Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wilting Tomato Plant

Verticillium and fusarium wilts are soil borne diseases that cause yellowing of the leaves, wilting and premature death of plants. These diseases persist in gardens where susceptible plants are grown. Once they build up, the only practical control is the use of resistant (VF) varieties.

Early blight is characterized by dead brown spots that usually start on the lower leaves and spread up the plant. Upon close inspection, you can see concentric rings within the spots. Although early blight is most severe on the leaves, it sometimes occurs on the stems and can cause severe defoliation. Certain varieties (Roma and Supersonic) are more tolerant of early blight than others.

Septoria leafspot is characterized by numerous small black spots on the leaves. The centers of these spots later turn white and tiny black dots appear in the white centers. The disease starts on the bottom leaves and may become severe in wet weather.

After taking an informal survey of some lady friends the other day, there were reports of "my plants are perfect" to "I've lost them all." A surprising number had no tomatoes survive this year.

Tomato plants need to be inspected daily because disease and pests can get the best of them fast. There is a point with tomatoes that no amount of spray or dusting can bring them back to life. Plus, you will notice many of the problems are weather related and this year's excessive rain is a big culprit.

If you think you have one of the above "wilts", try a commercial aid first - reading directions carefully and hope for the best. Some caution about washing the tomatoes - heed that advice closely before eating.

If you totally loose the plants, pick all tomatoes (green and ripe). Either lay out in the sun to ripen or eat/freeze/can process. There are many great recipes for salsa that incorporate green tomatoes - not to mention fried green tomatoes.

Thought I'd include the following nutritional information:

Serving size, one cup chopped raw
Calories 24
Protein 1.1 grams
Carbohydrates 5.3 grams
Dietary Fiber 1 gram
Potassium 254 mg
Vitamin C 22 mg
Vitamin A 1,133 IU

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tomato Perfection

I drive by gardens that never have a weed and I’m in awe of the gardener’s motivation. The edges are defined, no weeds, plants straight and healthy.

You will never drive by our home and see that kind of a garden – I just don’t have it in me. I’m simply not able to pull the self-seeded hollyhocks, which in turn has grass and weeds among them.

Hoeing hurts my back but I probably wouldn’t do the faithful work that produces the perfectly manicured garden anyway.

In spite of the layers of cardboard and newspapers, weeds and grass creep through and around the plants. Easy to pull and keep at bay if I had a regular routine, but alas, I don’t.

I’m a weed procrastinator. There – I’ve admitted it. If I was Samantha the Witch, I’d save all those nose twitches for eradicating weeds. Imagine, relaxing with a glass of iced tea, focus on a weed, twitch the nose and poof – it’s gone forever.

This morning we decided to weed the garden because it was becoming impossible to find the tomatoes. I did the inside and my husband did the perimeter. It was a hot and labor intense task.

Most of my garden is planted in tomatoes. The one plant I put in early has been producing for about a month; the rest are just starting. Things have been good for tomatoes with no blossom end rot, no blight, no tomato pests, and no mildew. (I’ll talk more about these problems and the solutions on my blog.)

My tomatoes have begun to split/crack and this is caused by too much rain followed by a dry spell. Basically, the inside of the tomato plumps up with juice faster than the skin grows.

There is no prevention for cracking tomatoes especially with this year’s weather. Cracked tomatoes are still good to eat. As I see a partially ripe one start to split, I pick, wash with a little dish washing detergent, rinse, and dry. The detergent helps wash away bacteria and insects lurking in the crack. Next, line a cookie sheet with several layers of paper towel, set the tomatoes on their bottom and let them ripen. Use before any white hairy stuff starts to form on the split.

Putting in the refrigerator slows spoilage but it also stops further ripening.

There are several new tomato varieties resistant to cracking. Heirloom tomatoes seldom have that protection and must be watched more closely.

This afternoon my garden looks better than it did and not near as good as it should…but, I’m pleased with our hard labor and I’m sure my tomatoes will thank me in some way – perhaps by not cracking?

