Monday, January 31, 2011

Purple Passion

 Purple invokes a strong reaction from most people outside of the garden world.  In the garden, it's a must have!  I've posted many (perhaps too many) of my different purple daylilies as examples of the depth and use of purple in the garden. 

Wayside King Royal
 A deep purple can be a true spotlight in the garden.  As this daylily shows, it has enough depth of color to glow and bring the eye to that specfic place.  
Unknown Black Purple Velvet
 This unknown purple is beautiful enough to stand on it's own but I've placed it between a very large pale peach and a deep orange.  The deep purple helps the peach and orange stand out.  
Catherine Woodbury
Pale lavender will always look fragile and delicate and it's important to place it where it isn't overshadowed by a more robust color - such as bright gold.  It will showcase beautifully against dark green.
Unknown Tiny Purple
 This purple is on a very small daylily that could get lost in other flowers.  I tend to plant my tiny purple daylilies by themselves and along traveled areas.
Unknown Large Velvet Purple
 This color shows beautifully if it's not too close to bright colors.  This one needs moved because it's close to a deep dark red.  Red is about the only color that isn't as compatible with purples.  Even when they are the same hues they still compete and take away from the sense of order. 
Duel purple colors, such as these two, help transition between other purple plants or can look lovely when placed with a solid color - such as Trahlyta beside a true yellow flower.
Siloam David Kirchhoff
 This small S. David Kirchhoff is so short and patterned, it really should stand alone as a display plant. 
Purple de Oro
 Any "de Oro" is a workhorse and I tend to stick them where ever there's a hole in my garden.  Their blooms have nice size and substance.  As you can see, the yellow flowers pick up the eye of this flower.
Night Beacon
 This dark purple looks best where it can be seen easily.  Heavily patterned or unusual lilies are best placed with the plainer varieties otherwise their beauty and individuality gets lost. 
Designer Gown
Designer Gown, as well as some of the other lavenders, can be like the above on some days and on other days they are more peach.  Dark purples will sometimes not hold their color in bright hot sun or rain. 

Although I've featured only purple daylilies, purple abounds in flower selection.  If you've never thought of it as the perfect color for your garden or you still have some thoughts that it is garish - try one this summer.  It is definitely a must have color for English gardens and it adds depth to any other.  It may become your new passion!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

H for Heuchera

Heuchera sounds like we should hire a mariachi band!  But Heucheras are hot even in the north!
You may know Heuchera by the common name:  Coral Bells. 

Coral Bells - pretty name, pretty flower, hardy and shade tolerant.  Whew babe, bring her on! 

With our woods covering two-thirds of our property, I'm always on the lookout for shade tolerant plants.  Not only shade tolerant, but they must be flexible between times where it's wet and times where they are bone dry.  Not an easy assignment for any plant.  
This is Lime Rickey Heuchera (mine was a Monrovia.)

Native shade growing plants are easiest and I've slowly introduced other shade lovers starting in partial shade and moving towards more dense covering.  Naturally, hostas and ferns play a big roll in my landscape.  I am still on the look-out for shade lovers that want to bloom their little hearts out and have bright foliage - Coral Bells fills that category easily.

Coral Bell flowers are held above the foliage, on very thin stems and the flowers are dainty little bells.  Most bloom in the spring.  I think the flowers quite lovely and they attract hummingbirds, bees and other nectar loving insects.  

They are hardy Zone 4-8, at least.  On average the foliage is about a foot high.  They can stand part sun but prefer part shade.  New hybrids are pushing the boundaries (some genetically produced as in the Heucherella aka foamflower).  Read the labels before you buy to make sure it suits your gardens. They are a native of many regions in the US and that means they have varying attributes and needs.  Amazingly, these plants are also known as alumroot (yes the alum in the previous article).  The roots were basically used for those same purposes by Native Americans. 

Foliage are shades of green, chartreuse, gold, maroon, bronze-purple, orange, silver, ruby red,  mottled, inlaid, and more.  They are evergreen and the foliage stays nice in the winter (if not covered by snow all the time.) They do best in well drained average soil and can benefit from manure or 5-10-5 chemical application.  They have few pests or disease problems.  

