & later on new shorter canes. Prune in spring before growth begins - just above the healthiest buds.
Group 3: Flowers late summer into fall on new growth each year. Prune back to two feet each spring.
Herbaceous Clematis: They die back to the ground each winter and should be treated like your other perennials.

This is only a brief explanation of pruning Clematis - get the full scoop before pruning.

Clematis need support. It's usually a vine that twines around other things. They do not destroy the thing they vine over so it is safe to plant with roses and any other sturdy bush. They also will twine on trellises. Depending on the design, you may have to coax it into shape. The new stems are fragile and it helps to have the support in place before it starts to grow. A few Clematis are almost shrub-like and some people choose to let their climbers wander on the ground among perennials.

Clematis are different heights and shapes. Ranging from 3 to 30 feet in height, there is one for most every garden situation. The flowers are flat, doubles, tulip and bell shaped. Colors are mostly in the pink/red, purple, and white range but I do have a beautiful yellow and I've seen some reds. Some have leaves that turn bronze or red in the fall. Some are fragrant.

On the fun side, think about the color and size of your Clematis and the support. Here are some good combinations:

Purple Jackmanii Clematis and orange or yellow Honeysuckle.
White Alba Rugosa Rose Bush and the magenta Ernest Markham Clematis.
Yellow L. tangutica Clematis and a purple smoke bush.
The combinations are endless. Many local nurseries carry healthy Clematis. I've never had one survive the winter from a box store. I've also had success from Brushwood Nursery at www.gardenvines.com They carry some of the older and more unusual varieties.

If no one could put up with all the quirky personality traits of a house cat, we would miss so much. Same with Clematis. Adopt a Clematis and you will be rewarded with at least fifty years of beauty in your garden. It just takes a little patience and understanding.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Where Flowers Bloom

Images: Butchart Gardens, Victoria BC (Butchart web page)

Consider any of the following public gardens for your next day (or two) trip:

Anderson Japanese Gardens, 318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford IL 815-229-9390 http://www.andersongardens.org/ It was voted the #1 Japanese Garden in North America for the past 6 years.

Vander Veer Botanical Park, 215 W. Central Park, Davenport, IA 563-326-7812 http://www.cityofdavenportiowa.com/ Dating from 1885, the 33 acres include gardens, a conservatory, a stone fountain, a children’s sculpture garden and a lagoon.

Luthy Botanical Gardens, 2218 N. Prospect, Peoria, IL 61603. 309-686-3362 http://www.peoriaparks.org/ Outdoor gardens, conservatory & garden shop.

Chicago Botanic Gardens, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 847-835-5440 http://www.chicagobotanic.com/ Over a century old, the 385-acre garden features 23 display gardens, three native habitats, and situated on nine islands surrounded by lakes.

Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis MO 800-642-8842, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/ The garden is celebrating its 150 anniversary. The garden is home to the “Kemper Center” which also maintains an extensive on-line horticultural site.

Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University, south of Jack Trice Stadium (the ISU football stadium) in Ames. 515-294-8994 http://www.reimangardens.com/ A 14-acre site, features an indoor conservatory, a 2,500 sq. ft. indoor butterfly area and has the first rose garden in a public garden that incorporates both sustainable designs, plants, & gardening practices.

Most public gardens have set policy* pertaining to children, clothing, photography, personal music devices, smoking, alcohol, food, coolers, pets, and handicapped accessibility. Some have seasonal hours. Many have scheduled special events.

Some gardens have entrance fees, restaurants and gift shops. All prohibit picking/taking plant material and seeds. They consider it stealing. Most have various types of group tours that must be scheduled to insure you know the policies, costs, tour amenities and parking plans.

For the novice at warm weather visiting: wear comfortable shoes (boots if it’s been raining - flip flops* may be prohibited). Consider taking a sun hat, bug & sun protection, umbrella, and bottled water*. Binoculars and cameras* can help with the fun. Take paper and pen for writing the names of plants.

You are a guest at these beautiful gardens and treating them with respect and care is essential for their preservation.

