Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Under Pressure

Because most of my food preservation is tomatoes and they are high in acid content, I've most often used a water bath preservation method. Occasionally, there are debates about the safety of the water bath method, but, I've always found if I use quality produce and follow the directions I have no spoilage.

I have on occasion used my Amish recipes and the old preservation methods for non acidic produce and products. It requires "cooking" for several hours, but again, I follow directions, use good products and have no spoilage. I do NOT recommend this to any one because the FDA, everyone who owns a product or network show, Hilliary Clinton, the Back Street Boys and a truck driver who once delivered a table says it's unsafe.

A few times, I've used my small (seven pints) pressure cooker for odd products and small quantities. I finally decided to break free with some seriously high dollars and buy a pressure canner that would hold 7 quarts. I looked at the ones that would hold 19 quarts - which could make the processing faster. But then I couldn't lift it and I'd have to mortgage our house because they are seriously big bucks.

I don't kid myself that home canning is a cheaper way to feed a family. It is definitely a better quality of food and a better flavor. Plus, it's kinda fun in a self punishing kinda way.

I've been buying whole chickens on sale and certainly love having the convenience of homemade chicken stock. I've previously had home canned meat and poultry stock but won't brag about it on this BLOG for fear the FBI is keeping a list of people who break the canning rules.

I "thought" using the pressure cooker to preserve would be much quicker because it does cook meat much faster (and is more tender) when used traditionally. At 5:30 tonight, I'm into my 9th hour at canning chicken stock. Right now only my second batch is being pressurized.

Granted, I have used less water and probably less gas (gas stove top) and that alone should make me feel virtuous but frankly I just feel tired.

Because pressure canning directions must be followed to the "T", there are a lot of little time consuming steps that add up to a long day. Of course, boiling and boning four chickens, washing and cutting onions, celery, and carrots, cleaning and chopping herbs and all takes a good share of this time.

One recipe has a great suggestion: Take all the clean pieces of vegetables that you aren't going to put in the pretty chicken stock and all the bones and debris from the cooked/boned chicken and add it to a pot of water, cook, strain and have clear broth. Waste not ~ want not is the mantra for Amish cooks. Had I done that, I would probably be up till midnight...

At the risk of being a whiner (OK, I have been a whiner) I'm sure I'll do this again and I'm sure I've been temporarily taken off the CIA "threat" list for manufacturing my own noxious potions. I'm virtuously polishing those beautiful quart jars of chicken soup in preparation for those cold nights when all we want to do is have a quick supper and snuggle up with a good book.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

That Old Black Magic

Black Magic Hollyhock is said to be a rather muddy brown maroon in real life and has a very low survival rate.

Jungle Beauty Daylily, although more of a very dark purple, is still beautiful.

Black Barlow Columbine is more a dark blue/purple.

Black Magic Rose is about as dark/black as a rose comes. Black roses are often used in fiction to symbolize death, hatred, revenge, sorrow or mourning. Only in fiction is there a black rose. Well, fiction and tattoos - saw a lot of those while researching this little project...

"That old black magic has me in its spell
That old black magic that you weave so well."

Tulip Parrot Black is actually a deep burgundy red.

Green Wizard Coneflower has a cone of brown/black & there are absolutely no petals.

In this 1942 hit written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, that old black magic could certainly pertain to black flowers in the garden. Magic Buster: There is no (nada - none - zip - zero) naturally occurring black flower known to man.

There is one a l m o s t black flower and that is the "Coal Black Pansy" shown above. Viola x wittrockiana is a genetically bred flower and is the most black of any flower.

There are several plants with foliage (elephant ear, fountain grass) that are touted as nearly black or with variegation's of black.

The bottom line: If you want a garden patch with black flowers, you may have to be happy with almost black or buy a can of spray paint or consider silk flowers or keep the light really low. But if you are happy with almost, there are many lovely almost black flowers. And you can at least have a nifty story to tell your visitors.

"Why," you may ask, "is there no black flower?" It's because insects do not like black flowers. It's that whole circle of nature thing. Plus, I'm sure flowers, by their very beauty, do not want to parade around in a Goth costume every summer - it just isn't garden magical . . .

UPDATE: Henry Stark County Health Department will be at the Methodist Church in Galva, September 27 from 9-10 a.m.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Genealogy of a Gardener

1908 post card of Exchange Street in Galva IL

I work on family genealogy like crazy for a few days and then put it away for months. Several of my relatives have done quite extensive research which leaves me free to go on little side hunts. I often focus on the farm and family culture that made my family what it has been and is today.

The farm and family culture brings the “ah ha” moments where I realize my family did something because (1) it was their Mennonite religion, (2) it was what pioneers heading west in the early 1800’s had to endure, (3) it was how generations of my family from Switzerland, Lancaster, PA, Holmes Co., OH and then Howard Co., IN developed, and (4) it was how the great Midwest was found and changed.