Clean-up:  You may deadhead or cut back the stems when it's finished blooming.  Gently rake out any dead leaves in the spring.  If it has mildew, it needs to be moved to a dryer location.  Do not plant if you have Walnut trees.  And that's the story of my efforts to have Coral Bells - I have walnuts.  Coral Bells are so sensitive to walnut toxin they have never made it through the first summer.  For the rest of you - enjoy this beauty.  

Coral Bells are found at every local nursery I've ever visited and certainly large selections by catalog or on line.   Distinctive Gardens of Dixon has over 25 varieties, Sunnyfield of Kewanee over 25 varieties, and Red Barn Nursery of Sheffield will have varieties.  Look at your favorite summer garden shops as they often offer some very choice selections if you get there early enough.  I prefer the local stock for Coral Bells because they are always larger plants and acclimated to our zone.  (I base much of this on the years prior to our living in the Twilight Walnut Zone.) 

Now, about that new garden hat . . . 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow Lobsters

OK, I'm really talking about "crabbing about another snow storm"!  Yep, another is predicted to be coming our way later this weekend and the complaining aka crabbing starts.  In case you don't have a good book ready, here's some snow reading:

Nor'easters are among winter's most ferocious storms. These strong areas of low pressure often form either in the Gulf of Mexico or off the East Coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Although they most often hit the northeast shore line, at other times, the term is used to describe storms that end up driving through the Midwest.

Snowin' Like A Banshee
This is a term Southerners use when they are caught in a blizzard.  Or as I like to describe:  high winds, driving snow, white out, snow flakes the size of houses kind of banshee.

Blizzards are characterized by low temperatures (usually below 20 degrees Fahrenheit) and accompanied by winds that are at least 35 mph or greater. Blizzards also have sufficient falling and/or blowing snow that reduces visibility to 1/4 mile or less at least three hours.  A severe blizzard is considered to have temperatures near or below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, winds exceeding 45 mph, and visibility reduced by snow to near zero.

Blue Norther
This is a Texas/Southern Plains term that begins with a strong cold front moving down the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. As this front moves into the Texas panhandle, winds switch to the north and temperatures drop markedly.  The term refers to the blue-black sky.

Snow Cannon
The machines that are used to make snow in areas where it doesn't occur naturally.

The stuff that snow cannons make.

Columns, dendrites, needles, and graupel
Shapes and kinds of snowflakes.

This covers varieties of snow that all but advanced skiers find impassable.

Finger Drift
A narrow snow drift (1-3 feet in width) crossing a roadway. Several finger drifts in succession resemble the fingers of a hand.

Pillow Drift
A snow drift crossing a roadway and usually 10-15 feet in width and 1-3 three feet in depth.

SnirtSnow that is dirty, often seen by the side of roads and parking lots that have been plowed.

Packing snowSnow that is at or near the melting point, so that it can easily be packed. This is perfect for snow fights and other winter fun, such as making a snowman, or a snow fort.

SnowburstVery intense shower of snow, often of short duration, that greatly restricts visibility and produces periods of rapid snow accumulation.

Come Sunday evening, I expect to hear some heavy conversation sprinkled with snirtting, dendrites, and crud.

Drive cautious and safe!  And if we MUST have more snow, let it be good packing snow - I've missed seeing snowmen scattered in front yards this year.

Thanks to the University of Illinois and NOAA for some of this data.   Also, check out my article "Snow Trivia" #266. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

G is for Geranium

I'm not talking about the beautiful annual (to our zone) Pelargonium aka scented geraniums or storksbills.

I'm talking about the botanical name Geranium aka Cranesbills, Hardy Geranium, American cranesbill, alum root, wild geranium, Crowfoot, Spotted Geranium, Dove's Foot, Tormentil, Storksbill, Alum Bloom, Shameface, American Kino Root, Old Maid's Nightcap, and Chocolate Flower.  This Geranium is often perennial in our zones and a beautiful unassuming workhorse.  I'll post a few photos of some of the ones in my garden.

Unknown variety

Various Cranesbills are carried by most local nurseries and catalogs.  The simple reason is many fold: 
  • They are attractive all summer.  
  • They take little care and upkeep.
  • The leaves are in several different shapes and colors; including fall colors.
  • They aren't fragile.
  • They are long lived.
  • Some are low bushes and others vine.
  • The flowers are strong but dainty looking.
  • They're not expensive.
  • Easily divided, moved and shared. 
Rozanne Cranesbill

Cranesbill can grow in moist soils, but prefers well-drained, loamy or sandy soils with a neutral pH.  It will grown in full sun, partial sun, and partial shade.   They are self seeding although never considered invasive.  After bloom, you can encourage more flowering by trimming back.  Some will bloom most of the summer without trimming.  I'd advise watching the first couple of years to see what your plant wants.  They become "leggy" if they are over fertilized.