At times, I carry a photo of the beautiful over-the-top landscaped lake and fountain at Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC. When questioned about my garden, I show them the picture. Their mouths will fall open; they look at me and then say, “Yeah right!” with much laughing. Although my yard doesn’t look like Butchart Gardens, these public gardens allow us to dream…..of what might be.

“Where flowers bloom so does hope.” Lady Bird Johnson, Public Roads: Where Flowers Bloom.

It Isn't Rain Rain You Know . . .

The first three images are from today's storm. The bottom two images are from yesterday's storm.

The end result of both is a lot of damage to other areas but little around us. The two did dump almost 3 ins. of rain.

As I arrived home yesterday, the northern sky was outstanding. Image #5 was the whole sky looking dark but at the bottom, there was a fast moving cloud. I walked down the drive to capture a better shot. It was then I noticed the fast moving large black mass was moving so fast my camera's automatic focus could not keep up.
Image #4 is the end picture with the small "finger" coming out the front. I looked south over my shoulder and another fast moving black mass was coming fast. As I rushed up the drive, I hit the door just at it let loose.

This evening was an orchestra of lightening and thunder. Image #1 is the site of many lightening strikes. My camera, although pretty darn good, just isn't fast enough to catch lightening on purpose. It was hitting all over to the south but as soon as I would focus and wait on one site, it moved to another.

Then the bucket turned over and heavy rain started in earnest. Both Image #2 and #3 are taken to the south out my picture window. Weather guys said the wind was in excess of 50 mph but I'm not sure it was that bad here since we had no wind damage. The fields were quite flooded as the runoff started to pour towards the creek.
Summer storms present great photo opportunities if you can catch them at the right times and still be near shelter. Clouds are so awesome if you take the time to see them building. Supposedly there was rotation in the ones down southwest of where Sue lives. That area was hard hit last night.

For those of us who enjoy a good non-damaging storm, this hot humid weather is a sure recipe. Get our your camera the next storm and capture nature exploding all around. Just don't be foolish because - as I've stated before - nature bats last and always wins.
Here's some of my personal storm picture rules: Do not stand outside, unprotected, when you hear thunder. Lightening is usually hitting before the line of clouds. You are not protected under a tree, park shelter, & out in the open. If you do the old one-thousand one etc. between the lightening and the thunder and it is four or less - you are C R A Z Y if you are standing outside. If you hear a crack and a boom at the same time, get inside and fall on your knees and say your "thank-yous" because you have just been saved from a rather nasty fry daddy experience.

No picture is worth injury or death. I would never make a storm chaser - I'm satisfied with that one beautiful cloud shot - from a distance - l o n g distance! That is why they make zoom lens and edit/fix.

"It isn't raining rain you know - it's raining violets." I'm curious: Just how many violets are there per inch of rain by weight? Has anyone investigated?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Flag Day 2009

Images: Blue bachelor buttons, white gladiolas and red nasturtiums.

Patriotic display gardens come and go in popularity. I've seen some really amazing displays over the years and always enjoy the effort. Some examples:

A circle flower bed, divided into pie shaped pieces. Alternating red and white petunias, a round center of blue dwarf veronica and the whole bed outlined with gold marigolds. It was on a slight embankment. It was stunningly beautiful.

Another bed was rectangle and also situated on an embankment. They had spelled out their family name with marigolds, set the background in white petunias and edged in red petunias.

Simple stripes of red, white and purple/blue petunias look pretty and get the message across.

Low growing annuals make the best plants for displays where form is important.

If using petunias, make sure you don't use the Wave or vining varieties.

There is no true blue petunia nor is there a bright gold. There is an almost blue purple and a very light yellow.

It's important to pack your plants pretty tight even in the beginning so the "bed" or canvas is completely covered.

If form isn't important and the mix of the colors is the end goal, using taller or spreading plants will work if they all have the same height and behavior.

A good place to have a small display is a container garden. Using red, white or blue pots with contrasting flower colors is also pretty.