"If we persist, I do not doubt that by age 96 or so we will all have gardens we are pleased with, more or less." – Henry Mitchell (1923-1993, one of America's best, and funniest, garden writers)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Peachy Keen

Peach tree leaves turning bright yellow in late fall.

The Henry County Soil & Water Conservation District is having their 2010 Fall Tree Sale. Call 309-9375263, Ext. 3 for details. Order deadline September 20, 2010.

Since several of my fruit trees are from the HCSWCD and National Peach Pie Day will soon be here and fresh peaches are abundant right now:

Peach-Mascarpone Crostatas
by Karin Calloway "Viking Kitchen Chef"

1 15-ounce package refrigerated pie crust dough, at room temperature
3 large, ripe peaches
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 egg white, beaten

Additional sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove pie crusts from packaging and squeeze both crusts together. Roll into a 12-inch long, 3-inch wide, 1/2-inch high rectangle and cut into 6 2-inch pieces. Roll one piece into a ball, and then roll out into a 5-inch circle on parchment paper. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and continue with remaining pie crust dough. Set aside while you prepare the peaches.

Peel peaches, slice in half and remove seeds. Place peach halves in a bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice and stir gently. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar, the flour and cinnamon over peach halves and stir gently to coat all peaches with dry ingredients. Set aside.

Place mascarpone cheese in a bowl and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon of sweetened mascarpone cheese into the hollow of one of the peach halves. Center peach half filled-side down on one of the pastry circles. Brush dough with the beaten egg white and crimp dough around the peach. Continue with remaining peaches. Brush outside of all 6 crostatas with remaining egg white and sprinkle outside crusts with granulated sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes. Serve immediately, or refrigerate and serve cold.Makes 6 crostatas.
Note: Ricotta or cottage cheese as successful substitute for Mascarpone by whipping the cheese until it is smooth. Or: Blend 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 1/4 cup whipping cream. Neither of these will be as rich but they both work.

Most fruit trees need full sun. Only plant those that are adaptable to your cold hardiness Zone. If you don't have a lot of space, consider dwarf varieties. Peach trees look pretty in the spring because of the flowers, in the summer because of the thin emerald green leaves, and in the fall because of the PEACHES - yea.

According to the Dole Company: A medium size peach has a mere 40 calories, and it contains no fat, sodium, or cholesterol. It provides 2% of the daily requirements of vitamin A and 10% of the daily requirements of vitamin C.

Peach trees require good drainage or their roots die. Most peach trees are self pollinating so you can just plant one if you want.

Although it may take your peach tree several years to produce peaches, the wait will be worth it for that juicy wonderful treat. A pretty peachy keen treat!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tomato Blossom End Rot

You can't beat the extension offices of the University of Illinois or Purdue University web sites for agricultural information and solutions.

It's through these extension offices the Master Gardener program originates, 4-H and many farm programs. When I don't have personal knowledge of certain information, I often use these sources. Their information is researched, accurate and tested.

The following is a blend of my personal experience and the fact sheets from the extension offices.
Blossom End Rot:

Blossom End Rot is a common disease this time of the year. Blossom-end rot is not caused by a parasitic organism but is a physiologic disorder associated with a low concentration of calcium in the fruit.

Calcium is required in relatively large concentrations for normal cell growth. When a rapidly growing fruit is deprived of necessary calcium, the tissues break down, leaving the characteristic dry, sunken lesion at the blossom end. Blossom-end rot is induced when demand for calcium exceeds supply. This may result from low calcium levels or high amounts of competitive cations in the soil, drought stress, or excessive soil moisture fluctuations which reduce uptake and movement of calcium into the plant, or rapid, vegetative growth due to excessive nitrogen fertilization. The problem is especially bad in hot weather.

Blossom-end rot is a dry, leathery brown rot of the blossom end of the fruit that is common in some seasons on tomatoes. The rot area sometimes looks black and this is due to secondary molds that affix to the rot.