Cranesbill Alpenglow

Cranesbill is a herb that is native to North America. The part used medicinally is the root. Cranesbill is found in tea, capsule, and liquid extract forms.  Cranesbill has been used by Native Americas to stop bleeding and to treat diarrhea.  Most of us are familiar with the "Alum" used to treat sores in children's mouths.  This is made from the root of this geranium.  Alum that's used for pickling is a different substance.

Max Frei Cranesbill

Geranium was in most every English garden with over 400 varieties available.  Check out the cold hardiness for the plant you buy (most will be Zone 4 or 5).  If you live in a very hot/humid area, plant in some shade.  They fill in nicely under bushes, around taller perennials, and as later cover for spring blooming bulbs.
The flowers are blue, pinks, lavenders, and many variations on those themes.  The blue is the newest hybrid.  My "Gerard's Herbal" talks about "It is found neere to common high waies, desart places, untilled grounds, and specially upon mud walls almost every where."  Side note:  If you've never read  this garden/herbal book, you're missing a delight.  John Gerard was born in 1545 and his writings are of that era.  He uses the old English names and manner of speaking, plus, the superstitions of the day. 
And the end of the season brings beautiful fall colors to my perennial cranesbill.  Whether you have a large or small garden, there's a place for this geranium.   

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Seedless Watermelon

Ever since we ate at the Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago , I've wanted Watermelon Radishes.

Since we seldom have out-of-the-ordinary produce in our local stores, I've had no luck.  Today, as we were stocking up on bird food at Farm King, I HAD to look at all their new seeds.  As I've mentioned before, I seldom do seeds; it was an exercise in seeing what's being offered and admiring the pretty packets.

And then (this is where a bright illumination appears and angels sing in high voices) before my eyes was this packet of Watermelon Radish seeds. 

The Blackbird chef had sliced the round radish (2-4 inches) very thin with a mandolin and quickly deep fried.  It was this tangy sweet little crisp.  Plus, it was so very beautiful.  Seriously, the Blackbird chef could make shoe leather look and taste superb - but I digress.

According to the packet, these seeds are planted and harvested exactly the same as any other radish. 

Even though we in the Midwest typically have radishes for salads and relish trays, the Japanese cuisine has radishes with all rich dishes.  Europeans eat them with bread and breakfast cereals. 

A few cute radish facts: 
  • Watermelon Radishes are related to the turnip and horseradish family.
  • The Watermelon Radish is a heirloom Chinese daikon.  In Chinese it's actually called "xin li mei" 心里美, pronounced "sheen lee may" which means "beautiful inside".
  • These radishes are sweet in the center and hotter on the outter edges.
  • Radishes picked when it is very hot will usually be bitter.
  • Plant radishes weekly for a crop the entire summer.
  • Don't plant radishes where cabbage has grown the previous year.
  • I've found recipes for radish soup, stir fry, pickles, braised, remoulade, soup, cooked radish tops, salsa, slaw, and most any kind of salad you can imagine.  
  • It's the new "darling" of the vegan world.
I may have to start checking out the local groceries.  If Farm King has the seeds, can the Galva Grocery be far behind!!!   

Saturday, January 22, 2011

NWF Super Bowl Picks

This is a photo of Johnson Sauk Trail State Park, outside Kewanee IL.

The NWF (National Wildlife Federation) has listed their top picks for "Top Wildlife Watching Spots" in the United States.  I don't always agree with the NWF methods, rationale or statements.  I do agree these are definitely Super Bowl  level places to visit. 

Platte River, Nebraska 
Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana 
Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi
Puget Sound, Washington
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, New England
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Everglades National Park, Florida
Valle Vidal, New Mexico
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

The NWF picked them not only for their own interests and agendas but they are favorite destinations where visitors can see our nation's wildlife, most North American species.

They are excellent places to take children and grandchildren for an up close education of the beauty of our land.  If you're a photographer, there will be awesome possibilities for once-in-a-lifetime pictures.  

