Thursday, March 31, 2011

Popeye Rocks!

Popeye the Sailor Man knew his Spinacia oleracea and so should the rest of us gardeners.  What ol' Popeye didn't know was it's so very easy to grow that we don't need to pop a can when we need an extra boost of nutrients.
Nutrition facts about 1 cup of raw spinach: 
  • Zero fat
  • Zero cholesterol
  • Zero carbohydrates
Can it get any better - yes, based on a daily 2,000 calorie intake - 1 cup of spinach supplies your daily need of:
  • 181% Vitamin K
  • 56% Vitamin A
  • 47.4% Omega 3 Fatty Acids
  • 15% Foliate
  • 14% Vitamin C
  • 13% Manganese
  • 7.8% Omega 6 Fatty Acids
  • 6% Magnesian
  • 5% Iron
  • 5% Potassium
  • 3% Vitamin B6
  • 3% Ribofabin
  • 3% Calcium
  • 3% Vitamin E
  • 3% Dietary fiber
  • 2% Thiamin
  • 2% Copper
  • 1% Niacin, Zinc, Sodium, Phosphorus
* Nutritional data provided by the USDA.

What does this mean to modern day Popeyes? 
A serving of spinach has more iron than a hamburger sandwich and way less fat.  No way!  Yes, way!
It's rich in antioxidants - those wonderful cancer fighting and inflammatory preventing lovelies.

Spinach can be grown in your garden or mixed with flowers.  Planted several times a summer, you may have a batch from Spring to Frost.  In our southern states, it may overwinter.

Old varieties of spinach (Savoy) may bolt early.  Bolting is basically going to seed which is pretty much the end of the plant.  New varieties of flat/smooth and semi-savoy are slower to bolt, typically have wider leaves and may be less bitter.

The good news about growing your own spinach is you will know there is no pesticide residue and no radiation or nitrogen gas used on your leaves (something you can't be sure of in the market place.)  The industry was hard hit 2006 after an E. coli scare, 2007 salmonella outbreak and may again be hit due to problems in Japan.  The US standards for growing/selling spinach are strict.  Guaranteed "organically grown" spinach is also an option.  Two major importers of spinach are Mexico and China.  You may come down on either side of buying or growing your spinach - today I'm talking about gardeners growing their spinach needs.

Fresh spinach should be used as-soon-as possible after picking to keep the nutrients at peak levels.  It's also recommended spinach not be boiled over one minute. 
There are so many different kinds of recipes for spinach, we can find one (or many) that pleases you and your family.  It is a meat substitute during Lent and an ingredient in most every category (well maybe not cake or candy, but still..)  Yep, I'm a spinach lover - I yam!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some Flings for Spring

The Brown County, Indiana, 26th Annual Wildflower Foray will be April 22-24, 2011.  Wildflower and bird walks, a Lake Monroe boat trip, an art trek, “wildflower yoga,” and programs about owls, medicinal plants and prescribed fire.  20-25 hikes and programs take place over a three-day period, including wildflower and bird walks, wetland hikes, a boat trip, nature photography and more!

The U of I Horticulture Club is planning to host more than 10,000 visitors at its 49th annual Mom's Day Flower Show on Saturday and Sunday, April 17 and 18, 2004.  Show hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, in the U of I Stock Pavilion at 1402 W. Pennsylvania Avenue in Urbana, Illinois.  The public is invited to attend. Plants used in the displays, as well as other items, will be for sale.

Peoria, Illinois, Luthy Botanical Garden's Lily Show will be April 8- 24.

Chicago, Illinois, Garfield Park Conservatory will be hosting their Spring Flower Show from March 28 to May 8.

On April 13-14, 2011 the Indianapolis. Indiana Daffodil Society will be hosting their Daffodil Flower Show. 
Garden Traveler  is a good site to visit especially if you've a vacation in mind.  Easy to navigate and links to the gardens around the U.S.  Many gardens will start opening May 1st - enclosed or housed exhibits usually are open year round.
Chicago Botanic Garden has show dates set aside for Daffodils, African violets, Iris, Daylily, Bonsai, Rhododendron, Dahlia and Hosta     

The Midwest Morel Fest, Ottawa, Illinois will be held May 6-7, 2011.   That ranks right up on the yum yum scale with Chicago's Baconfest on April 9th although not terribly "gardenish".

Some of these special events along with just a visit is a chance to "stop and smell the roses (or whatever)" this summer.  Take a day and venture out  to the beautiful nature all around us in this always changing country.  Take advantage of our Blessings.

Side Note:  Popular Mechanics magazine usually has some interesting articles and test results for gardeners.  The April 2011 issue tests and ranks weed eaters, demos on a new safer chain saw, how to operate a backhoe, use a stump grinder, smash concrete, and an article on homemade "super sheds".      

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Growing Bruschetta

Following the conversation from a group of ladies about what we considered important for us if we're to return to a restaurant.  The consensus was:  Good food, good service and clean. 