Some like the use of gold as an accent to the typical three.

If a hillside or embankment isn't available, it is possible to use height for a visual effect. Use tall plants in the middle (perhaps red canna), surround in the middle by blue bachelor buttons, and the outside lowest layer white alyssum. Something like this looks pretty surrounding a flag pole.

You may choose to use hardscapes for the patriotic effect: flags, bunting, yellow ribbon, wreaths and more. Then, add a background of perhaps one color of flowers.

Colored stepping stones or colored glass can make a bright statement. An example would be a blue gazing ball set in the middle of red and white petunias.

A mosaic or specific design takes weekly upkeep to make sure the plants are always full and the shape is defined all summer.

"All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today." This old Indian proverb seems fitting for Flag Day as well as our gardens.

Gardening Opportunities

2009 Summer Teleconference Sessions through University of Illinois Extension:

NEW LOCATION: Black Hawk East Community Education Center in Kewanee on East 3rd St.

Turf grass Diseases: June 16 (1-3 p.m.)

Get lawn diseases under control

Don't Blame the Plant: June 30 (1-3 p.m.)

Natural occurring damage & how to recognize and learn

Landscaping on the Wild Side: June 14 (1-3 p.m.)

Attracting wildlife by landscaping

Each session is $8 (or $20 for 3). Advance registration by calling 309-853-1533 needed.

Check out http://www.urbanext.illinois.edu/containergardening/ All about successful container garden (how to select, plant and maintain.) One of the many UofI extension informational offerings.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Temptation Highway

(Orange) Belamcanda chinensis Iridaceane "Blackberry" Toad Lily,
(In a vase) Lycoris Squamigera "Magic Lily", (Many whites)Lilium Asiatic "White Elegance",
(Pink & Plum) Lilium Leucanthum Trumpet "Black Dragon",
(Single White) Lilium Avratum Oriental "Casa Blanca"

Just as it's a temptation to insert a picture of every lily in the garden in this article, it's a temptation to take a picture of every lily, and then the daddy of all lily temptations: want to possess every lily for the garden.

Unlike the daylily (Hemerocallis), most hold their blooms for many days.

The Toad Lily easily self seeds itself and is actually from the iris family. The flowers are tiny and unroll to form a orchid-like flower. Most common is the orange. Some new hybrids have purple and reds. They do well in shade. They don't do well cut. Althought the bloom time is short, they are in such quantity you never notice.

The pink Magic Lilies (aka Naked Ladies, Resurrection Lily, and Autumn Amaryllis) are very fragrant and bloom in July and August. The odd part of this lily is it sends up foliage in early spring and it dies back during summer. The long stems come up by themselves and 6-8 flowers form on the top of the stem. This plant will be in many old gardens long after the home is gone.

Asiatic Lilies have a sturdy appearance and come in a wide variety of colors - most bright. Some have a pattern and they vary in size. Seldom is there a fragrance but the visual show is worth the investment. They make a lively elegant look in your landscape. They will last many years although they tend to slowly die out.

The Trumpet Lily is typically very fragrant (think of the Easter Lily on steroids). Although most trumpets hang somewhat down, they look beautiful when inserted among other sturdy perennials that can support the long somewhat fragile stems. Otherwise, it is best to stake. They are usually the most expensive of the group but may slowly form colonies.

The Oriental Lilies are often very fragrant but not always. They can be huge and may form colonies. Like the Trumpet, it is wise to provide some kind of support as they can become top heavy and flop. They range in price from relatively cheap to more expensive. Some have up facing blooms and some hang down. The colors tend to be shades of pink to white although there are exceptions.

The Tiger Lily Lilium lancifolium is also an Oriental or Orienpet Speciosum Rubrum Lilum.

A new hybrid process has given us Orienpet which brings together the best qualities of the Oriental and the Trumpet.

Turk's Cap Lily
The Illinois native Lilium superbum Turk's Cap Lily is often seen in very old cemeteries. A very beautiful plant (much like the orange Tiger Lily), it blooms early to mid-summer and lasts about a month. It has no fragrance.