Most charge little or no admission, some have camping nearby, all have towns and attractions within easy driving.  Several are even close enough to provide a weekend mini vacation.  

If you are a history enthusiast, these refuges and parks all have interesting stories.  Whether it be how it was first settled or used to how the NWF has helped protect and preserve the wildlife and their habitat.

I do think seeing the big picture (literally) of nature's many beauties inspires the average gardener to join in the effort to respect our environment.  Our little portion of the world is just as important to us and to the rest of the world.

OK everybody, let's do the Super Bowl Shuffle - and a one - and a two. . .

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cold and Snowy Winter?

Thought I'd post a few pictures of the snow on our hill:
Our little house on the hill.

The road to our house.

Down at the corner.

Should have put the car in the garage last night.
Yep, been an unusually large amount of snow out here this year. 

OK! OK!  These are some photos of a Russian (formerly) winter that have been doing the e-mail circuit.  A good reminder that we in the Midwest really don't have much to complain about as far as winter weather. 

I seriously can't imagine coping with that kind of adverse conditions and living.  I would love to hear some of their stories and survival methods.

So, today it's cold (started out at eight below) and last evening the roads were ice covered and blowing snow.  A piece of cake apparently.   

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where Fairies Play

“The woods are full of faeries! The trees are all alive; the river overflows with them, see how they dip and dive! What funny little fellows! What dainty little dears! They dance and leap, and prance and peep, and utter fairy cheers!” - Anonymous

Aw yes, there are fairies to be had by gardeners this summer and now is the perfect time to plan.

For those who have the desire but want easy, pre-made houses, figures, and accessories, local nurseries and web sites offer everything you might ever want for a fairy garden.

For the do-it-yourself enthusiast, here are a few suggestions:

1. Containers: Bowl of a birdbath, flower pot saucer, under a tree, on the seat of an old chair, a terrarium, or inside dead wood.
2. Houses: Door on the side of an old tree, dried gourd, upside down flower pot, wood box, frog house, bird house or feeder.
3. Plants: Nurseries and garden shops often have small succulents, ground cover, ferns, bonsai, Japanese maple trees, and other miniatures. Some varieties are carried specifically for this purpose.
4. Accessories: Moss is a good ground cover. Chairs, tables, and fairy dolls. Shells, nuts, grapevine, small beads, glass, doll furniture and rocks. Found items abound.

Other Ideas:

1. Proportion: Plants, surroundings, and accessories should all be in proportion to each other.
2. Size: Fairy gardens may be very tiny or life size – depending on your vision and acreage. See for a life plus sized fairy garden.
3. Animals: Dogs and cats may be tempted to chew, trample, & use as a litter box. Don’t use nuts or grain if you have squirrels.
4. Weather: Landscape so water doesn’t stand in the fairy garden. Many bought items are weather-proof. Wind protection keeps it neat. Cement and plastic composite items are heavier & water resistant.
5. Venue: Inside your house, on a porch, inside a planter, incorporated in a rock garden, beside a water feature or tucked under a bush.

Whatever your personal choice, it only needs to be limited by your imagination since ideas and objects are abundant and often free.

For a little more fun, why not call Sheila & Jeff Johnson at Sunnyfield Nursery for one of the upcoming “Miniature Garden Workshops”. All instruction is free but reservations are required (309-852-4172). There is a charge for pots (or bring your own container), accessories & plants used. 

Sunnyfield Greenhouse & Nursery, 2440 E 2550 St., Galva IL 61434    
April 6, April 20 and May 4, 2011:  10 am and another at 7 pm each day
(They also schedule private lessons - great for groups of friends, family or organizations.)

Fairy gardens are a secret little hiding place for those flights of the imagination we gardeners go back to for memories and fun. It’s a place where a book could be shared with children. Perhaps the Narnia series, Gulliver’s Travels, The Time Machine, Aesop’s Fables, Peter Rabbit or Alice in Wonderland would inspire the imagination. In the middle of January, let’s have a little dream of fairies in our garden – come spring we’ll put it into action!

Thank you to Sunnyfield Nursery for the use of their miniature garden photos.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pop Goes the Corn

It's ice covered, it's snowing, it's cold, IT'S NATIONAL POPCORN DAY!
Popcorn can be a treat for families without many resources and can move into a gourmet expensive multi food.  Varieties include pre-packaged, microwavable, kettle, colored, jellybeans, theater, field, carmel, hulless, balls, gourmet, flavored and of course buttered. 