All of the criteria is open to interpretation but here is a sample of the discussion:
  • Good food means the best possible taste for the dish and presented in a complimentary way.
  • Good service means treating the customer as if they were welcome, being friendly, watching the way the meal is going to help the customer with needs, and thanking them for being there.  It doesn't necessarily mean fast but shouldn't be slow simply because they aren't efficient.
  • Clean means that everything in the establishment is totally clean - period.  I once heard a chef say if the bathroom isn't clean, you can be sure the kitchen is worse because it is so much harder and larger to keep it that way. 
So, where am I going with this?  We went to one of our favorite restaurants that has all of the above criteria down well:  ZBest Cafe' on Main in Sheffield, IL.   A little town, little restaurant, reasonable prices, clean as a pin, good customer service and the food is quite good.  And that's where we get to the bruschetta.

Chef/Owner, Eran Salzmann, knows wonderful bruschetta bread - the base for this dish.  It's got texture, a little tang, and he crisps it on the his restaurant grill. 

Now is the time to plan on planting tomatoes and basil right in our own gardens or pots.  A good meaty tomato is great for this recipe.  Although there are various kinds of basil, I usually just plant a common variety.   I've written other articles about tomatoes:  52, 53, 64, 209, 211 and 216.   

Here's some Bruschetta ideas:

Use good Italian bread or another robust type.  I like a bread that's been made with buttermilk to add the tang.  Slice 1/2 inch on the diagonal and grill both sides.  (Some use their backyard grill, others boil and some use a skillet.)  The objective is a crisp, golden, chewy, crunchy piece of bread.  As soon as it comes off the grill, rub with a fresh garlic.  Drizzle with a little olive oil - not enough to make it soggy.  Sprinkle with Kosher salt and pepper to taste.  This is basic Bruschetta.

I like it with the following:

Wash, core and coarsely chop a fresh meaty tomato and let it drain in a strainer about 30 minutes.   In a bowl, add a small amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (reduced if you want a thicker more robust taste).  Wash and dry the leaves of fresh basil.  Stem and coarsely tear apart.  Mix in with the tomatoes.  Spoon on the Bruschetta, top with a sprinkling of crumbled Feta cheese and garnish with whole basil leaves.  This should either be served immediately or it should be kept in a bowl until serving with a slotted spoon.

Some folks do the following:

Use grated Parmesan or goat cheese instead of Feta.  Add any of the following:  chopped onions, rosemary, ham, red pepper, olives, capers, artichokes or other vegetables.  Some folks grill or broil their mixture on the bread.  I think this takes it out of the Bruschetta I like and into another catagory that almost becomes a sandwich.

A Ventricina Bruschetta is made by taking the most succulent parts of the pig and then enclosing it within the animal's stomach allowing it to cure. After the meat is cured, it is then made into a smooth paste and spread over bread which may then be grilled.

The trick is you don't want any of the mixture to soggy up the bread or overpower the tomato flavor.  I can eat this as my meal and it makes an especially nice appetizer.  Take a look at Chef Erin's Bruschetta photo above and you get the idea. 

Bruschetta is good served with a good red wine (the whole Italian thing) - iced tea if you like. 

Sit on the back porch, a beautiful summer evening and a plate of tomato Bruschetta -  Buon appetito!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Play It Again Bogey!

The very old city of Casablanca, in Morocco, has been a beautiful and magnificent area of Africa and it has been the center of destruction and violence.  A combination that continues today. 

The name also recalls the 1942 film, "Casablanca", a story about a man torn between love and virtue.  It's this scene of Bogey and Hepburn's we all remember.   Black-and-white film screenshot of a man and woman as seen from the shoulders up. The two are close to each other as if about to kiss.   

I'm never torn between love and virtue when it comes to the Oriental Lily "Casa Blanca" because it has both and in quantity. 
The Casa Blanca Oriental Lily is hardy in zones 3 through 8 (although cheaper ones may only be hardy to zone 5), making it a great selection for our area.  It tends to be one of the more easy to grow Orientals I've ever planted. 

A few basics:  It is grown from a bulb (it's actually a tuber) and the bigger the better when shopping.  Big bulb = hardier bigger plants.  It should be planted in full sun or edging into a bit of shade.  In this area, it should be planted in early spring to bloom in mid to late summer.  The packages will direct you on how to plant and it must be followed:  the right depth and the right side pointed up are exactly necessary. 

They need good drainage but adequate moisture.  I recommend mulching for appearance, weed control and during the winter cold.  They enjoy slightly acidic soil.  Mine do best when surrounded by lower growing perennials to shade the roots.  Be careful when raking up debris in the spring so you don't cut off the top of emerging plants and end the possibility of blooms for the year. 

When they have finished blooming, you may cut off the short bare flower stems but leave the rest of the stalk and leaves to bring in nutrients for next year's plant.

And now for the gushing:  The flowers are pure white with little bumps (called flocking in the plant world) and bright rust red stamens.  They will grow to about 4 foot tall on hardy stems and have bright dark green leaves.  The flowers may be as large as 10 inches across blooming from the top of the plant in a series of on-going beauty. 

