Friday, April 29, 2011

Flowering Toppers

When we love flowers, all things floral may pop up and the Royal wedding was no exception.  You must admit the Brits know how to dream up women's hats and today was certainly no exception.  These floral trimmed hats weren't at the wedding but inspirational to say the least.
The Queen has been said to own over 5,000 hats.  Royalty watchers say it's to help people recognize her.  With the hats she wears, she simply has to love hats and flowers.

This little orange number is one of her early flower crowns.
Flowers are everywhere for this blue number
Is it wrong to say "she's a cute 85 year old"?
William's mother with flowers in her hair and William's step mother with a pink creation.
 The new bride's hat style will fit right in with the Royals.  I'm thinking there is some serious Super Glue involved with these popular little cliff hangers.
This is one of my own hats from years ago.  Not exactly Royal class - maybe garden class ...  And, I promise to get back to something more garden next time - just too much hat fun to resist. 

All Hail The Queen

Doing a "Royals of England" garden article just in case you haven't had enough in-depth coverage of everything from Royal shoes to zippers.  Whether you enjoy the pageantry, the opulence, the history, or even the silliness - it's definitely a wide topic.

Many heirloom roses carry the names and descriptions from the Victorian England era.  Since Queen Victoria loved her gardens, many focus on Royalty.  A few are listed below and are rated for our Zone 5.  Enjoy.
 THE PRINCE'S TRUST"The Prince's Trust", an English Legend rose.  It's a fragrant climber rated for Zone 5.
ROYAL PAGEANT™ (HARblend)(Della Balfour)"Royal Pageant" is another fragrant climber for this area.
  THE PRINCE®   (AUSvelvet) Pat. 8813"The Prince" has old rose perfume on the royal velvet substance.  A David Austin rose.
REINE VICTORIA"Reine Victoria" was named for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.   Developed in 1872, it is extremely fragrant heirloom Bourbon rose. 
Rosa "Queen of England" is a Grandiflora tea rose. 

Not a rose, but, in the carrot family - "Queen Anne's Lace" has one lore crediting the lace making skills of Queen Ann of England for it's name.

The current Queen Elizabeth wore a coronation gown which was embroidered with floral emblems for the countries of the Commonwealth: English Tudor rose, Scots thistle, Welsh leek, Irish shamrock, Australian wattle, Canadian maple leaf, New Zealand silver fern, South African protea, lotus flowers for India and Ceylon, and Pakistan's wheat, cotton, and jute.

Daylily "Royal Prince" (below) is one of many holding royal titles. 

"God Save The Queen" daylily. 
And finally, there are the many flower gardens with Royal connections.  One of the most famous is the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

National Blueberry Pie Day

Do you remember that cute little commercial stating "Boo berries are our friends"?  Well folks - it's national blueberry pie day!  For only 80 calories for a cup of plain blueberries and absolutely no fat, you can have the friend of a lifetime.

While researching this article, I found no down side to blueberries unless you are allergic or something specific to your own system.  Granted they are a little expensive to buy off the counter but so is steak and we seldom see Americans turning away from the cost of good meat.  It becomes a choice as to what we spend our money on and here are some reasons to consider blueberries a need rather than an expense.   
According to a University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center study, blueberries have the following health benefits:

  1. The highest antioxidant capacity of all fresh fruit - it boosts up your immune system and prevents infections.  With a strong immunity system it helps your system resist colds, fever, pox and some other viral and bacterial communicable diseases.
  2. Neutralizes free radicals which can affect disease and aging in the body.  It's the presence of Anthocyanin, the pigment responsible for the blue color, plus all the vitamin C it contains.
  3. Blueberries may help reduce belly fat and risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. This is an on-going study and the conclusions not totally understood for humans.  Belly fat generally indicates an enlarged liver and is linked to obesity and insulin resistance, a hallmark of diabetes.
  4. Helps promote urinary tract health by inhibiting growth of the bacterias which may cause infection.
  5. Blueberry extract has been found (in clinical studies) to slow down visual loss. They can prevent or delay all age related ocular problems like macular degeneration, cataract, myopia and hypermetropia, dryness and infections, particularly those pertaining to retina. Data reported in a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration.
  6. Blueberries can prevent and heal neurotic disorders by preventing degeneration and death of neurons, brain-cells and also by restoring health of the central nervous system. They even heal damaged brain cells and neuron tissues and keep your memory sharp.
  7. The high fiber content, the anti oxidants and the ability to dissolve the ‘bad cholesterol’ make the blueberry an ideal dietary supplement to cure many heart diseases. It also strengthens the cardiac muscles.
  8. The fiber (roughage) in blueberries will keep away constipation if you eat them by the handful.  Other components will improve digestion
  9. It is believed blueberries can prove an excellent remedy for colon and liver cancer as well as prevent some cancers. Studies show a significant reduction in ovarian cancer risk.
  10. Blueberries are very good anti depressants.
 Ripening Blueberries.Want to cut the cost of this beneficial?  Plant your own blueberries.  There are three kinds of blueberries and they are classified by hardiness zones.   Highbush for Zones 3 - 7, Rabbiteye for Zones 7 - 9 and Southern Highbush for Zones 7 - 10. 