It's the "Official State Snack" of Illinois.  

There is evidence of popped corn as far back as 3600 BC.  Maize or corn is able to pop because of high moisture stored in the hard hull.  When heated it explodes.  There is more to it than that but that will be enough unless you want to research.  

If you have room, growing your own popcorn is supplying yourself (and most everyone you know) with a REAL taste treat.  Much like tomatoes, home grown popcorn has a different and vastly superior taste and performance.

Growing up on the farm, someone in the area was always growing popcorn and sharing with neighbors.  Not one for fancy gadgets, ours was popped in a iron skillet with a lid slightly cracked to allow steam to escape.  At first lard was used and then Crisco.  Since we had our own milk cows, a liberal helping of home churned butter completed the delight.  Indiana and Illinois are two of top states who provide the majority of commercial popcorn.

Never to leave a delicious food alone, nutritionists at times declare popcorn unhealthy.  Actually, unless you have stomach problems, it's the toppings and popping oil that are often the unhealthy issue.  It is a great diet addition and high in fiber.

Corn needs room to grow and I've not run across any local farmers who plant and sell popcorn.  Because it can cross pollinate with field or sweet corn (making it tough), it needs a dedicated producer to succeed.  Like all corn, it needs to be planted in rows to insure good pollination.   Areas with a large farming Amish/Mennonite population usually have vendors. 
How to Grow Popcorn SeedsWhat makes good popcorn, much like a good bowl of chili, depends on how you were raised.  If the popped kernel is mushroom shaped or with wings, chewy or airy, the kernels white, yellow or blue, how or in what it's popped, the kind of oil and of course, the topping.  The vessel used for popping is as varied as the popcorn itself.

Our friends, Nancy Jane and Roger, have the ritual of having popcorn as a meal on Sunday evenings.  Other family popcorn rituals are "movie night", after school kid snacks, Halloween treats, Christmas tree decorations, over the campfire, and popcorn fights.   Others claim it's the #1 food for Super Bowl Sunday!

Each person who grows popcorn believes their variety and cooking method is superb to others.  A few seed vendors:      Has four heirloom varieties and instructions                Has two varieties - both gray leaf spot resistant
Many farm stores, nurseries and garden centers have seeds that do well in your particular area.  Additional growing tips from your local county extension office.   for the Popcorn Board's web page - ideas and information a plenty.  They state, "Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually or 52 quarts per man, woman and child."
We all better get planting if we're going to supply that amount of the delicious stuff. 

Popcorn ready for picking. - should I get out of my pajamas before I pop the corn, sit on the couch and read my book...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Little Gnats and Stories

I read Leman's Country Life on line because they have so many good hints and interesting stories.  I've probably said this before and I'll mention again, Leman's was developed to service the Amish in Ohio who wanted/needed non-electric home equipment and supplies.  It has now become more important to others as we look to conservation methods.  They've also been smart to carry supplies that hold up over the years; not hoping for a flashy quick sale but hoping for customer satisfaction.  Whether you are buying or just reading, it's good stuff.

A reader tells us a help for indoor infestations of gnats:  Take something yellow (paper plate for example) and cut into strips.  Coat with petroleum jelly.  At this point, they can either be hung with string or stuck into potted plants.  Apparently gnats are attracted to yellow and will land on the strip and stick.  Worth a try.
Yesterday was a lesson in survival of the fittest.  I was doing laundry upstairs and looked out the window at my feeders.  A hawk was perched on the nearby arbor.  The arbor is covered with a thick mass of honeysuckle & clematis vines & leaves.  This vine haven provides a perch for birds coming and going to the feeders and rather good protection from winter weather.

This is the first time I've seen a hawk so close to my feeders.  They sometimes hunt in the yard near the end of winter; apparently when rodent pickin's are scarce.  All the feeder birds had immediately vanished from sight.  He just perched there surveying the neighborhood as if he had all the time in the world. 

I rushed downstairs to grab my camera for an up-close photo op.  Just as I was poised to snap, the hawk quickly flipped up-side-down and all I could see was his tail sticking out of the vines.  Just as quickly he came back up with a little bird and was gone.  I was so surprised I didn't even click the camera.