The fragrant lilies will scent an entire yard or when picked, an entire room. Plant beside your patio or porch for the intoxicating smells to flow over you, especially in the evening.

These lilies seldom like to have their feet stand in water (check planting instructions for each) or soggy soil.

The lily plants can range from 8 inches to over 7 foot in height.

Rabbits and deer sometimes find lilies desirable and may eat them to the ground. Typically, they will come up the next year. If you have either, put rabbit fence around them and/or keep outdoor dogs. Ground hogs and voles may eat the bulbs but this can be eliminated by planting in rabbit fence boxes (or again use dogs.)

There are many interesting stories and histories surrounding lilies - maybe another time. Today, it's my appreciation for the visual and scent of these plants.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rain, Rain

Image: Mourning Doves Zenaida macroura (Taken 12-21-2008 after an ice storm - note the ice on the feathers and bills.)

As I sit here typing this afternoon, the Doves are cooing. They usually do this about dusk as they prepare to roost for the evening. Since it's a cloudy day, they're apparently discussing a nap. I often think it's time for a nap on a cloudy afternoon, too.

There's quite a bit of folklore or superstition surrounding the behavior of birds, insects, and the weather. It was important for Native Americans, travelers and farmers to understand and use signs from nature to know when and how to go about their business.

Many hold true today. Here's a few of my favorites concerning rain.

  • Red at night, sailors' delight. Red in the morning, sailors' take warning.
  • Rain before seven (p.m.), quit by eleven (a.m.).
  • Lack of dew in the morning - it will rain later in the day.
  • If the contrails of jets are longer and wider, it will rain.
  • If you can hear the train (in the country) - it isn't going to rain.
  • Before it rains, the birds find perches to sit.
  • Ants will walk in a straight line (and not scatter) back to their nest if rain is imminent.
  • Bees don't fly if it's going to rain soon or if the temperature is below 60 degrees.
  • If there's a ring around the moon at night it will rain within the next three days.
  • A sky that looks like Mackerel scales means it will always rain the next day.
  • Rainbow colors around the moon is an indication there will soon be rain.
  • Kill a snake and hang it in the sun to insure rain the next day.
  • If the leaves on the trees are showing their undersides, there's a big storm on the way.
  • If it's going to rain all day, the birds will come to the feeders in the rain. If it's going to stop, the birds will wait and come after it stops.
  • If you have a water weather barometer and the water drips out the spout, head for the basement!
And the one everyone in the Midwest has said, "If you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes and it will change."
Now, about that nap - cooo.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Caster Oil Plants

Image: A large Caster Oil Plant Ricinus communis. A Wikipedia picture.

Isn't this a beautiful landscape annual (in this zone)? It can be huge in height, glossy green or red tinted leaves and the leaves can be up to 18 inches long. It has a tropical look at maturity.

I have fertilized with fish emulsion (poo poo) and apparently it is the plant's nectar, helping it to grow very full.

As the name indicates, the beans produced on the plant is the source of caster oil. Although not used by today's mothers, in my day every kid got a dose on a weekly basis.
Castor seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 4000 BC being used mostly to fuel lamps because of the slow burning oil.

Cleopatra is reputed to have used it to brighten the whites of her eyes. The Ebers Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian medical treatise believed to date from 1552 BC. Translated in 1872, it describes Castor oil as a laxative. Not sure if the bright whites of eyes and the laxative effects are tied. . .
A farm product, global Castor seed production is around 1 million tons per year. The leading producer is India. The plants or seeds are offered by most mail order nurseries for ornamental purposes.

The plant produces pretty red rose colored flowers on a stem at the top of the plant. The flower is usually a round ball that is prickly and contains several seeds. When fall approaches, the flower splits and the seeds are distributed.
The seeds are shiny black, spotted, about an inch and bean shaped. The seed coat contains ricin, a toxin, which is also present in lower concentrations throughout the plant. Although the lethal dose in adults is considered to be 4 to 8 seeds, reports of actual poisoning are relatively rare.