Soil applications of calcium seldom help, though foliar calcium sprays may minimize the occurrence of the problem. Make sure the formulation is designed for foliar application or severe damage could result.

Pruning causes stress to the plants that may increase the incidence of blossom-end rot. Some tomato varieties are much more susceptible to this condition than others.

Mulching and uniform watering help to prevent blossom-end rot. Once the blackened ends appear, affected fruits cannot be saved. They are best removed and destroyed so that healthy fruit setting later can develop more quickly.

Blossom End Rot also can be present on peppers and eggplant - if you find it on your tomatoes, check these two, also.

I had to laugh at a comment I read recently: "Even though tomatoes have many things that can go wrong with them and are susceptible to many diseases and pests, it still doesn't keep the neighbors from putting a bag full in your unlocked car." Yes, we keep growing tomatoes because they are a part of our very summer experience and we'll keep eating them happily.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Achoo Ville

Common Ragweed


Stinging Nettle

Of the three allergen producing plants listed as pollinating right now, Ragweed for outweighs all the others in causing pollen allergies.

Ragweed, a tall, branched plant, is native to North America and found throughout the lower 48 states on dry fields, pastures, roadsides and construction sites. Each plant can produce a billion pollen grains every day during an average season from August until October. Ragweed is the prime cause of Hay Fever. It produces more pollen in wet years.

When you breathe in an allergen like pollen, it gets filtered out and lodges in the mucus that lines the nasal passages. There, in a sensitized individual, it encounters mast cells, which react by releasing histamine and other mediators. The histamine causes blood vessels in the nose to dilate and leak fluid into the surrounding tissue. When the fluid seeps into the surrounding tissue, it causes swelling, itching and inflammation. Histamine also causes symptoms of runny nose, itchy nose, and itchy and watery eyes.

Mast cells are also found in the mucous membranes lining your eyes (called conjunctiva), so if an allergen gets into your eye, you may have itchy, red, watery eyes. They also are found in your lungs and digestive tract, and in your skin.

Sometimes your allergies may also affect your sinuses, the air-filled cavities lined with mucous membranes in the bones surrounding the nose.

The pollen indicator uses a scale of zero to twelve. Today it is 10.10 in this area. Sunday is predicted to be 11.3. This information may be obtained from You then enter your zip code and weather information will become available. If you will look on the left side of the page, the pollen index has a "point & click" where the four day pollen forecast is listed. Or at

The best action for those suffering from pollen related allergens is exposure prevention. For the gardener, this is like saying "Don't touch soil." I was a prime recipient of pollen allergens yesterday as we cleared the garden. By the time we had finished I was having trouble taking full breaths, my nose had pretty much closed and I had a headache. Did I mention sneezing???

Pollen counts are highest between 5 - 10 AM and on dry, hot and windy days. Some hints:

  • Avoid the outdoors between 5-10 AM. Save outside activities for late afternoon or after a heavy rain, when pollen levels are lower.
  • Keep windows in your home and car closed to lower exposure to pollen. In the car, have the air on recirculating. To keep cool, use air conditioners and avoid using window and attic fans. Change or wash your AC filters often.
  • Be aware that pollen can also be transported indoors on people and pets.
    If you suffer from allergies, your body doesn't accommodate temperature changes well. Something as simple as your warm feet hitting the colder floor can trigger coughing and sneezing. Have a cup of hot tea before getting out of bed to help.
  • Use unscented lipstick. Avoid odorous lotions and perfumes.
  • The moth flakes in your bedroom closet can add to allergies, so keep those closet doors air tight. Room deodorizers add to the allergy symptoms.
  • Avoid spicy food, hot peppers, etc. No iced drinks.
  • Dry your clothes in an automatic dryer rather than hanging them outside. Otherwise pollen can collect on clothing and be carried indoors. Change your clothes when you come inside.
  • If you must be outdoors, wear a mask.
  • Don’t drive behind a diesel truck, car or bus.
  • Don't let pets go outside - they bring the pollen in on their fir. Keep them out of your bedroom.
    Avoid smoke and smoking.
  • Wash your bedding in hot water every week.
  • One symptom is chronic fatigue - rest if you feel tired because it may help relieve symptoms.
  • Drink lots of tap or water without ice.
  • If your symptoms increase, breathing becomes difficult, and pain or severe pressure in your sinus area, seek professional medical help. Otherwise, for everyday pollen allergies, there are many OTC reliefs available. Remember: prevention is better than treatment.