I don't try to orchestrate who lives and dies in the non-domesticated bird and animal world I call back yard.  They each have their cycle, benefits and needs.  I do love my little bird feeding area and hope this hawk doesn't make it his daily meal ticket. 
A reminder to check the bulbs and plants you stored in the basement or garage.  Throw away anything that's rotting and make sure to clean off any of that residue.  Anything in soil needs to have a bit of water (not much) and NO fertilizer.  If you have cats, make sure they haven't decided your pots are another litter source.  Covering the soil around the plant with aluminium foil usually stops them.  
It's a good time to start any Amaryllis bulbs you've been storing.  Stores have these bulbs on sale right now.  The perception that these are just for Christmas makes good shopping for the gardener.  Just the thing to perk up your home these gray days.
It's also a good time to think about forcing other bulbs.  Use a few of your own that didn't get planted or look around for them in stores.  These too may be on sale (just make sure they're not rotted or dried up.)  There are on-line directions on how to get spring blooming bulbs ready for indoor forcing.  The University of Illinois Extension site is always a great source and they also have a Facebook page that has gardening tips on a regular basis.  
Remember:  Don't use salt to melt ice.  There are commercial non-salt products in stores or use kitty litter, ground corn, or sand.  Salt WILL kill your plants and accumulate in the soil.  

Have a great winter day!   Drive and walk safe in the ice and snow.  

"All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I went for a walk
On a winter's day
I'd be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
California dreamin'
On such a winter's day."
- Mammas and Pappas, California Dreamin     

Monday, January 17, 2011

F Is For Forsythia

Forsythia x intermedia "Lynwood Gold"

Listening to the Lyle Lovett croon on his Cowboy Man CD.  Much like Lyle, the Forsythia is much overlooked even though it's brilliant. 

Lovett was given an award called an "Esky" for Surest Thing in Esquire's 2006 Esky Music Awards. The magazine said of Lovett: "The secret of Lyle Lovett's endurance comes down to the three C's: class, charisma and consistency.

Class, charisma and consistency describes the beautiful spring blooming Forsythia bush.  Planted in the right place, it performs as smoothly as if written by Lyle Lovett.  

It's a member of the deciduous olive family.  Dwarfs are about one foot and other varieties grow to 10 ft.  Most are dense big bushes and tend to spread.  The forsythia bush was named in honor of the royal British gardener William Forsyth who lived from 1737 to 1804.

The beauty of this bush has to be the yellow flowers that bloom in the early spring before the leaves emerge.  (They are easily forced)  The unusual:  Forsythia's flowers produce lactose (the milk sugar). Lactose is very rarely established in other natural sources except milk. 

The arching branches may be trimmed after blooming every few years and it will then rebound with more flowers.   Left to grow to potential, it is generally totally covered with flowers making a spectacular sight.

Grows in full sun to light shade and is one very tough plant.  I made the mistake of planting too close to the house/windows.  Several years of trying to tame this bush, in 2009 we decided it needed moved.  It was a huge job because it had formed a very huge root mass.  Upon (finally) digging out the entire thing, it fell into many different plants.  I now have lots of beautiful bushes in places where they can grow with abandon and bloom to they're full potential.

Planted in the right place this classy, charismatic and consistent bush will sing!  

"OOOooo, give back my heart chipkicker-red neck man, take your boots and walk out of my life.  I can't be no cowboy paradise."  Sing it Lyle!

Lyle Lovett publicity picture.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


January 16, 1920, Prohibition began in the United States as the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect (later repealed by the 21st Amendment.)

As much as the reasoning and idea may have been meant for good, Prohibition was not a success.  It may have been intended to stop drunken behaviors and alcohol abuse.  It achieved none of this and initiated another problem - bootlegging.  Bootlegging was said to be the beginning of organized crime in the US.

Alcohol in one form or another has been a part of most every person's family heritage.  The specific kind is determined by the available fermenting medium.  Homemade alcoholic beverages have been made as long as humans have been on this earth.  Many were considered medicinal, it was often more healthy than available water and others were used during religious practices.  

An alcoholic beverage is a drink containing ethanol, commonly known as alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits.  Living in the Midwest, we are also familiar with ethanol as part of the gasoline/political issue.  I will not get into all the specifics of how to make, the specific categories, laws and other things. 