The mega gush:  It has the most wonderful strong perfume of the many lilies offered today.  It's why it's so popular because there are many beautiful Oriental Lilies but to combine it with the intoxicating fragrance is the reason you see it in every catalog and nursery offering bulbs.  

It's often used by florists for bouquets and wedding arrangements.  The meaning of this flower is "celebration."  Picked straight from your garden, one flower will perfume your entire room.  They are elegant, formal and very sturdy.

I suggest you plant several (they often come with three bulbs) to get maximum beauty.  Plant near where you will sit or pass daily during this part of the year.  Planted next to a porch, an evening spent outside can be garden splendor.   It's the perfect addition to a moon garden because the flowers glow at night and the fragrance intensifies. 

Plant a few Casa Blanca lilies and as Humphrey said,
"...I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Garden History 101

There may not be a Class 101 in garden history. Should you be interested in going back that far, the classes would be called by other names ending in “ology”.

For a look back one or two-hundred years, there are still old garden books, reproductions of old garden books and new books talking about old gardens. Count me in on the fun I can have with them all.

Old garden books detail how people lived by showing what they needed from natural resources. They show emerging discoveries in medicine/chemistry, nutrition, machinery, family and society’s constraints and advances.

Gardening is a specific category in history that explains a broader picture.

One of my favorite old books is “Gerard’s Herbal – Historie of Plants” written by John Gerard. Born in 1545, Gerard was an herbalist – barber – physician. Today he would be known as a pharmacist.

His description of wildflowers and garden plants and their uses is a trip back into that era. To understand why so many plants’ virtues are featured in the treatment of lung problems is to realize pneumonia, tuberculosis, and whooping cough (and others) were rampant and killed.

A look at my “Instructions for Victory Gardens” is a window upon the hard times suffered during the Depression and war.

The botanical garden sketches in “The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady” (first published in 1906) is a showcase of the “refined” pastimes of a woman of that era.

“A Guide to the Wild Flowers East of the Mississippi and North of Virginia” published in 1928 by Norman Taylor, shows a base knowledge that continues to be used in today’s plant breeding.

My “Cherokee Cooklore” book (from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian) helps to understand the use of native plants and the realization how so much of their knowledge was introduced into the early settlers’ food and gardens.

There are new books such as “Old Time Gardens” by Alice Morse Earle. A chat rather than instruction, it has history and beautiful old black and white photos to demonstrate both lavish and simple gardens. It’s a reminder: What’s new is actually old and what’s old is new again.

I’ve been fortunate my family includes garden-themed books, cookbooks & historical art books for Christmas or birthdays. Yes, I can simply look at a Monet and think spring.

I can spend hours scouting used and new book stores. Did you realize most second hand stores sell their books for almost nothing? If you don’t need a book for the long term, the local library is an excellent place for all things garden. Kindle owners may be a bit disappointed reading garden books on line since photos may not transmit well.

My version of an old song goes, “Read new garden books but keep the old – one is silver and the other gold.”

Pucker Power

Yep, I'm talking about rhubarb - the sour fruit (or vegetable) we Northerners find necessary to usher in Spring. 

It was a vegetable until 1947 when a New York court ruled it was a fruit for regulation and duty purposes and to reduce the taxes paid.  Yes, folks, politicians have been sticking their fingers in the pie (in this case a rhubarb pie) forever.

Rhubarb is a perennial.  Although it produces in more temperate climates year round, it dies back in the north.  There are rhubarb production farms as-well-as hothouse productions.  Both are a bit different than we grow in our yards, mostly due to variety and method.  Today I'll be talking about typical garden grown rhubarb.

Rhubarb leaves are toxic and discarded once the stems are picked.  The rhubarb stems are similar to celery in texture and looks.  The color (from green to red) do not affect the taste much or how it cooks.  The green is more productive and is usually the variety we see in old gardens.  The reds are preferred by consumers in groceries and food stands and are sometimes a little more sweet.

Although thousands of years old in China, the plant arrived in the U.S. with European settlers in 1820s.  It was originally used for medicinal purposes and reportedly has been used as a laxative for over 5,000 years.  There's a joke in there someplace.  The rhubarb root produces a dark brown die used where walnut die was unavailable.

Rhubarb is easy to grow in my "neck of the woods".  Basically, you dig a hole, plant the rhizome in full sun, water until established and don't harvest until the 2nd year.  Planting the rhizomes should be done in the early spring.  It is important to have good drainage because the rhizomes will rot if they stand in water.  They enjoy a good manure mixed into the soil or in later years, as a top dressing.  It's recommended the plants be divided every five years to keep production at it's maximum.  Their care reminds me of the same care we give our iris (another rhizome).  It has few pests or diseases.  It's why we still see plants in old yards.  It's also an inexpensive plant to purchase and even cheaper if someone offers you a start from their garden.