The Highbush grow from 8-10' (h) x 6-8' (w), Rabbiteye grows to 15' (h) x 10' (w) and Southern Highbush is from 3-6' (h) x 4-5' (w).  They need full sun.

Plant today because it takes three years to produce a small harvest and they won’t really begin to produce fully until about their 6th year.

These beauties are native to our North America.  Growing in the wild, they are smaller berries but professed to be the sweetest.  Cultivated blueberries are continually being bred for higher yields, heat and cold tolerance and better pest resistance.  The varieties mentioned above are old and you may see new varieties every year at your nursery or greenhouse. 

For this area the Highbush (or Northern Highbush) is usually recommended.  Highbush will self-pollinate, but yield and size is improved with cross pollination.  Planting a variety of plants allows for a longer production time.  Early: 'Earliblue', 'Collins'; Mid: 'Blueray', 'Bluecrop', 'Berkeley'; Late: 'Jersery', 'Patriot'.

The flowers are small, white, bell-shaped flowers hang in clusters in late spring.  Bees find them especially inviting since they are one of the first pollen flowers of spring.  The berries ripen over time, from green to a deep purple-blue.  The leaves are a pointed oblong, oval shape and substantial and almost leathery to the touch. They turn a brilliant red in the fall making them a beautiful landscape plant.

The only reliable way to know if blueberries are ready to pick is to taste one or two. Blueberries are their sweetest if allowed to stay on the plant at least a week after turning blue.  Mature blueberry bushes produce about 8 quarts of berries per bush.

Blueberries like a very acidic soil, with a soil pH in the range of 4.0 to 4.5. They also like a soil rich in organic matter. In heavy clay soil, blueberries will fare better in raised beds.  Make sure existing beds continue to have the pH range needed. 

Look for bare root plants that are 2-3 years old. Older plants suffer more transplant shock. Plant in early spring. You can mix some peat moss into your planting hole, so keep the soil loose, acidic and well-draining.

If you have only one or two plants, space them about 4-5 feet apart. To plant rows of blueberries, space plants about 4-5 feet apart in rows that are 9-10 feet apart.  Plant so that the roots are spread out in the hole and completely covered in soil. If they were container grown plants, plant about 1" deeper than they were in the pot. Mulch after planting. Evergreen wood chips, like pine or cedar, sawdust and pine needles will help keep the soil acidified.

Water in well and be sure they get a deep watering at least once per week. Blueberries tend to be shallow rooted and need at least a couple of inches of water each week, more during dry spells.  Don’t fertilize your blueberries their first year. In additonal years, use any fertilizer for acid loving plants, including blueberry food and azalea food.

All fruit bearing bushes and trees need some pruning and blueberries are no exception.  The first 2 years, all you really need to do is remove any flowers that appear. Your plants will get bigger and more vigorous because of this.  You can leave the flowers on for the third year. You won’t get many berries, but no pruning is necessary until the 4th year.

Beginning in the 4th year, you’ll prune your blueberry bushes in early spring, while they are still dormant. Prune out any dead or injured branches, crossing branches and weak, spindly branches.  A blueberry bush need to be open allowing light to reach the berries in the middle of the bush. Berries form on the fruiting spurs of side branches. The flower buds will be larger, plumper and rounder than the pointed leaf buds.

Birds are the biggest problem for fruit production and netting helps.  Plant disease resistant varieties for an easier and healthier plant.