Now - achooooooooooooooooooooooo and where did I leave the box of tissues? provided much of the tips and a google search for the photos on this page. Hay - we're all in this together.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can I or Canna Not

The Canna (Canna Lily) is not from the lily family. They are a tropical or subtropical plants that has been bred for it's large (many variations) leaves and bright flowers. All are native and originally from the Americas.

The flowers are solid or combined reds, yellows, oranges and shades thereof.

All of the plant has commercial value: (1) Starch for human & livestock consumption. It is one of the world's richest starch sources & is considered an agricultural plant. (2) Stems and foliage for animal fodder. (3) Young shoots as a vegetable. (4) Seeds in tortillas, for beads in jewelry, as hota seeds in musical instruments & for purple die. And (5) Stem fiber is used for making paper and as a jute substitute.

In nature, they exist to attract pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds and bats. These pollinators collect nectar and pollen.

Cannas grow best in full sun with moderate water in well-drained (too much water & they rot) rich or sandy soil. I've found they prosper when fertilized with fish emulsion. Both commercial or dipped out of your fish tank works.

The rhizomes are frost tender and will rot if left unprotected in freezing conditions. Although I've had them come up years later from times when I didn't lift and store.

Cannas are typically not killed by either disease or pests but there is something going around among canna breeders that cautions you not buy unless you know your source is reputable. Old House Gardens recently stopped selling cannas because they were having this trouble.

Cannas are blooming right now and they are a riot of color. They are valued in the north for their color when most other plants have stopped blooming. The leaves are huge. They are often called foundation plants but look equally beautiful placed here and there in a bed, used in groups for formal design or large impact and around ponds. The flowers can be picked for vase or to float. They are also used as houseplants.

This fall, wait until the foliage dies and lays on the ground (they take on nourishment for next year's flowers). Dig rhizomes right after the first frost, trim off any dead leaf material, gently brush off extra soil, lay them single deep and dry for several days (perhaps on a newspaper in the garage.)

Storage is a dice throw. I put them in large paper grocery bags & hang from the basement rafters. I've stored in large plastic garbage tubs but they may rot. If your basement or other storage place is damp, run a dehumidifier. The temperature should not be below freezing nor be above 45 degrees. Rot is the biggest threat although mice may eat.

All canna photos are from Beautiful photos but I've never purchased from them and can't say anything about this site other than they have many "wow value" cannas. I bought this year's cannas at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Galesburg - 12 for $2. They are old fashioned red cannas and I'm enjoying them immensely. I canna and I did.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gourd to Death

The gourds continue their almost foot a day growth and massive production. Behind this tree of gourds, the vines have started their crawl over lawns and bushes.

This is another batch growing over the bird feeders.

This is one example of the pretty little decorative gourds.

I may have to set up a roadside stand to get rid of all these. Something like, I'll give you five free gourds for the price of one...


Hummer fans: Starved Rock State Park, Utica IL, is a gem for nature lovers. The beautiful 13 miles of hiking trails, rock formations, water falls, 18 canyons, boating, fishing, camping, horseback riding, and nature in it's Illinois abundance. Did you know that Starved Rock has been voted one of the "Top Ten Places for Fall Color in the Midwest"?

Starved Rock Hummingbird Workshop
Location: Visitors Center
Time: Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 11:00 AM
See the Hummingbird Garden at the Starved Rock State Park Visitor Center and enjoy seeing these amazing birds as they hover before your eyes!
Banding of live birds will take place at 11 a.m.
The Ruby Throat organization has loads of information regarding hummingbird banding. Quite an interesting topic. If you have next Sunday free, consider this Starved Rock experience.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


In today's world, "Hottie" is someone who is really sexy or popular. For me today, it means weather!