Harvest only about 1/3 of the stalks at a time.  Cut off the any flower stalks that develop during harvesting.  It's best not to harvest in the fall, allowing the plant to put it's strength into the crown.  Don't cut down the foliage after spring harvests as this is how the plant gets nutrients for next year. 

What to do with rhubarb:  stew, dry like jerky, jelly & jams, sauce, pie, bread, desserts, soup and wine.  The purest will eat it raw, maybe dipped in sugar or salt.  That's the pucker power issue.   Seldom do you find a recipe that doesn't add a sweetener and most add other fruits - strawberry being the most popular.

Nutrition Facts from the University of Illinois Extension:  (1 cup diced, uncooked)
Calories 26
Dietary Fiber 2 grams
Protein 1 gram
Carbohydrates 6 grams
Vitamin C 10 mg
Vitamin A 122 IU
Folic Acid 8.7 mcg
Calcium 105 mg
Potassium 351 mg

 Pennsylvania Dutch Rhubarb Pudding

1 lb. - Rhubarb (cut off leaves and ends of stems & cut into 1 inch pieces - about 4 cups - peel stalks if they are tough.)  Put in saucepan and stir in:
1 C - Sugar
1 tsp. - Grated lemon peel
2 tsp. - Fresh lemon juice

Cook over low heat until sugar dissolves and a syrup is formed.  Cover tightly and cook over low heat about 15 minutes or until rhubarb is tender.

Butter a 1 1/2 quart baking dish.  Line sides and bottom with slices of plain dry pound cake.  Fill the cavity with stewed rhubarb.  Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. 

Beat 2 egg whites until frothy.  Add 1/4 Cup of sugar and continue beating until rounded peaks are formed.  Remove pudding from oven and cover with meringue.  Return to oven for about 8 minutes or until meringue is lightly golden brown. 
 Serves 8.  

NOTE:  My friend, Pat R.  adds one egg (slightly beaten) to the cheese mixture in the "Asparagus & Us" recipe (#313) to help hold it together.       

For the locals:  Aledo, Illinois, Rhubarb Festival, June 3 and 4, 2011

The 20 years old festival, in the Rhubarb Capital of Illinois, will feature more than 2,000 homemade Rhubarb Pies for sale, Rhubarb Sampling, 12,000 free Rhubarb seeds given away, crafts, music, entertainment and more all set in downtown.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

M is for Myosotis

"Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of Heaven, Blossom the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels." 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow "Evangeline" 

 Myosotis is the Forget-Me-Not - that little blue flower many love and a few despise.  It's so easy to wonder how anyone could dislike such a sweet flower until we learn some types in some locations in some conditions are so invasive they are considered a noxious weed (can not be bought, imported, or planted in Connecticut or Massachusetts.) 

Those somes are not my acres and I'm glad with that bit of fortune.  Just read the particulars to see if your area would be fortune or introducing a weed.

The perennial, Water Forget-Me-Not must sit in damp soil (always) and self seeds with abandon.  Don't plant it in your water garden, beside your pond or stream unless you enjoy the billowing waves of pretty blue flowers.  It will be carried outside your property if the conditions are right.  From my side of the fence, it is beautiful in those blue drifts - from yours - maybe not so much.  Purists consider any "introduced" plant (meaning not native to the US) a bad idea and all should be gone.  Especially if they bully out native plants.  That's a debate with many sides that I'll leave lay today and I'll just talk about the flower.

 There are approximately 50 species of the Forget-Me-Not - from annual to very hardy perennial.  Their requirements differ enough that most gardeners could find one that "calls his or her name." 

A little history about the name recalls Myosotis is from the Greek "mouse ears" referring to the shape of the leaves.  The current name is from the French  "ne m'oubliez pas".

Most Forget-Me-Nots prefer moist soil and part shade.  Put them in dry clay and they seldom last a year.  They are about 6 to 18 inches high.  They tend to branch and wave making them perfect for informal and cottage gardens.  They fill in around tulips and other spring blooming flowers.     

For the record:  It is the state flower of Alaska.  Newfoundland used the flower as a symbol of their war dead.  Free Masons used the flower as the symbol of members killed by the Nazis.  It was often worn by women as a statement of their devotion and undying love.  Henry IV adopted the flower as his symbol during his exile.  And because it is such a descriptive name, it has been widely used in literature - as recently as in book I of "Lord of the Rings".

The flowers are blue with a yellow gold eye.  I consider them tiny in size.  They are not considered an allergy trigger and have no poisonous parts.  They are not considered a fire factor in areas where wild fires are a problem.   

"Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers -- and never succeeding."
- Marc Chagall, painter, 1887-1985

Photos of the flowers are credited to the USDA web site and used with permission of Patrick J. Alexander and from the Wikipedia web site as credited with their permission.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March Yard

Over a week ago, we had a tree full of noisy roosting Red Winged Blackbirds.  This is early from what I've seen in past years.  We've seen a few American Robins all winter so can't count "first sighting" news on those big boys although they are now in increased numbers.  The skies have been full of migrating geese and ducks.