Both this portion of the Illinois Grand Prairie & my area of Indiana were marshland and heavily wooded. Both presented huge challenges for pioneering farmers. Each meant clearing and stabilizing the land for family homes, crops and beginning communities.

I enjoy visiting old homesteads and visualizing the family and how they settled the area. Why was the well placed in a certain place? Is that the foundation of a summer kitchen? Is the mint, gooseberries and rhubarb a part of a pioneer woman’s garden? Is that sweet little Seven Sisters Rose bush original to the family that built the home? The stone step, hallowed out from thousands of feet crossing the threshold, gives me a sense of touching the history of another family.

Old gardens are always fascinating. Plants and seeds were passed down among generations of family and neighbors. It’s the woman of the house telling her daughter, “Oh honey, that’s Evelyn Troline’s mother’s iris. It’s just like my mother had at our house.” Or, “The seeds for those hollyhocks came from my cousin’s wife, Bonnie.” “I remember the year of the tornado, it’s the year Shelly Sundquist gave me that start of Gooseneck Loosestrife.” It’s not just a garden; it’s the fabric of a family and friends’ genealogy.

This kind of genealogy goes beyond who is related to whom and in what order (although I enjoy that, too). For a gardener, it may pull you to plant things that remind you of home. It may be a bouquet of flowers in just the same kind of vase your grandmother always had on her mantle. It’s a few blue Bachelor Buttons in a little container that reminds me of a favorite neighbor.

For me, memories come strong from the more simple old homes, ones where there were hard working farm families. It’s the land that carries memories of feast and famine, celebrations and heartbreak, love and turbulence, and the hand of the long forgotten gardener.

It’s in spite of the fact there are three stone markers for little babies lost, a pioneer woman planted, reaped and sustained her family at this home. It’s in spite of the Great Depression, the many wars, the loss of husbands and sons, wives and mothers kept a little patch of flowers right by the kitchen window.

Many of us don’t live in the same place where our family originated. But, we can still share the genealogy of the fabric of our family with the next generation by explaining why we planted that simple rose instead of a new hybrid – it’s like my great-grandmother had growing up her garden shed. These conversations give your children and grandchildren a sense of history and belonging. It’s the seeds of the past to germinate a future.

Schedule NOW!

Light lavender flowers on mint - an ingredient in some herbal teas.

This is a little out of the gardening field but if a gardener isn't healthy, then it's difficult if not impossible to garden.

The Henry & Stark County Health Department (and I'm sure other county health departments) is now scheduling flu and pneumonia vaccinations. Medicare Part-B and many insurances cover the $25. Look in the telephone book in the blue government pages, under county government for the number to call.

Tens of thousands of us die every year from complications of the flu or pneumonia – indeed the combined death toll is ranked as America’s eighth leading cause of death.

Here’s who should get a flu shot, each year (the strain of flu is different each year, so you need a yearly shot):
Young people, from age 6 months to 19 years old, and older people, those 50 and up.
Pregnant women.
People with chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma or other lung diseases.
Those who have weakened immune systems.
Those who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, even though the shots do not provide as much protection for those over the age of 65.
Child care or other health care workers.

But some should not get shots. They include those who have had allergic reactions to the shots, people who are allergic to eggs, people who have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome in the past, and those who have a fever.

Pneumonia shots are also recommended although there are many types of pneumonia, and the vaccine does not reduce the risk of all of them. Half of pneumonia cases are viral, and tend to be less serious than the bacterial type. Up to 7 percent of the victims of bacterial pneumonia die each year. The pneumonia vaccine protects against 23 types of bacterial pneumonia.

Henry & Stark County Health Department Schedule:
Sept 27: 1-2 pm - Church of Nazarene, RR 2, Wyoming IL
Oct 4: 9-10 am - State Bank of Toulon, 102 W. Main St., Toulon IL
Oct 12: 1-2 pm - Carmody Center, First Street, Bradford IL
Sept. 23: 9-11 am - National Guard Armory, 111 N. East St., Kewanee
Sept. 30: 9-11 am - Union Federal S&L, 104 N. Tremont, Kewanee
Oct. 16: 10-12 noon - Health Dept., Rt. 78 South, Kewanee

Shots may be obtained from many health care providers (some provide free for their patients), some places of employment and several local pharmacies.

Myth Buster: You can not get the flu from the shots.

Helpful Hint: If you immediately start to exercise the arm where you received your shot and do so for several minutes, it usually totally eliminates any pain and swelling.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Feelin' The Love

The farmers emptying the combine hopper into a wagon as the rain moved in yesterday evening.
Rain coming out of the clouds in the distance about half a hour before it finally hit our local fields and fortunately after the fields were combined.