Good grief - how do I forget late summer is so hot and humid? I guess the same way I forget February is so cold and gray. The four seasons is why many of us continue to stay and enjoy the Midwest. It's those little in between seasonal bumps that we forget.

Sneeze! And Sneeze again! I only went outside in my gardens for a few minutes and here I am with an "Awchooooooo" and a paper towel.

Tomorrow is suppose to be the warmest day of the year, possibly a record breaker. We don't have a "Heat advisory" - they bumped it up to an "Excessive Heat Warning" through Friday evening.

To digress a little: I remember (am I my grandma) not so many years ago on the farm when we never even heard of air conditioning. Frankly, it's true you don't miss what you never had.

So here's the scoop on the weather until this weekend from WQAD Anthony Peoples "weather or not" blog: "It’s going to be another hot one today and tomorrow, with near record or record high temperatures Friday."
"An “Excessive Heat Warning” remains in effect through 7 p.m. Friday for the Illinois counties of Hancock, Henderson, Henry, McDonough, Mercer, Rock Island, and Warren.
An “Excessive Heat Warning” runs through 8 p.m. Friday for Knox and Stark counties in Illinois.
High temperatures today will be in the low-to-mid-90s, but the humidity will make it feel more like 105-110.
On Friday, the highs will reach the mid-to-upper-90s and the heat index will be around 110 degrees for several hours.
An approaching cold front will bring strong to severe thunderstorms Friday evening into Friday night. Along with heavy downpours, damaging winds and large hail are also possible.
Showers could linger into early Saturday and then cooler and drier weather arrives Saturday night into much of next week."

I don't recommend working in the garden in this weather. A little run out in the early morning to pick a few tomatoes, herbs or check out something but take that Excessive Heat Warning seriously.

Keep hydrated and try to stay in the AC or with fans or both. Pollen counts for this area today are almost 7 out of ten and Sunday should be 9.4. Check on those who have no AC, are disabled, elderly, or have other issues that might be affected by this weather.

Really: the yard does not need to be mowed and the weeds do not need to be pulled until that cold front enters Saturday. AAAAchoooooooo!

It's the perfect time to sit with a glass of tea, in the AC, and read that new catalog... It's a know fact, day dreaming is a way to keep cool.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bulbs Baby Bulbs

As you are resting this Fall season, it's a good time to think about planting Spring flowering bulbs. We often just think of tulips and daffodils but there are perhaps hundreds of other bulbs that can enhance your gardens.

When it comes to Spring flowering bulbs, size does matter. The larger the bulb, the better the chances of a large healthy flower, sturdy stem, and plant. It may also mean you will have a better survival rate over the years.

Tulips are not a "forever" plant. They will be healthy and abundant for several years and then they begin to die out. It's why I recommend planting a few bulbs every Fall.

Daffodils on the other hand, tend to multiply and have no real pests. They are considered deer resistant. They may last generations with minimal care.

Most Spring flowering bulbs need sunlight during their bloom season. This makes it easier to plant under trees and bushes that loose their leaves in the winter. They need sunlight on their leaves to garner nutrients for next year's flowers.

Never cut back the leaves of spring flowering bulbs until they have turned yellow/brown and are laying flat on the ground. Do not tie them in a bunch or trim. The only thing this accomplishes is to shorten the bulb life and reduce your display forever.

This is the reason to plant them among perennials since the emerging leaves will eventually hide the messy bulb leaves about the time they no longer need the nutrients supplied by sun.

The beautiful beds planted exclusively with tulips that may be seen in display gardens are typically dug up when bloom time has finished and stored in a cold house until they are replanted next year. This is hugely labor intensive and the reason most gardeners plant bulbs where they will remain for their life.