Our ever protecting lab, Harley, has been busy barking all night and sleeping days.  Lots of returning or waking wildlife to warn away.   

This Saturday, March 19, a full moon “of rare size and beauty” will rise.  It's called a super "perigee moon".  It will be the biggest in almost 20 years.  Perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter.  It will be another 20 years before we see it again.  Best seen as it sits on the horizon (or around the clouds in our predictions.)

My tulips and other plants have started breaking through the ground - about 2 inches this week.  Although ice and snow may "nip" the tips of these leaves, seldom does it cause long term damage.  Flower buds on trees may be damaged if it hits just prior to opening.  

I always error on the side of caution and don't clean off my flower beds until after May 1st.  If you live in a protected area (such as cities), or farther south, you may not have to worry as much as we do out here in the cold, windy country. 

If you haven't already - throw poppy seeds on some sunny locations.  Bring in a branch of spring flowering bushes (forsythia, crab apple, pussy willow, etc.) for forcing.  Make sure your garden tools are all ready for action.  

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want - oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”  Mark Twain 

No kidding, Mr. Twain, No kidding!

Asparagus & Us

Some University of Illinois Extension Classes offered in March, April and May.  Enlarge to read and print the registration form.  Always a good time and lots of interesting garden information.

I've never understood why every family with a small plot of soil hasn't planted asparagus.  OK, I do understand because I just planted some hybrid asparagus last year.  Up until then I simply cut the plants in our back woods.  Not sure if they were planted years ago by some farm wife or if they are wild.  At any rate, they gave me a good taste but not even close to enough for an asparagus lover like me.

This old botanical print shows all parts of the asparagus plant.  The young tender spring shoots are what we know as our dining asparagus.  White asparagus has had the sunlight blocked.  There is purple asparagus that is reported more tender and sweet.

Asparagus officinalis is a spring perennial.  It is native to Europe, N. Africa and W. Asia.  One of the oldest recorded vegetables reportedly is a picture surviving from 3000 BC.

The asparagus companion plant is the tomato because it helps repel asparagus beetles. 

The US states that have commercial asparagus crop production are Washington, California and Michigan.

Now, for the question everyone wants to ask but polite company does not:  "Why does urine smell after eating asparagus?"  Certain compounds in asparagus are metabolized, giving urine a distinctive smell due to various sulfur-containing degradation products, including various thiols, thioesters, and ammonia.  The organic compounds responsible are:  methanethiol, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, bis(methylthio), methane, dimethyl sulfoxide, and dimethyl sulfone.  Everyone that eats asparagus has urine that smells like this but only 22% of those people can smell it.  Thank you S. C. Mitchell for "Food idiosyncrasies:  beetroot and asparagus".   What would you do without my help on Trivia Night?

I planted my new asparagus at the side of my garden bed.  My garden is on the upside of a small hill.  The Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board recommends, "Choose a sandy, well-drained spot in full sun. Asparagus does not tolerate saturated soil conditions, so if you have clay soil, choose a hilltop or hillside. If water stands in the spot you have chosen for only an hour, it is probably too wet for asparagus."  Read their many recommendations and other information at

Don't harvest your new asparagus the year it is planted and not the next year.  On the third year, take a few cuttings.  On the forth year, harvest when the spears are 11-15 inches tall and again as new growth reaches the same height.  If you have a large area of plants, it may be harvested every day.  When the plants stop producing many spears, stop picking for the season to let the crown recuperate.

Asparagus sets or crowns may be found at most full nurseries, on line or in catalogs.  Plant exactly per directions.

More trivia from the fine folks in Michigan:  "Growers should harvest all of the spears that come up until the end of the harvest period, even the small diameter ones we call "whips". You will find that whips are generally higher in fiber and tougher to eat than large diameter spears. That is because most of the fiber in asparagus is in the skins, making the larger spear the more tender. This is the exact opposite of what consumers assume when buying fresh asparagus, but is true nevertheless."

It is suggested you snap off the spears instead of cutting.  In this way you will only have tender shoots.  Don't use salt to keep weeds away.  It works if you use enough but it also damages the soil around it for other plants pretty much forever - plus it may run-off in the rain to other plants and it turns clay soil into a concrete like texture.  Not good.  I prefer to hand weed and mulch since hoeing may damage the crowns.  Remove all debris near the plants as this is a breeding area for disease.  Should you have insect or disease problems, consult and research prior to buying.

In the Midwest, asparagus (once established) does not need watering because the roots can grow to 10 foot down.  Fertilizer is not necessary unless the soil, in general, is lacking in a balanced ratio.  Do not prune off the feathery ferns or the berries - both are needed to build nutrients for next year's produce. 

The good news:  Asparagus is a nutrient-dense food which in high in Folic Acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin.   Asparagus has no fat, contains no cholesterol and is low in sodium.  It's truly beautiful, nutritious and delicious!