One of the pretty shots of skies prior to the rain.
At 10:09 p.m. today, the Fall Equinox will happen. The 84 degrees will still feel like Summer, but, the fields are definitely Fall.
To put Fall into perspective, the average first frost is September 25 for this area. Frost is seldom totally killing, but, it will certainly damage tender annuals.
Have you noticed every big box, nursery, and small floral centers have mums this year? The colors are beautifully bright. Here some mum information:
  1. Colors are bright yellow, rust, maroon, mauve, white and sometimes a few other shades.
  2. Most mums sold in the fall will not survive our winter cold.
  3. If the plant tag does not say "winter hardy" or something similar, it probably isn't. If it does say "winter hardy", it MAY survive.
  4. Mums , even winter hardy, are not known for being long lasting.
  5. Unless you need instant color, buy plants that are only budded out - not in full bloom. They will last much longer.

Mums are the perfect fall decorative plant. Hallow out a pumpkin and use as a pot. This will only last for the specific occasion and will wilt and rot over time.

Arrangements of mums, pumpkins, straw, corn stalks, Indian corns, gourds, leaves and such can be arranged on porches, by fences, in wheelbarrows, and with beautiful results. These decorative things may be bought at places like Dollar General to Hathaway's Gift Store to more high end designer retailers.

Enjoy the beauty of the season - perhaps a wiener roast - sit around the fire and share friendship with family and friends - share the love.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Will It Be An Endless Summer?

This is a picture of Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer and was taken from White Flower Farm web site at http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/ W.F. describes as follows: "Endless Summer has brought the joys of Big leaf Hydrangeas to countless gardeners in cold climes who could never enjoy their blooms before. Unlike many of this group (Hydrangeas), Endless Summer™ blooms on new wood, so it flowers even where icy winters kill older branches to the ground. "

This is a picture of my Endless Summer Hydrangeas during the spring blooming season.

I've had some successes and some failures planting hydrangeas. The successes are priceless for what they do - beautiful flowers, nice shape and foliage, and most have berries for the birds to eat in the winter. The failures are well - money I've buried in the soil - so to speak...

Hydrangeas sometimes border on not being cold hardy in Zone 5. Cold winter temperatures, ice and wind storms can all damage or kill some hydrangeas. Endless Summer has survived my mostly Zone 4 (because of exposure to winter wind). Several times it has been damaged but the fact it blooms on both old and new growth means it survives.

I don't usually cut/prune my Endless Summer back unless there has been disfiguring winter damage. When the pruning is done in the early spring - blooming is late or sometimes sparse that summer. The spring blooms come from buds that overwinter on last year's stems. Early or late freezes can cause no flowers in the spring/summer months.

Continuous or endless, in this case, means it blooms mostly in the spring on old growth and those flowers hang on the plant (beautifully I might add) until the fall set of flowers come on the new growth. It isn't like a petunia that does produce an endless supply of new flowers day after new day. It is advertised as blooming from June through September.

You will notice my Endless Summer is pink and White Farm's is blue. This is caused by the different nutrients in our soils. Blue flowers grow in acid soils - pink in alkaline. Aluminum sulfate will lower pH if blue flowers are desired. Lime will help make pink flowers. Check out your commercial fertilizer to make sure it's right for spring fertilizing.

Another plus for this hydrangea is the form and size of the flowers. Flowers are up to nine inches and the snowball variety. Mine start out a green/cream color, slowly start turning pink and eventually turn brown and wilt. It is recommended the flowers are picked (deadheaded) to keep the plant blooming. I pick a few but really like to leave the flowers on my plant until they turn brown. Pick and put in a vase with no water and they will dry with color.

Endless Summer, termed a big leaf hydrangea, only gets to be about 3-5 foot tall and about 3-4 foot wide. It makes an excellent specimen plant. I've seen them planted in mass and it's really stunning.

Endless Summer likes full or partial sun. They will wilt on hot summer afternoons in full sun, but, perk up later in the day. I recommend situating in afternoon shade to insure all day beauty. They need lots of moisture but not sitting in wet soggy soil. On dry or drought summers, they must be watered regularly. I also recommend planting in a somewhat protected area and mulch heavily. Hardy to Zone 4.

Others comments: They do well in woodland settings and the deer do not eat them. They will probably bloom blue in woodlands.

My experience: I've never had deer, insect pests or mildew on my Endless Summer. Some years it's seriously beautiful and other years it's average but not ugly. Are the good awesomely beautiful years endless - maybe that's a stretch out here on the hill. But, I find I endlessly enjoy those awesomely beautiful flowers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wildflowers For the Taking?

This was our home in 1996 when we first bought it and prior to any work.
This an original Bishop Hill barn that was across the drive from our home. This barn was destroyed by White Farm Management who in 1996 managed that farm ground.