To fertilizer or not is debatable among gardeners. Some swear by bone meal when they are planted but if you have dogs, chances are they will dig them up to get to the smell. An all purpose bulb fertilizer each Spring is enough if you feel you must do something.

If you have rodents that eat your bulbs, plant in wire cages filled with soil. Use nothing too fine as it prevents the shoots from penetrating the wire.

If planted in a well drained spot, with Spring sun, they will usually do well. If your soil is heavy wet clay in the winter & spring, amend with compost. Soggy water-logged soil will rot the bulbs.

If you plant crocus or other small bulbs in the grass, it can be a beautiful display BUT it can not be mowed until the foliage dies back for the same reasons I've listed above.

When you see fields of blue grape hyacinths, daffodils or others, we are in awe and want that look for our own expanses. These fields are either not mowed until the foliage dies (pictures of this state are typically not in the catalogs) or there are two zillion gardeners doing the mega task of lifting and storing and replanting. I'm not criticizing these beautiful catalog and display gardens, I'm just saying it's not without it's own issues.

Some Spring flowering bulbs are more delicate than others and some are really not all that hardy in our Zone 5. Be sure and do your research before buying a bag full.

A few facts:

  • There are no pink colors on daffodils or jonquils. The picture in the catalog may be pink, in your garden it will be peach.
  • There are no blue tulips only shades of purple and lavender.
  • Double or ruffled daffodils and peony tulips may not attract beneficial insects because they can't get to the nectar. If you love these, consider planting both variety.
  • Parrot tulips are actually infected bulbs but that process causes no problem in your garden, it is used as a breeding device.
  • Check the size of the flower and length of the stem when selecting plant locations.
  • Always plant in bunches for the most visual show. I usually dig a good sized hole (exactly the depth stated on the packaging) and plant several at a time.
  • Stand inside and notice where a few Spring flowers could be viewed from inside the house (cause some Springs are too ugly to get outside much).
  • There are several devices for making bulb planting easier (not much but still...): attachments for the electric drill, small curved spades, etc. Unless I'm planting in the grass, I still use my big hole method for the fastest results. Always make sure you plant at the right depth.

I find planting Spring flowering bulbs the height of tedious. It's usually nasty weather, it takes loads of digging and bending and I'm totally out of the mood for any kind of gardening. BUT THEN: When spring comes I've ever so grateful for having stuck it out last Fall.

Whether you order on line, from a mailed catalog, a local nursery or a big box store, consider planting a few Spring flowering bulbs this year - the reward next Spring will be worth your effort.

“I have long been a Lunatic on Bulbs,

though screened by my friends,

as Lunacy on any theme is better undivulged.”

Emily Dickinson (1883)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Miss Marple's Mystery

“Miss Marple bent down on the terrace outside the French window and delt with some insidious bindweed. It was only a minor victory, since beneath the surface the bindweed remained in possession as always.” -Miss Jane Marple (Agatha Christy’s “Sleeping Murder”)

Field bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, is a native of Eurasia and was first documented in the US (California) in 1884. By the first quarter of the twentieth century, field bindweed was proclaimed the worst weed in California and many of the western states. Field bindweed has been given many names including perennial morning glory, creeping jenny, bellbine, sheep-bine, and corn-bind. And a few that I won't mention used by gardeners weeding a patch.

The root system has both deep vertical and shallow horizontal lateral roots. The vertical roots can reach depths of 20 feet or more. When it travels on the ground it will send roots and stems out forming a new plant.

A hardy perennial, it spreads from the extensive rootstock as well as from seed. An average plant produces over 550 seeds. Sixty year old seeds have been shown to germinate.

Control of field bindweed is not easy, and it cannot be accomplished with a single treatment or in a single season. Effective control requires prevention of seed production, reduction of stored carbohydrates by deep tillage of the root system, competition for light from other plants, and constant vigilance in removing top growth. Pulling before it reaches over 6 inches in height is prudent but only one step.

The principal pollinator is the hawk moth. There are several herbal uses but from what I've read, I'd steer clear of all of them.