If you have children or pets in your yard, the easiest way to have this beautiful plant and not worry about the poison is to clip off the flower stalks as they develop. This will not stunt the plant. Dispose of the flower heads in your trash and do not compost.
If you choose to keep the seeds to plant another year, they should be stored where they are not accessible to children or pets. Do not store near food products so they will not be mistaken as a food bean.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Beauty of Prairies

Image: Native Illinois Coneflowers Echinacea purpurea. Abundant at Munson Cemetery during mid summer to fall. The flowers are visited by long-tongued bees, bee flies, Halictine bees, butterflies, and skippers.

My neighbors, Clarence and Marie Medley, had encouraged me to visit Munson Cemetery during the annual “Wildflower Walk.” The Medleys are members of NAGS (Natural Area Guardians), which is a subcommittee of the Henry County Soil and Water Conservation District (a state agency).

I had procrastinated because seeing several acres of grass growing (granted it is prairie grass) just didn’t sound all that exciting. I was wrong – BIG WRONG!

The Cemetery is owned by Munson Township, Henry County, Illinois. In 1983, the cemetery was designated an Illinois Nature Preserve, a program administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. NAGS maintain this cemetery and I applaud their excellent work.
The IDNR program sets aside land that retains characteristics that would have been there before European contact.

Throughout the upper two-thirds of Illinois, there are at least twenty-four pioneer cemeteries like Munson where microcosms of the original prairie are preserved – only sixteen are part of the preservation program. Do you realize how small a number that is and how fortunate we are to have this in our area?

Prior to European pioneers, the Grand Prairie covered roughly 25 million acres. Today only 2,500 acres remain in Illinois. The set-aside cemetery prairies account for only about 50 acres. Munson Cemetery is but five of those acres.

These plots of land have never been cultivated or grazed. If you visit this cemetery, you will be gazing at a micro-scene of what your ancestors experienced.

What you will see is not just prairie grass; you will see plants that are extremely rare, even in many other prairie plots. The White Prairie Clover, Lead Plant, Cream Wild Indigo, Wood Lily and the Federally protected White Prairie Fringed Orchid.

Join us June 28 (Sunday) at 1:30 p.m. for their annual Wildflower Walk. There will be refreshments and a knowledgeable tour speaker. Bring walking shoes, a sun hat, and your camera. You are welcome to use your own wildflower book as reference. If you plan to use insect repellent, apply before entering the cemetery to avoid over spray on sensitive plants.

Lest we forget, this is an actual cemetery and there is a silent and strangely sobering feeling that drifts between the stones and native plants. It is a glimpse at the history of tough people who dared to move to the great prairies of the western frontier. It is the beauty that haunts the tiny flower face that has stood the tests of time for centuries.

At the tour, take a moment to thank the folks who have made this history lesson possible. Stay on the paths cut especially to allow viewing. Never pick, trample, or disturb the wild plants. And, be prepared to be overwhelmed by the experience. You are being given a gift.

Munson Cemetery is located two miles North of Cambridge at the corner of 1300N and 1300E. From Galva, we typically take the first road off Rt. 81 going towards the Henry County Fairgrounds.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is it Ever Too Late?

Images: My annuals (white pot just planted - green pot with large tomato plant - pepper plant in garden - blue pots and the copper boiler with both flowers and herbs planted 3 wks. ago. ) and a picture of annuals from "White Flower Farm" web site.

It reminded me that it's still not too late to plant annuals, either decorative or vegetable.

There is a "Garden Rule" that states you can't plant annuals or seeds after Memorial Day.

Maybe that is ideally, but in the reality of our gardening world, we may have had to wait to plant. As the farmers know better than us, this wet spring gave no choice but to delay preparation and planting.

Some of this information about planting annuals in June:

First, many nurseries and small retail plant stores have their annuals on sale. If they aren't offering a deal right now, I'd look other places unless it's just something you HAVE to have.