A little side note:  I like to freeze my blueberries on a rimmed cookie sheet.  Then put into a freezer bag.  They are like candy and a great snack when I think I simply MUST have something sweet.  Kids love this treat.  Or yum onto a piece of blueberry pie - really it's OK - it's a National Day!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Walking the Line

Soil temperatures are important to those of you who plant seeds and plant sets each spring.  I've always winged it since I never really knew where or how to get accurate information.  I would error on the warm side rather than take the chance of seeds rotting or not germinating.  

Today, Anthony Peoples (WQAD meteorologist) commented on this very subject and I asked him where I could get info on a regular basis.  The door opened and he gave a resource to me and that led to another.  Love it when it works so well - and thank you Anthony! 

These both are from an Illinois perspective and if your computer doesn't process pdf files, use the other.  Other states will have sights sponsored by their USDA or their local university specializing in agriculture. 

(I might add the U of Illinois has downsized and some of their on-line informational columnists have been let go.  Back information usually stays on the web history.  It's sad so many fine educational employees will no longer have U of I employment or be a benefit for the state's residents.)

For the farmer, soil temperature is a major importance for nitrogen application and planting.  There is a massive amount of data regarding how and why.  It is interesting reading but I'll leave the fine points to those who need to use it for their livelihood. 

If you use lawn and garden chemicals, correct soil temperature is often a necessary criteria for successful application.  "Already the crabgrass preventers are showing up in the stores. But that doesn't mean you should use them yet. Crabgrass seeds will not germinate until the SOIL temperatures are 55-65 degrees for 7-10 consecutive days. For northern Illinois that often does not happen until late April into early May. Even in a warm spring it is unlikely that you will need to use them before the end of April."  U of I website.

Along with soil temperature, the last frost date is important for planting tender annuals.  Typically, we have been told Mother's Day is the last day of concern for frost.  Realistically, that is just a fifty fifty chance - meaning 50% chance of it working either way.  We have had frost at the end of May - just be prepared to cover exposed tender plants if the forecast calls for frost.

Although a little late for this information - if a plant seed has a long germination time, it will be difficult to have a wealth of produce before the temperatures drop in the fall and production stops.  The farther north you garden, the shorter the window of growth opportunity.  Those seeds need to be started indoors and transplanted outside to get a jump on the game.  That - or look for plant sets at your local nurseries or garden centers.  

Because "soil temperature" is confusing for most casual home gardeners, most product directions simply list "air temperature" as a defining gauge for planting tender annuals.  Generally, you don't want established plants to sit unprotected if the night temperatures dip below 60 degrees.  

I've seen clean gallon plastic milk jugs used as frost protection.  Leave the cap on the spout and cut off the bottom.  Push a little into the ground to keep the wind from blowing over.  If there is going to be cold AND high winds - you may want to use garden pins or rocks to hold an old blanket over all the jugs.  Take off during the day so it won't become an oven that bakes the little sets.  

Here's the rub:  the quicker/sooner you have a plant growing in the spring, the quicker/sooner you have produce and the more months of produce which equals more produce.  An unprotected tender annual or seeds that don't germinate because they are planted early will mean meager or no produce.

Yep, because your northern Illinois weather is mine I walk the fine line on planting dates.  (Is anyone whistling a Johnny Cash song right about now?)  Bad pun-bad pun!!  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cute Little Trick

I added a cute little trick to the bottom of my blog allowing those interested to have new "For The Love Of Gardening" articles sent to your e-mail address. 

I added this feature about a month ago.  I wanted to make sure it worked in a manner I liked before I recommended to readers.  It's pretty slick and doesn't have a bunch of added advertisements or pop-ups.  It's the article, including the photos, and easy to read. 

I don't use your e-mail address for anything - period - nothing - zip.  If you want to correspond, the comment section provides that avenue.  I don't give out my e-mail address to readers for a couple of reasons.  First - I use my e-mail for family and business.  Second - the only time I did, it was used as a way for someone's agenda to flood my address.   Thanks for understanding.

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read these little stories.  I've always maintained that gardeners are the nicest people and I'm gratified to be touching some of you with "For The Love Of Gardening".     

I Love to Tell the Story

The old gospel song "I Love to Tell the Story" touches me in so many ways.  Foremost is the message:  "...of Jesus and His Glory - of Jesus and His love."  And, all writers are story tellers of sorts.  Even those that offer instruction are drawing upon their own lives and weaving it through the selection of topics. 