Added from my friend Pat R.:  Asparagus Wraps

20 fresh asp. spears
1 loaf thin bread slices
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 c. blue cheese crumbles
1 - Egg - slightly beaten
3/4 lbs butter (yes this is correct)

Cut crusts off bread.  Combine egg and cheeses & spread on 20 slices of bread. Lay one asparagus on each and wrap  bread around.  Seal with a toothpick. Freeze for one hour. Melt butter, roll spears in it, remove picks and bake 25 min. at 400 degrees.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

L is for Lily

H. Barbara Mitchell 
If you've read my articles for any length of time or depth, you know I have a bad case of "Daylily Madness"!  I've written almost twenty articles on daylily topics and another on hybrid lilies.  No one can say I'm "lily livered" or "weak as a lily" about this topic.  As a result, I've been mulling over simply not revisiting lilies for the alphabetical line-up of "L".  In the end, who can resist - apparently not I.

H. Lunar Max
What makes a daylily crazed person?  I'd say the ease and hardiness rank right up there with the beauty.  Plant a variety of daylilies and the garden will be in bloom from summer through fall.  Here are the boundaries of daylilies:
  • The name:  Hemerocallis is the name of daylilies and you will see that at the beginning of the flower's name or simply an "H".  There are virtually thousands of named (registered) daylies.
  • Price:  Gardeners often share starts of daylilies and that falls under the "free" category.  On the other hand, newly hybridized daylilies may run in the hundreds of dollars for one fan.  Big cost does not necessarily mean big happiness. 
  • Color:  Daylilies started out as orange and yellow and later a pink.  Today, they expand on most every color of the rainbow except a true blue and I expect that barrier to be broke in the near future.
  • Height:  Daylilies scapes (stems) may be a short twelve inches and the hybridizers are working on breeding scapes taller than six feet.  Today's averages run 18 - 36 inches.
  • Size of bloom:  Diminutive 1 inch flowers to almost a foot in width are in the offering today.  
  • Bloom form:  Doubles, spiders, curled, ruffled, unusuals, flat, and the list expands every season.
  • Pattern:  Single color to many different combinations deliberately hybridized.  Edges and throats and everything in between are of different colors and hues.  Surfaces may be pearl dusted, velvet and more.
  • Foliage:  Obviously green and now in stripes, blue-green, light or dark green, and different habits, heights, and width.
  • Hardiness:  Evergreen, Semi Evergreen and Dormant are the three most common.  It can be a confusing category and not always a dependable way of choosing one that will survive in your zone.
  • Availability:  The "orange ditch lily" known officially as Hemerocallis Kwanso double or the single H. Orange Tawny is free for the digging in this area and over most of the U.S.  Every garden store and nursery in this area has at least a H. Stella de Oro for sale and generally more.  On-line stores & catalogs have many many more.
  • Pests:  Let's just say there are some (more in some areas of the country) but most of us never have big problems.  It is very important to keep the roots from rotting.  Good sanitation in your garden is your best defence. 
  • Needs:  Average garden soil (although they enjoy and prosper with enriched good soil), full sun (some do well in semi shade), average water & most will do fine except during drought  (never let them sit in wet soggy clay), fertilize prior to blooming for more & larger blooms (will do alright without), deadhead blooms daily for a clean appearance (will do fine if you don't), mulch gently to suppress weeds, gently rake out dead after danger of spring frost (for a cleanliness), cut back foliage after blooming and the leaves will come back fresh looking (don't do this on re bloomers or if you don't care about a few tattered leaves).           
  • Oddities:  Some dark colors will fade in the hot afternoon sun.  Different soil types will affect the color (pinks may be peach for example).  Large lilies may not withstand strong winds without shredding that day's bloom.  Some flowers rain spot.  Some bloom over most of the summer - some re bloom and most over several weeks.   Some send up scapes with several buds, others have branching on scapes with each having buds.  Some lilies spread while others stay in a clump.   

H. Wind Frills
In the eye of the beholder?  Yep, beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to daylilies.  That faint lavender-pink may be your favorite and I may consider it boring.  Your bright orange seven inch spider may be the thrill of your garden and I may consider it garish.  Who cares!  There are enough daylilies and daylily versions for all of us to be happy.

H. Miss Tinkerbell
The fact of the matter - daylily madness is a pretty wonderful garden problem and I'm willing to share!
An unknown pink double

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Fever!

Seems as if Spring Fever is bigger this year.  Impatience for nice weather and all things green and warm.  Want - NEEDING - that first peek of green leaves pushing up through the ground.  Sunshine in all its warmth and abundance.   
Every gray day with temperatures still freezing and the hint of snow brings about groaning and downright hositility.  Those that managed to tough out February have apparently reached their tolerence level in March.
Our area nurseries and greenhouses are working full tilt right now to get ready for their April openings.  Most have updated their web sites to feature the plants that will be available and the events they will present.  Catalogs and on line sites are pushing orders with deals and discounts.
I'll list a few things going on in this area.
WQPT Storm (severe weather) Spotter training is being held.  There is one in Colona IL April 4th from 6-8 pm at the Colona Fire Station.  It's free and open to anyone.  Contact for more information.
Distinctive Gardens in Dixon IL has updated their web site to include new plants and events.  Don't forget their container class April 16th at 10 am.  Call them for details.  Their open house is April 30-May 1.  AND, mark your calenders for their August 20th "3rd Annual Gardenstock Art and Music Festival."  
Hoerr Nursery, Peoria, IL, because they are full time landscapers, can be accessed anytime but their nursery starts the spring plant sales in April.