This is the old vandalized Hopewell Cemetery in Indiana where I have ancestors - one a Civil War veteran.
All of these pictures are sad reminders of what desertion, vandalism and neglect can do to once beautiful and proud properties. What it doesn't mean is the plants on these properties are up for grabs - even for the well- intentioned relocation of heirloom plants.
I was reminded of this in an article I read recently at Dave's Gardens. All property is owned by "someone". Deserted may mean overgrown, uninhabited, and neglected but someone still owns the property and that someone still has the right to disallow trespassing or removal without express permission.
I inherited a piece of farm land in Indiana when my father passed away. That ground also has about five acres of old woods. It has been in the family for generations. It has wildflowers that are simply awesome, old sycamore trees, large stones and is a haven for marsh plants.
A couple of years ago we stopped for a "walk through" to see what was blooming. To my horror, someone had built a 4-wheeler dirt track through the woods. Not only had they taken out some trees but they had built ramps and totally destroyed all vegetation on the track portion. Upon finally finding the family responsible (there is a small subdivision near the woods), the father's comment was "I didn't think it belonged to anyone." Really? Are we talking about pre pioneer settling of the Indiana territory? Was the fact the adjoining farm land is planted every year with crops not a sign? Didn't the fence you cut or the no trespassing signs give you a clue a real person might own the property?
Our old farmhouse was in a nasty shape of neglect but I'm grateful some "collector" didn't pilfer what was left of the yards. It may have looked like it was an open invitation to take whatever wasn't being used but when we bought the property we certainly wanted everything that it might contain. Fortunately or unfortunately, the only things taken or abused were not vegetation.
These experiences taught me a lot about the joys of collecting wildflowers and plants on abandoned properties. Find the owner and ask permission to step on the property. Same thing if you find a plant you want. Consider taking seeds or saplings or a cuttings instead of digging whole plants.
I caution you to never trespass without permission because of your own safety. A property owner might be all too willing to protect that property from trespassers. They might be trying to scare you off or they might be frightened of you - either way you are setting yourself up for harm and arrest. And you would be the one to be arrested for trespassing on private property.
Cemeteries and other public domain are not exactly public. They are owned by private persons, corporations or government entities. Public does not mean you can take things and assume they are yours for the taking. For instance the beautiful wildflowers at the Munson Cemetery in rural Cambridge. There are officially designated endangered species in that cemetery and protected by Federal and State statutes. The wanton vandalism in the Hopewell Cemetery does not mean I can go in and remove any of the vegetation growing; this cemetery belongs to the township.
I'm all for asking if I can share in the beautiful wildflowers growing on old properties. I simply do not feel I have a "right" or an "entitlement" to those things without gaining permission from the owners. To take without permission takes me from gardener to thief or vandal - a title I'd rather not add to my resume'.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Harvest Time

Took these pictures earlier this week as they started harvesting (combining) corn across the road. It appears a lot of corn was picked this week until the rain settled in yesterday.

Even though the farmers were happy with perfect harvest conditions (dry and not too hot), most plants were in need of a good drenching. I've certainly been spoiled this year by not having to water much of anything.

One of my favorite newspaper writers, Jeff Lampe of the Peoria Journal Star, has resigned. He was my source for many nature facts. He was considered a "sports" writer for all the hunting and fishing articles but I enjoyed the nature bits the best. He has integrity of subject, was inquisitive and a great writer. He and his wife have purchased the magazine, "Heartland Outdoors Home". I wish them well and will certainly miss his Sunday column.

From Jeff's Nature Tidbits for September:

Ducks, songbirds, Monarch butterflies and bats migrate south.
Muskrats build lodges.
Rabbit breeding finally stops.
Snakes enter winter dormancy.
Tree and barn swallows stage in large flocks.
Persimmons and hazelnuts ripen.
Acorns start to fall (white oak).
Puffball and other fall mushrooms start to appear.
Aster and goldenrod blooms.
Green-winged teal, widgeon, pintail and gad wall migrate.
Doves feed actively - form flocks and start migration.
Pheasant broods disperse.

And that folks is some of the great information I will miss but fortunately have recorded over the last few years.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Flowers Last Stand

This little bouquet, here and above, was a "thank you" to a friend for giving me a start of her mother's iris.

Wandering around my yard, with clippers in hand, it was surprising how many flowers were still blooming. It's a good time to take inventory of your plants and make a note to insert a few late bloomers next spring.

In this arrangement (I use arrangement loosely):

Pink frilly "Hibiscus Syracuse "Lucy" Atthea (bush)
Pink zinnia (annual)
Pink phlox (perennial/self seeds)
Pink "Lyon's Turtlehead" (perennial)
Yellow "Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia" (perennial)
Yellow Rudbeckia "Golden Glow" (perennial)
Peach Nasturtium (annual)
"White Laguna" (annual)

As the weather cools, many annuals really put on a show. For those that have finished, pull and replace with annuals: ruffled kale, decorative cabbages, mums, or pansies.