I'll use plants from my garden as an example of bringing your own particular story to your garden.  Be it Biblical, colors, family or other interests, acres may be filled with your theme varieties. 

Sprinkled throughout your garden, they are simply a reminder to yourself of your passions.  For those who wish to expand a Biblical themed garden, here are some beauties:

I planted "Amazing Grace" in my family flower garden bed (called the family plot) for my granddaughter, Grace.  It is a beautiful 6 inch ruffled bright yellow daylily.  It blooms in June-July and is fragrant.  Awards:  Award of Merit, Honorable Menton and Junior Citation. 

"Spiritual Corridor" daylily is a gorgeous lavender pink with a prominent creamy yellow eye and a matching picotee edge.  The creamy watermark that blends into the eye is another feature that makes this early bloomer a standout.  

"Timeless Grace" is another of the many featuring Grace in it's title.  The bloom is 5 1/2 inches and is considered an extra early season bloomer and then it may re bloom.  The wide petals of pale rose pink have heavily ruffled edges and a yellow throat.  The cream midribs may be pronounced or mostly hidden. 

"Jacob's Ladder" is a sweet perennial featured in my article "J Is For Jacob's Ladder"  numbered 303.  

The white "Lily of the Valley" bell-like flowers have a fragrence worthy of the many perfumes which use it's scent.  Considered a pest in some areas of the country because it spreads - in this neck of the woods, it's a treasure.  Loving shade, it nestles under bushes and perennials blooming in early spring and then the leaves sit patiently for the rest of the summer.

A little stop by a favorite flower during your morning coffee or your evening glass of tea may bring sweet memories of why you have chosen a certain garden theme.

"God Almighty first planted a Garden; and, indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures; it is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man..."  Francis Bacon 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dishing On Dirt

Exactly what is right and wrong for garden soil (soil not dirt is the correct word according to the “horticulture crowd”)? You may get as many different answers as there are questions and many are from experts.

Granted, I take a casual attitude and tend to use as few chemicals as will suffice. I understand that location, soil composition and gardener involvement make a difference.

My casual attitude indicates I love fresh produce straight from my garden but do not in any way enjoy the tasks involved in vegetable gardening. Call it lazy or call it selective – I’ve come to accept this about myself. I realized I needed the simplest way to garden and still get abundant healthy produce.

For those who love-LOVE-L O V E the processing of gardening – let this article go without reading. For those of you who are process averting – come along with me today.

Seldom does town or county acreages have perfect soil. My garden area is former fields which were compacted, nutrient depleted, rocky and drained poorly. A town garden may be backfill.

Over the years my main garden soil enhancement has been manure. Dried (or aged) manure tilled into the garden will improve nutrients, aid de compaction, and enhance drainage. It is the single best additive I have ever used.

I also recycle/compost various non animal products such as coffee grounds & filters, fruit & vegetable scraps, newspaper & other biodegradable papers.

During this process, we have raised the soil level to enhance drainage. Raised beds are again gaining in popularity and I recommend this if you are starting from scratch. Besides the benefits for the soil, it enables gardening without bending over. There are directions for these if you are interested.

We do not till the garden except on the years when we add manure. There are several reasons: doesn’t disturb the beneficial insect activity, doesn’t eliminate the mulch already in place, doesn’t compact and takes less labor.

For the most part, I use newspaper as my garden mulch. It isn’t pretty but it recycles, it decomposes and it works. I use shredded paper, torn paper or flat newsprint in layers. Paper will absorb and hold moisture and help keep weeds from germinating. It allows plant specific watering without splashing mud on the plant or wasting water on bare ground. Paper can’t be applied on windy days, should be wet down immediately and may need some clods of soil to initially hold it in place.

If you plant seeds, apply paper between the rows and once the plants are thinned and larger, apply around the stems.

I’ve found paper mulch inhibits harmful insects better than most insecticides and keeps produce off the ground to prevent rotting. A negative of any mulch is it prevents beneficial earth dwelling bees and wasps from having access to expanses of nutrient rich soil.

Read my blog for other hints for reducing garden work. And to all the gardeners who love the process – I admire and enjoy your perfectly manicured spaces. To all the farmers starting the spring planting season – be safe and thanks again for feeding the world.

“Right letting alone and right meddling are the beginning and the ending of good gardening . . .”
E. A. Bowles in “My Garden in Spring”, 1914.