It will vine over bushes and ornamentals until it crushes or shades them to death. The best time to use Roundup is in the fall when the plant is storing up nutrients. At that time, Roundup goes to the roots. It is one of the first plants to sprout in the spring so a larger area could be sprayed.

If it is growing among/on evergreens or perhaps tomatoes, find where the vine emerges from the ground and break it, leaving it to die on the plant. Than, as it emerges from the ground again, paint Roundup on it with a brush/sponge.

Note: Garden variety Roundup is a contact hericide and must touch the leaves/flowers to be absorbed and go to the roots. It does no good to spray an area of ground if it doesn't touch the leaves. Caution should be used when spraying as it kills ALL plants sprayed.

Eventually, denying the plant/flowers (IE: seeds), sun and nutrients, plus herbicide use will kill that plant. Once infested, it is almost impossible to totally rid your yard of the vine. Especially if a neighbor's yard or field has an infestation. Do not compost vines or flowers.

A farm field heavily infested with bindweed will generally get less dollars per acre at sale.

Miss Marple knew her bindweed and the very mention in an old story - in another country lets us know how durable this insidious weed has been and still is. As expert, Sam Montana, said, "Good luck in your efforts to rid your yard of bindweed and may the force be with you."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Gold Standard

Wouldn't it be great to have gold at a fraction of the current market value? Well, garden friend you can!

Marigolds are an annual that have everything to offer: colors, sizes, petal shapes, inexpensive in seeds or sets, and you can save the seeds for next year.

Marigolds were first discovered by the Portuguese in Central America in the 16th century. In India, they are prized for ceremonies and perfume. It's gold color is said to represent honorable people. (Discovered doesn't mean they weren't around before that date, it means it's the first recorded date.)

Translated, Marigold means Mary's gold. Called this because they are said to be the Virgin Mary's flowers. It is also a poor man's saffron. It's had many medicinal, herbal, and superstitious meanings.

The average height of calendula marigold is 12-24 inches tall. The leaves are a rich green and spread to a width of 12-18 inches. Flowers come in singles, doubles and semi-doubles. The colors range from white through gold, yellow, and orange. The blossom can be up to 4 inches wide. They do not have as pungent of a smell and are better for picking.

The height of tagetes marigolds can range from 12 inches up 36 inches. The leaves are serrated and dark green. Their flowers are available in white through gold, yellow, and orange with fabulous combinations of shadings, picotee, and spots available. Tagetes are available in single and double sizes and the blossoms of the largest can reach nearly six inches. They are toxic for human consumption but do have insect pest deterring properties. They smell really bad.

Both calendula and tagetes varieties of marigolds are easy to grow. They require full sun and well-drained soil. Calendula can tolerate poorer quality soil than tagetes.

There's a whole lot of interesting history and uses for marigolds outside of what I've written. The bottom line: If you like bright colors, easy maintenance and low cost, marigolds are for you.

Whether planted around your vegetable garden, in a formal bed, in pots, or a cottage garden, marigolds are for you.

If you want to plant something that requires very little follow-up, watering, and fertilizer marigolds are for you.

If your garden has dark colors, little contrast, bare spots, or zero fall color, marigolds are for you.

Described as vulgar by some and a must have by others: I'm with the golden last.

Final Note: The Pekin IL Marigold Festival is September 10-12, 2010. 309-353-3100 for details

Monday, August 2, 2010

Not That Garden!

Talking to a fellow last week who said he gardens. I was rather surprised at this florid-faced well over 300 lbs. man, but, he insisted he gardens most Saturday evenings. Huh - evenings??? With a hardy laugh, he told me he "Beer Gardens".

There are many kinds of gardens and gardeners and I enjoy learning about what makes it their passion and something about their products.

One type of garden, or better termed farm, is vineyards. Grape growing has become a micro industry in Illinois in the last several years. More and more, wineries are springing up and doing well.