If you've finished planting, consider a pumpkin, gourds, decorative corn, and other fall products. After pulling the dieing annuals, simply apply a layer of mulch or straw on top of the potting soil and add any of the above.

If you're totally finished with outside projects, empty the potting soil in your garden, wash out your pots with a brush and 10% solution of bleach to water, turn upside down to dry and store. If you leave the soil in the pots over winter, chances are they will crack from freezing water.

Right now, I'm picking a flower from my still blooming Julia Child rose for a small vase. Another little vase of nasturtiums and maybe take all the blooming petunias before I throw away the plants. Waste not - want not.

Fall Classes and Trips

The Henry County IL Extension is offering a "Holiday Shopping Trip" to downtown Chicago - proceeds to benefit HC 4-H Foundation. Shop or just enjoy the beautiful Christmas decorations in downtown Chicago.
The Black Hawk East College campus is the place to be for the University of Illinois 2010 Fall Teleconference Series. You may think teleconference garden information is lame, but, it is actually a really relaxed easy two hours of information and examples. Typically, it is followed by Q&A. And, it's inexpensive. Wear your jeans, bring a cup of coffee and sit back and soak in information about trees, bulbs and small fruits.

There are deadlines for registration - check out and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's All In The Flavors

A day of "putting up" tomatoes. The seven quarts and 7 pints took about five hours from start of gathering everything to the last of washing and putting away again. They all successfully sealed and are awaiting a wash and ring removal before recording and storing.

This year I have Burpee Big Boys, Lemon Boys and Tomato Big Beef varieties. Since I was so late putting in my tomatoes this year, I decided to go with those that mature in about 70 days and are proven winners. I haven't been disappointed in their performance but next year I will try to get my garden started earlier.

Last year, I made my version of tomato vegetable juice by running the cooked product through a food strainer. This takes out all the skins and seeds. This year I remove the skins & core but leave it chunk form. The strained version is great for including nutrients if you have "picky"eaters. The "I don't like onions..." kind of family.

Fresh from the garden, I added both red and green bell peppers. Also, the herbs sweet Italian basil, thyme, rosemary, and Greek oregano. I used both my red and yellow tomatoes. From the grocery store, I included yellow onions, celery, and carrots. I add sugar, salt and vinegar although not enough to taste only to enhance. The vinegar increases the acidity necessary for the water bath method of canning.

For a simple supper tonight after a day of kitchen work: "BLT Salad'' One dinner sized serving:

2 leaves of lettuce sliced thin
1/2 large Lemon Boy tomato, peeled and sliced thin
2 pieces of smoked bacon - fried crisp, drained and crumbled
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons of Tanners Orchard "Italian Olive Bruschetta"

Gently toss and plate.
Top with 1 teaspoon crumbled blue cheese

Serve with 2 slices toasted baguette* rubbed with fresh garlic and butter.

* For a really nice fresh baked baguette, I buy from the Bishop Hill Colony Bakery, 103 S. Bishop Hill St. (309-927-3042). Call ahead to make sure the days they will have them available and reserve your baguette. Unless you have an iron will, you will also be tempted with their many other baked goods both solid and sweet.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Answer My Friend Is Written In The Wind

Most plants of the willow family have long "whips" with thin leaves.

This is our "Corkscrew Willow" aka "Dragon's Claw Willow" (Salix matsudana "Tortuosa".) It has branches and leaves that literally go in a winding manner. It doesn't droop as much as the weeping variety.

This is our "Golden Weeping Willow" (Salix alba "tristis). It's known for it golden winter stems and spring buds.

It's a beautiful sight - a willow tree blowing in the breeze. Graceful, almost like the waves of the sea.

In this area, the weeping variety is what most people visualize at the mention of willow tree. Old mature trees are often seen close to streams and other water sources. Once popular and seen in every farm house yard, they have lost their appeal in modern times.

I think the Willow gets a bum rap. I realize they may not be ideal for small city lots, but, anywhere there is room to mature, they are a beautiful sight.

Their bad reputation comes from their roots ability to search out water. In the days of old tile drains, they would find any crack and eventually clog the sewer tiles, septic tanks and water lines making for an expensive repair. Today's drain tiles keep that from happening. It is also a myth that they will break down the wall of basements. While I don't advise planting as a foundation plant, their roots will not harm an otherwise good foundation wall. A word of warning: if you live in an old home, with old water equipment, do not plant a willow around any of your tiles, drains, or tanks. That is unless you want an excuse for all new...

With that said, they are moisture loving trees although they will survive in dryer soil.