This is the start of paper mulching around my tomato plants.  This was a no-till year and grass is beginning to take hold - always a factor when using manure.  It will be smothered when it lays under a thick mulch all summer.
"New BFF" - blog article #135 - has more on Manure for gardens.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

N is for Nicotiana

Nicotiana Solanaceae (flowering ornamental tobacco) is a beautiful and fragrant annual in this area.  Some compare the fragrance to jasmine.  Planted from sets or seeds, they grow to 8 inches to 5 feet tall and most require full sun and moist well-drained fertile soil.  In other warmer areas, there is a perennial Nicotiana.

The annual bloom time is from summer to frost.  When other flowers are wilting from the heat and humidity of late summer, Nicotiana flourishes.  For the longest bloom time, it is suggested the seeds be started indoors and planted outside after the danger of frost and the soil has warmed.  OR, buy sets from your local nursery or garden center.  They "may" self seed or collect the seeds to start your own next year.      

The flowers are trumpet shaped ending in a star and most hang down a bit.  They come in colors of white, pink, rose, red, lavender, lime green, dusty shades, purples, and a blue tint.  The more white, the more fragrance.   

Aside from the intoxicating fragrance we humans smell from Nicotiana, hummingbirds, butterflies and "spectacular" moths find them irresistible.  They are seldom bothered by deer, disease or pests.

Even though we may think of the Nicotiana as the beautiful and fragrant garden annual (it is), it is still tobacco.  There is rich history and controversy weaved about Nicotiana.

Nicotiana is called the most well know plant of the Americas because of the ritualistic use by every Native American tribe.  They consider it the unifying factor between humans and the spiritual powers.  There are found examples over 10,000 years old.  

The flowers of the original flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) are very fragrant and open at night. During the day, the night flowering varieties might look spindly and the flowers not as showy. Some more recent varieties open all day, but are not always so fragrant. If the fragrance is your main attraction, your better bet is with the white, night-flowering varieties.

Varieties include:  N. alata grandiflora, N. affinis, N. tabacum, N. rustica, N. acuminata, N. glauca, N. Sanderae, N. Bigelovii (Indian Tobacco), N. Suaveolens, N. aromatica, N. sylvestris (old fashioned), N. longiflora, N. wigandioides, N. obtusifolia (Desert Tobacco) and N. noctiflora.  There are new varieties being developed.  N. tabacum is typically just grown for the commercial use of it's leaves for smoking products.  Most are native to the Americas - a few native in the Pacific Ocean islands.  China has become a major supplier of seeds for those who farm the commercial smoking variety. 

A mild fertilizing each blooming month and deadheading the flowers will keep the decorative Nicotiana blooming heavily all summer. 

Nicotiana looks beautiful in a natural or country garden.  They look stunning when planted in masses.  Since the bottom of the plant is usually a single stem, they may be tucked into existing perennial beds without disrupting established roots.  When the tops of the taller varieties get full sized, they tend to lean if not supported.  

If planting the very fragrant variety, plant where you will smell - near porches, paths, and open windows.  These areas will also provide the best view for watching hummingbirds, butterflies and moths.

The white varieties glow in an all-white night or shade garden.     

“A beautiful blossom
is a fleeting thing
It stays for a moment
and then takes wing.”
Albert Richards “Floral Radiographs: The Secret Garden”

Poisonous – All parts of the plants are highly poisonous and contain the toxic pyridine alkaloids nicotine and anabasine.  Smoking tobacco N. tabacum and N. Bigelovii are considered a narcotic.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ribbit and Croak

We have an abundance of toads around our house and in the back woods.  A tough life for these welcome little amphibians because they are at the bottom of the food chain in many instances.  Hawks, owls, snakes, and even larger mammals will eat them given a chance.  This chubby little "American Toad" is holding still in hopes I won't notice him.  Another hazard for toads and frogs is the lawn mower.  When you see movement in the grass ahead of your mower, slow down and let them hop to safety. 