If you do buy annuals right now, most will have signs of being root bound (the container will be full of roots; many times going in circles.) If you find your new purchases root bound, with your finger, cut through each side once and pull the bottom roots until they are free of the circle. The cut roots will then make new shoots from the cuts.

Pinch off all flowers on decorative plants. Petunias that are "leggy" can take a pinch of about half the plant - making sure to leave some leaves on each stem. This will encourage them to get bushy again. Alright, I can only pinch about half the flowers because I need the instant gratification, but it's good advice to encourage the plant to use it's energy to make roots first. Do not pinch off flowers on food producing plants.

If it's tomatoes, bury the plant deeper than what it had been in the pot. Most other annuals need to be planted to the same depth as when you bought them.

Either use potting soil that contains a slow release fertilizer or add some at the time of planting. I do this even in the holes I dig in my garden for vegetable sets. It doesn't take much and it insures they will have a good start. You want them healthy right at the get go when you are planting late.

Don't be tempted to cram the entire pot full of plants. The picture of the nursery container above is an example of six (probably more) very hardy large plants in a single container. It looks lush and perfect. I guarantee this pot will have to have some serious pruning in July and it will need watering twice a day for the root mass it has acquired. Realize the pictures you see in catalogs and the full pots you see in nurseries are for those of us who either want the instant gratification or do not realize annuals that have already reached their best in May/June are going to take a lot of work come fall (or need replacement).

The tips for buying annual vegetable plants in June is to check the number of days until it will fruit. You want the shortest time. Not that you won't have vegetables before frost, you just won't have them as long on longer dates. Most seeds will not germinate in time to produce much fruit before frost.

Buying large plant sets vs. small: The tomato plant in the green pot was pretty big when it was potted. The little pepper plant and other small tomato plants in the garden (planted at the same time) may not be as big but they are the same on maturity. It seems large vegetable plants take longer to adjust to potting and the two end up being about the same on production times.

Annuals add a pop of color especially later in the fall. I was especially taken with the beautiful pink coleus that I paired with several kinds and shades of pink impatiens. The clay pots sit in full sun and have a tall annual grass, a red lettuce, snapdragons, and petunias. Also, in full sun, the copper boiler has both flowers and herbs.

Take note from the farmers of our area who are still planting - the fat lady has not sung!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Images: Juvenile Bullsnake Pituophis melanoleucus basking in the sun.

This has been an interesting couple of days. Yesterday, at a couple of back and front flower gardens, I notice two little snakes scooting out of my way. Today, this larger snake was on the walk as I was headed out to take some interesting pictures. Interesting indeed!

We've had Bullsnakes in the yard ever since we moved here. 

Typically, they stay out of the way and we leave them alone. They are not venomous.

They are a native Illinois snake especially in the sand prairies, grasslands, and old fields of former prairie. Henry County is on the western side of the northern portion of the old Grand Prairie.

The Bullsnake climbs and burrows readily. It is well known for its defensive display, which includes tail vibrating (which can lead to mis identification as a Rattlesnake), loud hissing, and repeated lunging with the mouth partially open.  (Saw one moving up a large walnut tree by wedging in the groves of the bark.)

The above defensive displays were obvious when both dogs decided to investigate this intruder. Our lab lost interest after the snake lunged at his nose and the hound stayed at a safe distance and barked until the snake went under the porch.

Although I have no desire to accidentally get too close or be surprised, they are not a threat to humans, dogs or cats. It has a huge appetite for small rodents and that makes them a friend to anyone living near farmland.

Birds of prey are their likely predators, but many adults are killed by people and vehicles. It is not on the Illinois threatened or endangered lists. For those who like to live a little more on the edge of the pet world, they are considered good pets although check the current laws about collecting, owning and otherwise possessing snakes.

To entice a habitation of Bullsnakes to your grounds: (1) Excavate small seasonal ponds that may dry up in late summer or fish-free permanent ponds in or near woods or fallow fields (fish eat amphibians and reptiles). (2) Allow emergent and shoreline vegetation to develop naturally.