Vineyards are not for those who want instant gratification. It takes money (doesn't everything) and time to grow just the right grapes for our climate and soil. Most grow for others - selling to places that have their own processing plants.

Conner's Kickapoo Creek Winery (Address: 6605 North Smith Road, Edwards, Illinois 61528 Phone: 309-495-9463 has both. When Dr. Dave Conner turned his farmland into a vineyard, it was the beginning of a nice combination of businesses. Their tours and other features are fun - along with the wine.

We often read about micro (beer) breweries but Illinois is marketing "Wine Country" and I wish them well. says there are over 90 wineries and over 450 vineyards in Illinois. Some of them (in addition to Kickapoo) close to this area:

  • Indian Creek Vineyard, Toulon IL
  • Wilitt's Winery and Cellar, Mantino, IL
  • Mackinaw Valley Vineyard, Mackinaw IL
  • August Hill Winery and the Illinois River Winery, Utica IL
  • Lavender Crest Winery, Colona IL
Wine growing in vineyards has it's own set of growing rules, but, in the end, it's farming. Something (farming) that's near and dear to Illinois rural America.

If you enjoy a glass of wine now and again, or just like taking a drive to enjoy the scenery, stop by your local winery.

As I've mentioned before and pictured above, my blue bottle tree (some call it by less than flattering descriptions) has inspired a couple of friends to donate bottles. One friend tells me she only drinks wine to help supply the blue bottles for my tree. That and a good beer garden are our laughs of the week.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Magic Two-Hundred

Photo of a Monarch butterfly taken yesterday on my Tiger Lilies

Referencing the Magic Two-Hundred: As our friend, Bud McKirgan, says in his Prairie Shopper editorials, "I'll get back to that in a moment."

Today is August 1st and it typically marks a turning point towards Fall in the Midwest. I really didn't want to turn that point this year. I wanted to hang on to my daylilies, the milder weather, and summer optimism.

Even the birds know it's "that time of the year": Purple martins, sora rail, osprey, shorebirds, hummingbirds and warblers will start their migrations this month. It's a good time to get hummingbird feeders in place for high energy snacks as they migrate.

It's a great time to sit on the porch (and I'm thankful for screenwire) and watch and listen to the sights and sounds of the fall days. Cicadas have started their calls, crickets are busy, birds are talking and getting their young ready for leaving the nest.

We have a pair of wrens nesting in the front porch fan housing. They started in a little decorative birdhouse I'd hung in the honeysuckle that drapes the front railing. When it became the major interest of our cat, they moved to higher ground. Needless to say we've missed using the fan this summer but it appears they are continuously feeding young so it should be soon vacant. Faithful husband will then dismantle the fan, clean it and bird proof the top.

Wrens are fun to watch. The male takes part in the feeding,is the watch alarm and directs the traffic flow. The female stabs an insect and takes it to the nest. The male has a particular song that says, "I have a bug and the coast is clear for mother to exit the nest." They keep up this swap all day long.

The wrens aren't bothered by humans on the porch swing or dogs napping on the floor. If the cat comes within twenty feet, the male starts a cackling noise which must be an alarm.

You may also notice stray feathers in your yard because it's time for many birds to molt. Robins have begun this process and I've noticed several blue jay feathers and some fluffy whites.

Always a rebel, the goldfinches are just now nesting. They will soon have eggs to hatch. Many don't realize goldfinches are year round residents of this area. Later in the year, the male molts to it's winter green color - loosing the beautiful gold feathers.

Back to the magic two-hundred. It's probably more "magical" to me than any other. This article is the two-hundredth of this "For the Love of Gardening" blog. Not read by the thousands as Julie in the "Julia (Childs) and Julie" fame but it's been fun for me to share and talk about garden things I enjoy.

I've often said a writer is a person who enjoys conversation, just not with people. That's a joke, mostly and sort of because I do enjoy some really good "in person" friends. Till next time. . . keep your stick on the ice (Oh no can't use that it belongs to Red Green). Keep your hand on a glass of lemonade and your head on the hammock.