Toads and frogs are interesting to watch and provide nature a great insect pest removal system.  They can eat up to 1,000 insects a day.  That's better efficiency than man-made devices.  This toad is sunning to help get limbered up for the day.  Providing a place for the toads to have a daily water soak is easy.  Bury a shallow dish (old dinner plate, plant pot saucer, wash basin)  almost to the outside rim and fill with water.  Keep it filled every day the weather isn't freezing.  A rock or two will give them a place to sun.  It's best if these places are in a semi protected place so as not to attract frog eating birds.   
Toads and frogs are VERY sensitive to pesticides - which is absorbed through their skin.  Again, if you want natures' predictors to do your dirty work you must not use chemicals that might harm them.  This little guy (or gal) is making good use of his coloring design to stay hidden from predators.  Providing fallen logs, leaf debris and rocks is a way to welcome them.  A perfectly manicured, chemically treated yard will not be a good place for amphibians.

Toads and frogs need an insect population, water and moist areas, pesticide free foliage, and hiding places.  In the winter, they will burrow into the earth and hibernate.  It's fun to provide shelter homes for toads and frogs although they seem to do fine on their own.  Providing shelters is a great kids' project.  Teach children to watch them instead of handling them.  Most have a rather unpleasant sticky substance they secrete from their skin when frightened, plus, the all thrilling panic pee they often do when picked up. 

This fish pond with water lettuce was a perfect perch for toad dinners.  Patiently waiting for an insect to buzz the water where it became instant buffet.  This little one lived inside the hole to the left where the pump wires entered.  On warm summer evenings we are serenaded by the many calls of our resident toads and frogs.  Sometimes it sounds like a string being pulled through a Quaker Oats container, other times its short chirps or low growls.      

The spider to the right of this gray guy was soon to be a meal.  Store bought toad and frog homes are also garden decoration and if you want one, there are many on the market.  There is no guarantee houses will be used by toads and frogs.  Plan to leave it in the same place for years.  Insects will start to live in it and it may attract toads for just this reason.  Patience is the keyword for houses.  Don't be lifting it to check out if it's inhabited as that will make your house a threat instead of protection.    

Right below the yellow flower is a broken pot turned upside down.  It has a hole broke from the edge allowing toads or frogs to enter.  In the hot summer it is shaded by foliage and the perfect hiding place.  Not only do they hide from enemies, they need damp shade to replenish and preserve moisture on their skin during hot days.

Frogs and toads are not particular about how their shelters look.  It needs to be dark, damp, mostly enclosed, cool and protected from predators.  A coffee can sitting on it's side and half buried will work and its an easy project for children to build.  Fill half the inside with soil so they will have a nice resting spot. 

Frogs and toads you may see in this area of Illinois:  American toad, Fowler's toad, Cricket frog, Gray treefrogs, Spring peeper frog, Western chorus frog, Plains leopard frog, Bullfrog, Green frog, Northern leopard frog, and a couple more may venture away from the larger bodies of water in particularly wet years.  To paraphrase the movie, if your habitat is friendly "they will come".  

“To a toad, what is beauty?
A female with two pop-eyes,
a wide mouth,
yellow belly and spotted back”

- Voltaire (French Philosopher and Writer - 1694-1778)    

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hummus vs. Humus

Humus is an organic ingredient in the soil and hummus is Arabic for chickpeas.  You would think that as a garden article, I'd be talking about humus but I'm not!

We stopped by Haddad's Restaurant, 1010 W. Main Street, Peoria IL yesterday for lunch.  It's a LITTLE twelve-seat candidate for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives!  Certainly everything was very good and especially the best Eggplant Hummus I've every had.  I realized it was a garden gift waiting to be grown locally.

The earliest known documentation of hummus itself comes from 18th-century Damascus.  Although there is a debate between Israel and Syria on who owns the commercial word hummus, the U.S. has become a growing market for hummus; increasing sales over 30% in the last few years.

Eggplant is the perfect garden vegetable for this area.  A tender garden annual that is related to the tomato.

The bushes grow 5 feet tall with hairy gray-green leaves. The fruit varies in size, shape and color.  Most of us are familiar with the purple produce pictured here.  It's color so well known, eggplant is now a paint color.
Eggplant requires warm soil and warm temperatures (remaining above 68 degrees.)  Full sun and heavily composted soil with lots of manure. Eggplant is fairly drought tolerant and should not be overly watered. 

Eggplant is quite adaptable to growing in pots.  Harvest young for the best flavor.  They are ready once the skin turns glossy.  Aphids, spider mites and caterpillars love the plants so keep watch for these and stop before they quickly destroy young plants. 