Most old willows have had heavy wind, ice and lightening damage. They are not known for being particularly strong mostly because of their very nature to bend and move. Our corkscrew had the main leader damaged in a bad ice storm and the weeping routinely sheds whips in heavy storms. A badly damaged willow can not be "repaired" to look pretty and usually needs to be taken out if it is placed where it might fall on valuable objects. Otherwise, let it look like an old soldier that still tries to stand at attention although bent and worn.

Our weeping willow requires a "haircut" at least once a summer to enable us to mow under it. I really do love the sweeping look of the long whips dragging the ground and dancing over the grass but it's totally impossible to make one's way through it on the riding mower. If the willow isn't cut, it makes an excellent hide-a-way for youngsters pretending to be in an enchanted forest.

The Golden Willow is the first sign of color in the spring. The leaves of willows are so small they really don't need raking in the fall and the whips can be mowed instead of raked.

Willows can become very LARGE trees quickly. My weeping willow will eventually grow to 60 feet and very broad. The corkscrew will be 40 foot although more upright. The new hybrids are much more vigorous and strong. They all like full sun and moisture. Most are hardy in our Zone 5 and colder.

The willow is not a native American plant although seen throughout most states. The weeping willow bark was used medicinally by Native Americans to treat headaches. The bark contains salicylic acid, an ingredient later used to make aspirin.

Make sure you check out the pros and cons of your willow choices before investing. Know size, maintenance needs, and if they are prone to pests and diseases. The right willow in the right spot enhances the landscape - especially when the wind blows the branches like the sea.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Yin and Yang

This is a painting of my grandparents farm home.

Positive vs. negative. Yin vs. Yang. Uplifting vs. spirit crushing. I’m talking about BLOGS. There’s something out there for everyone and some out there that shouldn't’t be for anyone.

Because I choose to write a garden BLOG, I often find it interesting to read other BLOGS. I enjoy gardening, food, and travel ones. Once in awhile I enjoy a good humorous BLOG.

BLOGs allow the reader to experience the world through the Blogger’s eyes. I find it allows me to be places I may never have the opportunity on my own. On the flip side, it allows me to know what I never want to experience.

I’ve also found there are a lot more people out there that walk on the other side of sane (at least sane by my definition.) While I respect the right for each person to express their own individuality and personality, I also respect each person’s right to not embrace or want to read about each individuality and personality. We call that “delete.”

BLOGS come in all topics by all levels of expertise. Google your interest and browse until you find one that interests.

1. I recommend clean/purge your browsing history every day you visit the Net.
2. You can occasionally enter a site that appeared innocent but isn’t. Spyware, spam, and virus protection is a must.
3. BLOGS represent every opinion on a subject (even gardening) from the far right to the far left of political, spiritual, racial, and humanitarian leanings.
4. BLOGS are opinions – everyone has one and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s truthful, factual, or interesting.
5. If you need facts, check more than one reliable site.

The gardening and food BLOGS have many ties to each other. An example: I’m getting excited about my garden’s fresh tomatoes at the same time a food Blogger is getting excited about tomato recipes.

Bloggers often share healthy garden and food practices. We suffer together when there is a crop failure or weather related problems. We enjoy the beauty of a perfect flower as-well-as a perfect fruit or vegetable.

Many BLOGS have ties to Facebook, Twitter and Web pages.

Here are a few that you might enjoy:
· http://www.carolsvikinglife.com/
· http://www.davesgarden.com/
· http://www.wqad.com/ (go to weather - to Blogs - to Anthony Peoples Weather Or Not)
· http://www.digindirt.com/
· http://www.foodblogs.com/
· http://www.americangardenhistory.blogspot.com/
· www.delish.com/food/best-of-food-blogs

Sane BLOGs may be published for family communication, as a part of employment, to market, a hobby or passion and for the love of writing. Not so sane BLOGS may simply be for destruction, intimidation, cruelty, or just to be mean spirited. Both get the job done by spreading information and photographs to the masses. Choose wisely what you allow in your mind.

As for me, I choose those BLOGs that uplift, inform and have good photographs. I’ve grown to rather like that one by Diane What’s-Her-Name out by Bishop Hill. Check it out, you might too!

“There are philosophies as varied as the flowers of the field, and some of them weeds and a few of them poisonous weeds. But they none of them create the psychological conditions in which I first saw, or desired to see, the flower.” G. K. Chesterton

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nature Keeps On Rolling

As the thistles are going to seed, the beautiful "Woodland Sunflower" is beginning it's show. Seen on most unmowed roadsides, the bright daisy/sunflower like yellow flower heads are attracting butterflies, bees, and birds.

This perennial native wildflower, Helianthus strumosus, is about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches wide with up to 15 rays (petals coming out in a single form). The plant grows in areas that get down to minus 35 degrees in the winter and south. Bloom time is August and September.