Logs, rocks and brush piles along the shores will provide shelter and basking sites.

If you desire more information, consider the "Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Illinois" written by Christopher A. Phillips, Ronald A. Brandon, and Edward O. Moll. It was written in conjunction with the Illinois Natural History Survey through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Black Flies

Weigela Bush "Red Prince"

I think I've identified the miserable biting bug that is plaguing gardeners. It is the Black Fly Simuliidae. Also known as the buffalo gnat, turkey gnat or white socks.

Like mosquitoes, a relative, the female black flies gain nourishment by feeding on the blood of other animals. The male eats mainly nectar.

Water plays a huge role in the breeding process which may explain why we have so many this year. The water must be moving for the immature stages to develop. Since many of our ditches, streams and lakes are normally still water, the population has expanded with the amount of rain run-off this spring.

When conditions are good, the Black Fly occur in enormous numbers - no kidding!! Each female lays from 200-800 eggs. The flies live from two to three weeks (up to 85 days). There will be large populations starting in April as long as the high water causes water to flow (sometimes into July).

They do not like polluted water and the increase in non polluted water across Illinois has increased their numbers. Should we blame Al Gore for this problem?

Adult females feed on the blood of humans, cattle, horses, sheep, goats, poultry, other livestock and wild mammals and birds. Each black fly species may prefer one type of host over another. They have hurt the tourism economy at recreational sites, but even worse, have been known to cause weight loss and kill domesticated agricultural livestock especially poultry.

Black flies are daytime biters, preferring low wind conditions. They are not restricted to shaded or humid sites and usually do not go indoors (unless carried in on your hair).

They are attracted to hosts from a distance by smell, heat, and by sight. The female flies will swarm around and crawl on the host preferring the head, hair, and ears as well as any skin that is exposed.

The bites can itch and persist for several days. The fly bites by cutting into the skin and feeding on the pool of blood that forms in the hole they make. Anticoagulants injected into the feeding site can cause mild to severe allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Some people are very attractive to black flies and others appear to repel them.

Control of black flies is difficult because of the number of potential breeding sites. Some states have funded control programs (although Illinois doesn't list any). In Africa, the black fly has been known to spread river blindness and other serious diseases in the Central and South America.

Long sleeve shirts, long pants, fine screen netting over the head help prevent feeding. Repellents containing "DEET" formulations are not very effective and may even attract more flies. It is said more protection may be given by herbal-based treatments with an active ingredient of geraniol. Permethrin products designed specifically to repel ticks also work as a treatment when applied to clothes not skin.

The bottom line recommendation is avoid exposure - which would mean staying indoors. Not a good option for farmers, the construction trades, gardeners, and children. Another herbal suggestion is to eat a diet high in thiamine (Vitamin B) as it gives off a repulsive odor that only insects can smell. Thiamine is found in whole-grain cereals, bread, red meat, egg yolks, green leafy vegetables, legumes, sweet corn, brown rice, berries, and yeast. Do NOT hold me responsible (good or bad) for the repercussions of a high Thiamine diet!! I'd post a picture but most are copyrighted and the only ones I've actually examined have been squished when I hit them. They look like a tiny black fly with a hump behind the head.

If you have severe allergic reactions to bites, seek immediate medical treatment. Even if not highly allergic, it is important that you do not scratch the site and cause infection.

For those of us who have normal and pesky reactions - treatments are similar to other bug bites: wash the site with soap and water. One of the following may work for you: apply an ice cube wrapped in cloth, a soda/water paste, a paste of salt and water, or a paste of meat tenderizer and water. You may treat itching at the site of the bite with an over the counter antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) in cream or pill form. Calamine lotion also may help relieve the itching.

I will attest that putting on a treatment for existing bites only attracts more flies if you go outside again with that treatment on your skin. Apparently it is a sign seen only be insects that says: Good food, unlimited quantities, proven triple A rating, dining at your convenience, immediate seating, no waiting, credit cards accepted and Come one - Come all!