The other ingredient in all hummus is chickpeas aka garbanzo beans.  They can be raised in this area, but, it takes a very long (100 days) growing time and seeds must be planted immediately after the last frost or started inside.  A legume; they are neither a pea or a bean.  They also like the same growing conditions as eggplant.  Most of us will simply buy a can for our hummus recipes.  Either way, it's another healthy ingredient.

Whether you grow or buy your ingredients, here's a typical Eggplant Hummus recipe:

1 - Large Eggplant
1 - can chickpeas/garbanzo beans - drained
3 - Garlic cloves - peeled
1/4 C - Fresh lemon juice
3 T - Tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
Dash - Sea Salt
1/4 C - Olive oil
2 T - Fresh chopped parsley (optional)
3/4 tsp - Cumin
1/8 tsp - Cayenne (optional)

Slice eggplant in half, lay cut side down on foil lined rimmed baking sheet.  Wrap garlic in foil and lay on sheet with eggplant.  Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until eggplant is soft.

Allow to cool slightly, scoop out inside of eggplant into food processor or blender.  Discard skin and water.  Add garlic, chickpeas, lemon juice, Tahini, salt, cumin and cayenne.  Whip until smooth and fluffy.  May add a little oil if it's too stiff.  Fold in parsley gently or use as a garnish.  Arrange on plate, sprinkle lightly with olive oil and paprika.  Makes 8 servings.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours.  

May be frozen and reheated.  Traditionally dip flat bread (pita), torn in pieces, into the mixture.  It may be used as a dip with chips or vegetables or as a sandwich spread.  

Nutrition Facts for one serving - based on a 2000 calorie diet: 
304 Calories - 118 from fat 
Total fat is 13.1 g (20%) - Saturated fat is 1.7g (8%)
Cholesterol:  0%
Sodium:  58 mg (2%)
Carbohydrates:  37.8g (13%)
Dietary Fiber:  11.8g (47%)
Sugars:  7.3g
Protein:  11.9g
Vitamin A: 3%       
Vitamin C:  14%
Calcium:  9%
Iron:  23%

Yum Hummus!

Friday, April 8, 2011


A few sting hints and cautions:

  • Bees that have barbs on their stingers will die when they sting once because it rips their abdomen off when they try to fly away.  Grisly little fact. 
  • Those bees that don't die after stinging have smooth stingers.  They can sting many times if they want.
Info on stings from the Mayo Clinic: 

Minor reaction:
Most of the time, signs and symptoms of a bee sting are minor and include:
  • Instant, sharp burning pain at the sting site
  • A red welt at the sting area
  • A small, white spot where the stinger punctured the skin
  • Slight swelling around the sting area
  • In most people, swelling and pain go away within a few hours.

 Large local reaction:  
About 10 percent of people who get stung by a bee or other insect have a bit stronger reaction (large local reaction), with signs and symptoms such as:

  •  Extreme redness
  • Swelling at the site of the sting that gradually enlarges over the next day or two
  • Large local reactions tend to resolve over five to 10 days. Having a large local reaction doesn't mean you'll have a severe allergic reaction the next time you're stung. But some people develop similar large local reactions each time they're stung. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor about treatment and prevention.
 Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis):  
This is potentially life-threatening and requires emergency treatment. About 3 percent of people who are stung by a bee or other insect quickly develop anaphylaxis. Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Skin reactions in parts of the body other than the sting area, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin (almost always present with anaphylaxis)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue
  • A weak and rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • People who have a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting have a 30 to 60 percent chance of anaphylaxis the next time they're stung. Talk to your doctor or an allergy specialist about prevention measures such as immunotherapy to avoid a similar reaction in case you get stung again.

Multiple bee stings 
Generally, insects such as bees and wasps aren't aggressive and only sting in self-defense. In most cases, this results in one or perhaps a few stings. However, in some cases a person will disrupt a hive or swarm of bees and get stung multiple times. If you get stung more than a dozen times, the accumulation of venom may induce a toxic reaction and make you feel quite sick. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Vertigo
  • Feeling faint or fainting
  • Convulsions
  • Fever
  • Multiple stings can be a medical emergency in children, older adults, and people who have heart or breathing problems.

When to see a doctor: 
In most cases, bee stings don't require a visit to your doctor. In more-severe cases:

  •  Call 911 or other emergency services if you're having a serious reaction to a bee sting that suggests anaphylaxis, even if it's just one or two signs or symptoms.
  • If you were prescribed an emergency epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Twinject), use it right away as your doctor directed.