The leaves are usually opposite and somewhat hairy and the plants grow from 3 to seven foot tall.

As we were walking along our road this morning, a patch of these sunflowers had three Monarch Butterflies and two Goldfinches sipping the nectar. Sunflower seeds are a favorite food of Goldfinches in the winter.

I theorize the reason the decorating industries uses golds, yellows and oranges in the Fall is due to native wildflower colors during this bloom time. We humans think we invent everything but often it can be attributed to simply following nature's show.

Check out the site: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/

It shows the places where Monarch Butterflies are roosting on their migration south. If you see a roost in a tree, feel free to enter your data. Since this area has had an increase in sightings, I'm hoping Monarchs are on their way to increasing their numbers.

Monday, September 6, 2010


While taking the beautiful Fall Sunday afternoon at Johnson Sauk Trail State Park to picnic and relax (husband fishing and my reading), there was this patch of flowers growing beside the lake.

This pretty little Spotted Touch-me-not aka Jewelweed is actually Impatiens capensis. Considered a succulent and blooming from July - October along shaded wetlands and woods. Yep, that's Johnson's Park for sure.

An annual that often occurs in dense stands and is very appealing to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Known for the leaves herbal qualities as a fungicidal - relieving itching due to poison ivy, nettles and athlete's foot.

Sometimes wildflowers are more stunning when viewed in a picture. They seldom last long when picked - it's that wild independent side of them. Wildflowers are almost always interspersed with other flowers and grasses and the impact of their blooms get lost in the mass.

It's best to know exactly what wildflower you are touching BEFORE you wander merrily through a patch, touch or pick it. Most survive in the wilds by having defense against the rest of nature and especially those that might destroy it. Thorns, oils, prickles, and such are just waiting for the unsuspecting to get close and personal. Many are ever so happy to share a sting, rash, itch, or fester with the wanderer. They often use animals, birds, insects and humans to spread seeds and pollen.

On the whole local parks subject - we thought Johnson's would be filled with people enjoying the local beauty on this holiday weekend. To our surprise, very few were enjoying a picnic, fishing or just relaxing. I'm glad we didn't "forget-it-not"!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Star Bright

This is a Potentilla fruticosa Bush Cinquefoil Rosaceae
Photo from the UofCN Ext Hort page.
I had a question the other day about why the Potentella bush was turning brown and looked like it was dieing. Since the best answer is probably weather related, I thought I'd share this information with everyone.
Potentillas are "xeric" plants that need very little water to survive and thrive. With the massive amount of rainfall this year, it has almost been a death song for Potentillas. Henry County IL is currently 9.5 inches above average rainfall for the year.
If your bush is dead looking, scrape the bark tissue on a couple of stems. If the tissue beneath is green, the plant is still alive. If none of the stems have green tissue, you may as well dig it up and throw it away.
Potentillas are a long suffering plant that may take many years to die. They may loose their shape and have dead branches. They will suffer in silence when they are treated "too good."
Potentillas should be neglected in some ways: Don't water unless there is a severe drought with no rain over three months and never fertilize.
To give an old plant a chance at new life: Cut the bush back hard (back to ground level) in the fall (or before any leaves emerge in the spring.) If there is any life left in the bush, you will see a mass of fresh green growth next Spring. It may take a year or two to begin blooming again. If it does not come back, it means your bush was beyond help and it's time to dig up and plant another.
This bush has been used extensively by commercial landscapers around businesses because they require no watering and have a long bloom time. Then, they begin to look ragged and those awful plants you see are the result of no one continuing the heavy pruning plan. They are often planted among rock mulch which they can take but it also makes it difficult to keep groomed. Many are planted in mass but they aren't dense enough to keep all the weeds/grass out and again, they are expected to do something when they haven't the ability.
These are beautiful plants and add yellow buttercup looking flowers from June until frost. They survive in places where more water needy plants could not (rock gardens as an example.) They just may not be a forever bush during a series of heavy moisture years and they do need to have heavy trimming at times. These factors do not detract from the value of this beautiful little (1-4 ft) bush .
They have few pest problems. Plant in full sun. They adapt well to Bonsai use.

Rule Breakers

Gardening has as many rules as the Bible and some consider those rules as set in stone as those taken from the mountain by Moses.

Unlike those in the Bible, gardening is a human sport & many rules beg to be broken.

A rather elderly (meaning older than me) woman has been laying huge hunks of cardboard & layers of newspaper on her garden for many years. She then proceeds to put 8 inches of mulch on top of that. When she plants something, she simply digs out a hole. She never has to weed or fertilize. Over and over for a couple of decades, this rule breaker has made the perfect garden soil. Mind you this was before the words “green and organic” were popular.