Gardeners may choose to grow their own home brewing products.  Almost any plant that can basically rot can ferment.  Think of dandelion wine and potato vodka. It is the fermentation of sugar- or starch-containing plant material.  Other products of homemade alcoholic drinks that can be grown locally producing an array of alcohol flavored tastes:  fruits, spices, herbs, barley, wheat, oats, corn, rice, hops, rye, sorghum, buckwheat, mullet, potatoes, milk, junipers, and more.  

There are multitudes of avenues for the gardener who wants to home brew:  equipment stores, books and magazines, web sites, clubs, and garden catalogs.  For those who over indulge, there is Alcoholic Anonymous.  I add the AA portion because home brewing/growing your own ingredients and alcohol abuse are two different levels of involvement.

If you are interested in growing your own ingredients to actually make your own beverages, or if you want to grow them as a conversation in what you COULD do IF you wanted:

Hops is easily obtained and is a pretty (and rather aggressive) vine.  Grape plants were always in every yard back only fifty years ago and can still be obtained from nurseries and garden shops.  Many of the grains used for beer can be pretty patches of natural grass-like beds.   Take a look at the list and scout out your garden shops and catalogs.

This is a recipe that belonged to the Mennonite branch of my family.  I've made it and it turned out to be a beautiful sparkling very light apricot wine.  (Double click to increase the size.)

Disclaimer:  I do not advocate the use of alcohol. If you do drink, drinking responsibly. Abide by applicable laws concerning alcohol use & making.  The above recipe turned out well when I made it but may not for you.  This is an article about growing products and the anniversary of prohibition - not a forum for comments on alcohol use/abuse.  Thank you very much.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Snow by itself is seldom the reason for winter weather damage to trees and plants.  Snow often insulates ground plants quite well. 

Even heavy snow, such as this one, will generally weigh down pine branches but seldom break them.

Ice is another story.  The amount of ice and snow stuck on this porch screen is an indication of the amount on the trees.  Not good.  Most trees can withstand ice without total damage.  Those that are most at risk are fast growing trees, diseased trees, and upward or horizontal branching trees.  
Heavy snow on pine bushes provide a warm & wind free shelter for animals and birds.  They make an excellent wind breaks for drives and buildings.

Seldom are bushes damaged by heavy snow.  Ice may break a few branches but most bushes recover.  The only bushes in this area that are prone to heavy damage or death are arborvitaes.  This is because they generally have more than one leader coming up from the ground.  The weight of the ice and snow will pull at least one leader towards the ground.  Seldom can this be fixed. 
Wind that accompanies snow and ice is the worst culprit for winter damage.  It literally sucks the life from exposed plants.  Wind and ice and no snow cover is even worse.  Evergreens are particularly susceptible to winter wind damage.  A few plants will almost always need winter wind protection; my holly being one.  Japanese Maples are another.  

Here's a few suggestions:
  • Protection from winter elements must be applied before the storm.  Wind breaks around susceptible plants, gently tie arborvitaes leaders together, and mulching others. 
  • Never try to shake or beat ice off trees and bushes.  This will cause more damage.
  • Don't plant new trees and bushes that are weak or susceptible to winter damage.
  • Trim out deciduous tree branches:  the dead or diseased, those rubbing against others.  Take out entire diseased trees and bushes and replace with winter resistant ones.
  • Don't plant large winter susceptible trees near buildings.  Consider trimming or removing any tree that could fall on a building and cause personal and building injury.
  • Consider letting the power utility take out large trees that could fall on your power lines.  It's a free service, they follow national guidelines for tree trimming, they clean up their mess extremely well and I may be prejudiced but they are darn good at what they do.
  • There are trees that get extremely large, provide beauty and are not as susceptible to winter weather damage.  Research before you landscape.
  • Alas, some storms are killers in terms of plant life.  These storms are severe to the point that nothing you could have done would have prevented damage.  Mourn your loss, clean up the mess and start again.  It's all a part of nature's process - even if it makes us sad at the time.
  • Check your household insurance coverage to see if or what is covered in your yard.  Also, check for the type of weather it will cover.  Wind?  Hail?  Ice?  Snow?  Flood?  Insurance coverage can be tricky and it's good to know.  If it doesn't cover that beautiful sixty foot soft maple located fifteen feet from your bedroom - you may want to consider changes (either to the tree or the policy). 
  • A suggestion I read recently was to photograph your trees and bushes (simple landscape shots of your entire yard) every two years in case you need proof for an insurance claim. 
For today - it's another quiet sunny day with nice winter snow cover.  But an old saying fits:  "Pray for the best and plan for the worst."  That's a good idea when it comes to winter storms.