Sunnyfield Greenhouse and Nursery, Kewanee IL has not yet updated their website to feature 2011 plants and information but they typically open for spring plant sales April 1st.

Red Barn Nursery, Sheffield, IL is planning on having their plants ready for sale mid April.

Hornbaker Nursery, Princeton IL is shooting for April 10th for spring plant sales.  Check out their March newsletter for workshops and other garden days.

Garden Shops typically start having their plants on display a little after the nurseries because most have a majority of plants outside or must buy them from other sources.  If it's anything like last year, plan on hitting them early as they managed to sell out of many new offerings.  Some of these smaller shops have some really interesting plants not often found in the big nurseries.

And then there is all the garden "stuff":  Tools, decoration, maintenance items, and the list goes on. 

“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.”  Helen Hayes  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday?  I was fat on Monday, too, does that count?  Does it mean I have double the parades, more necklaces thrown my way, is my costume made of more red beans????

Even though Mardi Gras embraces many different traditional Cajun-Creole dishes AND even though we can't go to the creek running through the back forty for shrimp, we can grow some of the ingredients for these savory and sweet dishes.

In the world of fast food and fast food prep, many women have stopped cooking with dried legumes.  It's a shame, really, because they are so darn good for you.  My problem was I could never remember to start them soaking the night before.  Then, I found it was perhaps better to just boil them for an hour before I was ready to start my recipe and I'm back in the legume recipe game.

When the sugar plantation owners in Haiti fled to Louisiana (another French holding), they brought red beans with them.  Their Red Beans and Rice recipe, created in the French Quarter is still one of their most popular recipes. 

To plant red kidney beans your soil pH should be 6.0.  Sow the seeds 1 inch deep, about 6 inches apart, in rows 18 inches apart. They must have room on either side for maximum production. Plant as early as possible after all danger of frost has past. Avoid overhead watering and do not handle plants when they are wet. Most germinate in about 90-100 days.  Wait till the pods are straw colored, then pull the plant up and hang to dry. When dry, shell pods individually or bash plants back and forth in a bag or pillowcase.  Store clean dry beans in a sealed dry container.  Old canning jars work well.

The beans are considered in the "dry" category - (Phaseolus vulgaris). 

Following is Chef John Besh's Red Beans and Rice recipe.  Southern Louisiana raised, Chef Besh is owner of 7 restaurants - that and he's certainly holds the "most hunky chef" title!

2     Onions - diced
1     Green bell pepper - seeded and diced
1     Stalk celery - diced
2 T  Rendered bacon fat
1#   Dried Red Kidney beans
2     Smoked ham hocks
3     Bay leaves
1/2 tsp     Cayenne pepper
3    Green onions - chopped
      Freshly ground pepper
      Tabasco sauce
3 C Cooked white rice

Sweat the onions, bell peppers and celery in the rendered bacon fat in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat.  Once the onions become translucent, add the kidney beans, ham hocks, bay leaves and cayenne, then add water to cover all by two inches.

Increase the heat and bring the water to a boil.  Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and allow the beans to simmer slowly for 2 hours.  Periodically stir the beans to make sure that they don't scorch on the bottom of the pot, adding water if necessary, always keeping the beans covered by an inch or more of water.

Continue cooking beans until they are creamy and beginning to fall apart when they're stirred.  Remove the ham hock meat from the bones, roughly chop it and add it back to the pot of beans.  Stir in the green onions and season with salt, black pepper and Tabasco.  Serve with a side of white rice.  Some add a side order of sausage.

Makes 6 servings. 

The good news:  443 calories per serving - 18 g fiber, 24 g protein
Paying for flavor:  9 g fat, 23 mg cholesterol, and 234 mg sodium.
Someone just told Rex there's a bowl of red beans down the street with his name on it!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lettuce Anyone?

I was reading a story from Lehman's Country Store in Kidron, Ohio.  Their retail store was hit with a freak flash flood a few days ago.  They had 18-30 inches of nasty mud and debris as the powerful wave moved through their store.  The damage (such as moving a 18 cu freezer from one end of the large store to the other) to their inventory and structure was as amazing as it was sad.

Anyone who has had to deal with natural disasters and the following clean-up knows it initially is a shock, then hopelessness, and then moving forward.  Lehman's originally served the non-electric plain people of Ohio.  A family run business, they have become popular with those of us who like good sturdy quality, make in the USA and prefer to use natural ingredients and products.

They started and continued to run the business as if they were serving the Lord - OK, they are serving the Lord - but they treat their customers with customer service that revolves around, "treat others as you would want to be treated."  And, a few days ago, that came back to them by customers & neighbors who appreciate that ethic.