In our Zone 5, always dig tender cannas & gladiolas in the fall – it’s the rule. This year I have volunteer glads & cannas in many locations. One is the area where our foundation had been torn out and the soil returned. They’re rule breaking little beauties.

A garden must be planted by May 1st to have a bountiful harvest. This year has proved a rule breaker with some of the best tomatoes and sweet corn we’ve had in years. The weather can make rule breakers out of all gardeners.

Plant bushes & trees in the spring for the roots to become established. As long as there in one month before the ground freezes, planting in the fall can actually cause less stress on a new transplant. Breaking this rule also allows visualizing the setting since you’ve recently seen the summer foliage/flowers/light conditions.

Iris must be dug up every few years and divided. I found the most beautiful patch of old yellow Iris “Flavescens” at an abandoned road site. Developed in 1906, I expect this patch was about that old & I’m sure it hadn’t been divided, cleaned or fussed over. It does the same in my garden with rule breaking abandon.

Let out your inner child in the garden and take a chance every now & again. Forget that little voice that says, “You’ll kill it!”

I’m not saying take an expensive hybrid & throw caution to the wind, but, a little playing around with the many garden rules can bring beautiful surprises. Without that spirit, no one would bother hybridizing.

Without the spirit of adventure, we’d never see cottage gardens, plant exchanges, or plants thriving in that little egg shaped garden by the old police station.

"There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises. It sounds very well to garden in a "natural way." You may see the natural way in any desert, any swamp, and any leech-filled laurel hell. Defiance, on the other hand, is what makes gardeners." - Henry Mitchell (1923-1993, one of America's best, and funniest, garden writers)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thorn of Plenty

My husband and I have started walking in the mornings. Both of us need this (retirees can get too relaxed) and the roadsides have been beautiful. The first roadside picture is a thistle with a bee.
This photo is of an Eastern Black Swallowtail on a roadside thistle.

A Monarch Butterfly sipping nectar on a thistle.

A Buckeye Butterfly perched on a thistle.

A Silver Spotted Skipper having a sweet morning snack.
A patch of drying thistle plants and the thistledown or bristles on the fruits.

Most thistles are categorized as a "noxious weed" in the United States. The Canadian Thistle bares that term but oddly the Bull Thistle does not. The major difference to the casual observer is the Canadian has a smooth stalk and the Bull has a very prickly stalk. A big difference for weed control is the Canadian will send out suckers and native thistle will not.
I allowed a thistle to grow in a flower garden one year. Actually, it was the second year since this thistle is biennial. The flower heads are quite beautiful and attract butterflies and bees better than any butterfly bush or the butterfly weed.
This above day of walking netted not only photos of the above insects but I saw a Tiger Swallowtail and several other orange butterflies that didn't stay still long enough to identify.
Gold Finches line their nests with the thistledown. The Gold Finch is one of the last birds to nest and lay eggs in this climate. It coincides with the September dieing down of the thistle.
My thistle had beautiful magenta flowers and was continuously covered with butterflies and bees. In the Fall, it did indeed attract Gold Finches. The perfect plant. . .umm, not quite.
Each little thistledown carries a tiny lightweight seed on the wind. It was years before I was able to get rid of the many thistles that sprouted in so many wrong places. Pulling even a small new plant requires gloves or Roundup. And don't even think of walking in the lawn barefoot.
One of the nature-provided benefits of this year's very wet spring and summer is country roadsides didn't get mowed until recently - if at all. This provided the plants for caterpillars, chrysalises and butterflies to use as foodstuff. It allowed them a complete lifestyle.
I won't get into a debate on mowing roadsides because there are pros and cons on both sides of the subject. In the end the property owner has the right to mow or not. It is often an issue related to some of the following:
  • Beautification (and the owner's desired look.)
  • Conservation of gasoline.
  • Thistle will displace farm crops, pasture grasses and native plants.
  • Erosion controls using heavy vegetation to hold the soil in place.
  • Stop the spread of weeds by cutting before they set seeds.
  • Providing a wildlife sanctuary (both insect and animal.)
  • Providing a natural habitat for native Illinois wildflowers and grasses.
But, I'm certainly glad we had a year without mowing because it's been a year of more butterflies than I remember in recent history. This has been especially fortunate since much of the migrating butterflies have had their southern habitats destroyed by nature or man.
On the flip side: The next several years will most likely see an increase of thistle in pastures and roadsides. It is difficult to kill in those situations. If burning is used, it actually provides a better place for thistles. Grazing cattle should be used after burns. Cattle may eat thistle if allowed to graze on the flower buds or after a frost when the plant produces a lot of sugar.
For large applications, some farm operations are introducing several thistle specific weevils. Some experimentation of 25% vinegar solutions have worked but for large thistle infestations, your local extension office should have up-to-date control information.
As for me, I'll admire the current year's butterfly benefits but continue my battle against thistle in the yard.