If you'd like to read more, check out my previous articles:
Break Out The Silk Stockings (Article # 1)
Dig It Man (88)
Pondering (99)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Love Bounty

From left to right:  Chicken Vegetable base, All Vegetable base, Tomato Vegetable base, Beef Vegetable base, Tomato Vegetable Puree base (both).

You prepared your garden, planted, weeded and watered, harvested, preserved and now it's National Soup Month.  You're about to be "garden fulfilled"!

No matter how extensive your pantry of preserved garden produce is or even if you have to buy ever single thing at the grocery, it's winter and time to make soup.

As you're pondering what kind of soup to make, get a little list going of what you might grow in your garden this coming summer to add some home-grown ingredients.  A garden full of vegetables or a few pots of herbs can make a taste difference in home made soups.
Soups are perfect for the carnivore, the vegan and everyone in between.  They can be calorie wise or a blow out of whole cream, fats and solium.  They can be hot or cold, served in a bowl or cup, used for dinner or dessert, made ahead, froze, canned, put in a thermos, with meat, vegetables or fruit.

There is actual data that proves chicken soup IS a benefit if you have a cold/flu.  Mothers everywhere knew that long ago.  I can't imagine a soup that isn't filled with nutrients and love.

What's the benefits of home-made soup?  Increased taste, lower sodium, enhanced nutrients, cheaper, and satisfaction.  When Mick Jagger cried, "I ain't got no satisfaction." he was surely crying about a lack of homemade soup!

Not that store bought soups haven't come a long way and not that any of us don't use them occasionally.  Who hasn't loved finding your name in a bowl of alphabet soup?  Or, throwing in a can of cream of mushroom soup to thicken a dish?  Or simply opening a can of chicken noodle for a quick lunch on the run?  No I'm not a foodie snob by any stretch ~ I just really love homemade soups.

Jeffrey Goard, Bishop Hill, IL potter - Photo from

We're such big soup eaters, I have a set of round-bowl soup spoons and several types of soup bowls.  The photo (below) is a picture of my favorites:  The spoons are from the Schenck China Company - Schenck/Shenk was my maiden name.  The shape of the spoon bowls is why I purchased.  The soup serving bowls are from Jeffrey Goard (above) at the Bishop Hill Pottery.  These thrown-pottery bowls are the perfect size and shape for soup.

Here's one of our favorite soup recipes:  Diane's Cream of Tomato Soup.

4          Slices of Bacon (cut into very small pieces)
1 T       Butter
1          Onion - chopped fine
3/4 C    Flour   (use enough to soak up fat but not more)
5 C       Tomato Vegetable Juice *
Pinch    Kosher Salt
1/2 C    Sugar
1 T        Basil
1 C       Sweet heavy cream (may eliminate if you want less calories)
             Black Pepper & Hot Sauce (optional)
             Water or clear broth, as needed

Fry bacon until semi-crisp (I leave in but you may take out, drain and top soup when ready to eat).  Add butter and melt.  Add onion and fry on low until soft (not brown).  Add flour and cook three minutes, stirring to get all the meat scraps included.  Add all of the tomato juice at once (careful it splashes and sizzles).  Turn burner on high and whisk until the flour is blended completely.  (you have just made a rue)  When this starts to bubble, turn down on low.  Add salt, sugar, basil, and other optional seasoning.  Simmer for ten minutes, stirring often to keep from sticking.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.   If it becomes too thick, add a little water (or clear broth) until right soup consistancy.  This soup burns and sticks easily if you don't stir and keep watch.  Turn off heat and add cream, whisking the entire time so it won't curdle.  Makes a good 6 servings.  (Reheat only in the mircowave as additional stovetop cooking will either burn or curdle.)

Serving suggestions:  Top with croutons and cheese or with a dollop of sour cream.  Always good with a grilled cheese sandwich.

*  My tomato vegetable juice includes tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions, carrots, celery, herbs and other vegetables as I have available in the garden.  I don't put salt in my canned vegetables.  This allows me to adjust the seasonings for the dish that's being prepared.  Store bought canned version (such as V-8) would work, but, cut down on the salt.

Have a happy National Soup Month - or maybe let's make it a National Soup Year!