 If a stinger is in your skin:
  • QUICKLY remove the stinger as soon as you can, as it takes only seconds for all of the venom to enter your body.
  • Avoid squeezing the attached venom sac, which can release more venom.
  • Wash the sting area with soap and water.
  • Apply cold compresses to relieve pain and ease swelling.  This can be a simple as pressing a cold can of soda pop to the sting.   I like to mix baking soda & ice water to form a paste but there's no big research proof it does anything more than ice by itself. 
  • Avoid scratching the sting area. This will worsen itching and swelling — and increase your risk of infection.

 Know what to do when you're exposed to bees:

  • Don't allow children to play in an area where bees are swarming or busy collecting. 
  • If a few bees are flying around you, stay calm and slowly walk away from the area. Swatting at an insect may cause it to sting. 
  • If a bee or wasp stings you, or many insects start to fly around, cover your mouth and nose and quickly leave the area. When a bee stings, it releases a chemical that attracts other bees. If you can, get into a building or closed vehicle.
  •  If you're allergic to bee stings, your doctor will likely prescribe an emergency epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Twinject). You'll need to carry it with you at all times.
If you're not allergic, simply use good sense (aw, yes that whole good sense thing) and let the bees go about their business and you go about your business.  Be aware and take care - they are our little friends.  

"Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it."
-Song of Solomon 8:13

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Here are some BEEautiful facts about bees:

• There are 20,000 different kinds of bees in the world/4,000 in North America.

• Bees see every color except red. Blue, purple, white & yellow are favorites.

• Honeybees pollinate more than 100 food crops in the U.S.

• Carpenter Bees pollinate plants ignored by other bees.

• Bees’ wings flap over 10,000 times a minute.

• Insecticides & slug pellets (even organic) are lethal to bees.

• Bees will only visit flowers with visible stamens (single flowers)

• A queen bee lays 1,500 eggs a year.

• Worker bees are always females.

• Bees have two stomachs.

• There is evidence of bees from as far back as 30 million years.

• A beehive in the summer may have as many as 80,000 bees.

• A honeybee must collect nectar from about 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey

Bumble Bees are big fat 1” yellow and black beneficial insects. They collect both pollen and nectar. They are very social and live in large communities. Their nests are typically in the soil but may be around patios & attics. They are very aggressive if defending their nests. They do not die after stinging.

Carpenter Bees are blue/black 1” oval beneficial insects. They also collect pollen and nectar. They are solitary and live by themselves with their young. Their home is drilled into bare wood. They don’t cause structural problems. They do not die after stinging.

Honeybees are ½” and gold with brown bands. They are very social and live in large colonies. They are the only social insects to live several years in colonies. They will die after stinging once. They typically build their wax nests in tree crevices.

Africanized Bees aka Killer Bees are golden yellow with brown bands, ½” long and oval. They can only sting once and their venom is no more dangerous but they tend to swarm/sting in large numbers when they become aggressive. They live in small colonies.  They have not been reported in this area.

Mason Bees are solitary and build their nests in holes often provided by other insects in trees and lumber. The male does not sting and rarely does the female. They are able to pollinate over 120 times more than a honeybee and emerge in the spring prior to other bees making them very beneficial to fruit trees.

We MUST have bees to have food products pollinated in the quantity needed to feed the world. Since much of our natural bee habitat has been destroyed, planting flowers, bushes and trees that attract bees is essential.

To attract bees (and other pollinators):

• Native and heirloom plants are best because they have not been hybridized reducing pollen and nectar. Bees need these plants throughout the entire spring, summer and fall seasons. Plant single species of flowers in clumps of at least 4 feet to attract the bee’s attention. Plant different shapes of flowers to accommodate different sized bee mouths. They like their flowers to be in the sun and out of strong winds.

• I have many different bees in my garden and the only time I’ve ever been stung was when I didn’t realize one was perched on the crook of my arm and I bent my elbow. With the exception of the African bees, most bees will not bother humans if the bee is not bothered.

“Bees offer us the most beautiful example of community that we shall ever find;
they have much to teach us in this regard. When nature has work to be done,
she creates a genius to do it: the humble honeybee, our most ancient ally.”
From the “Shamanic Way of the Bee”