Besides their employees, they had about eighty volunteers show up to help.  What might have taken months or closed the business, took less than a week.  It reminded me of the Amish from Michigan that showed up at my folks place when it had been destroyed by a tornado in 1965.  They show up unasked, they quietly do quality work and they leave expecting nothing in return.  Whether you embrace their religion or mode of life, their doctrine regarding helping others it's something all could emulate for a better world.
While on Lehman's web site, I looked at their heirloom garden seeds and that reminded me of planting lettuce.  Lettuce planting time will be here before you know it and it's time to think about what kind you want to plant.

Lettuce seeds may be purchased in most any garden shops, farm and box stores and catalogs.  Most of our local nurseries offer seeds and plant sets.

Here are just a few Heirloom Lettuces and who offers seeds.  Also, check locally for these and others.
Yugoslavian Red Butterhead Lettuce   (mild flavor)
Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce    (sharp flavor)
Black-Seeded Simpson Lettuce   (mild flavor)
Reine des Glaces Lettuce  (sweet flavor)
Yugoslavian Red Lettuce   (mild flavor
Heirloom Seeds:
Key Lime Lettuce (sweet flavor)
Pablo Lettuce (sweet flavor
Seed Savers Exchange:
Susan's Red Bib Lettuce (mild flavor)
Bronze Arrowhead  (flavorful)
Diane's Seeds:
Forellenschluss Lettuce (flavorful)
Annie's Annuals: 
Drunken Woman Fuzzy Headed Lettuce (savory flavor)
Mascara Lettuce (mild flavor)
Renee's Garden Seeds:
Garden Ferns Lettuce  (sweet flavor)
Merveille De Quatre Saisons  (flavorful)

Heirloom, organic and newer varieties have many fine flavors, texture, size and shape, length to germination, rate of bolt and variety of lettuce.  Besides being a good food choice, they make great edging for the garden, look pretty in pots, fill in empty spots in the perennial beds, and last most of the summer.

If your garden is ready and prepared, plant the seeds before the last frost (see seed packets for times).  If you must wait until later in the spring, consider plant sets to get the earliest production.  Lettuce makes a great "sharing" vegetable - pick a bag and take to work, to church, to neighbors and family.  Share the love. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tornado Alley

If you live on tornado alley, street or country lane, Spring means severe weather in the Midwest.  Face it folks we do have our one biggie and it rotates and it's ugly. 

The following is thanks to Anthony Peoples - meteorologist for WQAD, Channel 8 in the Quad Cities.  Check out Anthony's BLOG which may be accessed either directly from the news channel's web page or by "liking" it on your Facebook.  

Anthony reports, "As of March 1, 2011, there have been around 42 confirmed tornadoes across the country. At least four people were killed on February 28th in Tennessee in severe weather."

"Severe weather is more widespread across the southern United States in the months of January through March because of the proximity of the jet stream, the high powered winds aloft that steer weather systems and separates the cold air to the north and the warm air to the south."

"As that jet moves northward in the spring to southern Canada in the summer months, the severe weather moves northward with it."

"The number of tornadoes drastically increases as we head into spring and summer. Here are the average number of tornadoes across the U.S. (based on reports from 2008-2010): January 45, February 64, March 96, April 219, May 326, and June 340."

"It’s important as we head into spring to know the difference between a “watch” and a “warning”, whether it’s for severe thunderstorms or tornadoes."

"Here’s how my colleagues at the National Weather Service office in the Quad Cities distinguishes a watch from a warning:

A WATCH is issued to give advance notice when conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather, whether it be severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, or flash flooding. When a watch is issued for your area, it is time to take precautions and make sure you are prepared should bad weather strike. Make sure you have a flashlight, radio, and weather radio with fresh batteries handy in case you lose power. Monitor weather radio closely for the latest statements or warnings. It is also a good time to move vehicles and animals to shelter and secure loose outdoor articles.

WARNINGS are issued when severe weather is occurring or imminent. When a warning is issued for your area, you should take action immediately to protect your life and your property.”

"Even if you’re not dealing with tornadoes, all severe thunderstorms produce lightning and those bolts are responsible for about 93 deaths and 300 injuries each year. Lightning is also very costly. It causes several hundred million dollars in damage to property each year."

Even thought I usually write about my own little meanderings, I thought Anthony's facts might help my readers, too.  If you're into all things weather, check out my earlier article "Spring Weather #11."

To my knowledge, none of the above clouds developed into a tornado - I just enjoy clouds and taking pictures of the beautiful skies out here on the hill.  But and that's a big BUT, I respect the power of storms and being prepared is not only smart - it could be a life saver.
WQAD does offer hazardous weather alert services that can go to your cell phone and/or computer.  It's great for parents, school administrators, business and all the rest of us who simply must know up-to-the minute bad weather watches and warnings.  It's where I got that cute little weather flag at the bottom of this BLOG.