Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kitchen Sink

An old farm saying was, "It's got everything in it but the kitchen sink."  Although it could refer to suitcases, purses, and drawers, it was often used for soups.

I typically can (1) most of my tomatoes into my version of V-8 vegetable juice.  It's really thick, has an array of vegetables and is run through the food mill to be more versatile.  This juice may be used in soups, beverages, casseroles, salad dressings, gravy, and more.
Since I don't have as many tomatoes as I wish, I'm canning larger amounts of vegetable soup mixes.  It gives quantity but is more limited because I don't put it through the food mill.  It has hunks of identifiable vegetables AND it has many different kinds.

Today, I cleaned, cored and peeled my red & yellow tomatoes.  I added onions, sweet peppers, sweet corn, sweet peas, cabbage, celery, sugar, salt and rosemary.  I season with the zest and juice of one lemon to add more acid. (2)   Vegetable soup typically has whatever fresh vegetables are in season both in my garden and at the farmers' markets.

This meatless vegetable mixture is good as a soup and in casseroles.  Cook a little meat and add bite size pieces for another variation.  Sometimes I do a meat vegetable soup, but, today I didn't want to take the prep or processing time.  I ended up with 9 pints which will make two smaller bowls of soup.  When canning, I mentally divide the end product into how many meals the batch will make.  In this case I will have 18 servings of soup out of 365 days in the year.  Ideally, the total of all my canning and freezing should be enough to have at least one meal a day for the entire year. 

Yes, I know it's that Pioneer Woman gene again. 

(1)  "Can" in this article refers to the process of water bath processing to preserve fresh produce.
(2)  Tomatoes typically contain enough acid to make the water bath method of canning the easy option.  Since I'm using fewer tomatoes, I needed to add acid in another form.  I use different vinegars or lemon according to how I want the end result to taste. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

U is for Under

Planting under large trees seems like the perfect solution to bare soil or bare landscapes.  Seldom is any one thing perfect in the plant world.  It comes with it's own set of  "do and don't" and "if and when".

I think expectations might be the number one thing to consider.  It might be impossible to have the lush and colorful ground cover you have in sunny areas. 

Two drawings (taken from the web) show a common misconception about most large tree roots:  The picture at the right, with the deep roots shaped like the tree canopy, is a concept that's seldom correct . 

The drawing below, with the roots near the surface and extending beyond the tree canopy, is how most trees are actually arranged.  

Why is this so important for planting under trees?  We MUST be very careful how we plant and care for those plants or we could kill the tree.  If you assume you can dig a deep hole anywhere, put in your plant, and everything will be good, your assumption could be deadly.

A few don't: 
  • Don't add more soil over the existing understory layer.  The roots will have a lack of oxygen, among other negatives.  The new perennials will send roots vertical and they will not survive either.
  • Don't layer more than 4 inches of mulch over the root area, nor let it touch the tree trunk.
  • Don't plant anything close to the trunk (where there are large roots). 
  • Don't use a weed killer on the grass or other vegetation under the trees.
  • Don't plant annuals as you risk disturbing the roots every spring.
  • Don't hammer in weed barrier edging or lay heavy stone edging on top of the tree's root system.  It will eventually cut or compress the roots that are needing that expansion to grow the tree.
  • Don't use gravel mulch under trees as the weight of the stone isn't healthy for the roots. 

A few do:
  • Remove grass or other vegetation by hand pulling. 
  • I like to use a dull hand spade to gentle make a hole for the perennial.  Do this a little at a time in case you run into a root.  Think of it as heart surgery, where you use your fingers to make sure you don't cut anything necessary for sustaining the life of the tree.
  • Plant only small container plant starts.  This allows for the plant to be planted between roots.
  • Don't plant perennials that grow large and will compete with the tree for nutrients and beauty.
  • Water deeply and often the first year as the new plant strives to establish roots.  The tree's established root system has the advantage of being able to take up water and nutrients more easily.
  • Fertilize the new plants at least monthly to help them get the nutrients until they can establish their own root system.
  • Add a one inch layer of crumbled dry horse manure.
  • Add no more than four inches of organic mulch when done. 
  • I don't use a fabric weed barrier because it will inhibit (to some degree) water flow to the roots - something in dire need when establishing perennials.
  • Check out the light during the day under your tree - some might have more sun than shade loving perennials might tolerate.
  • Not everything will grow under walnut trees.
Other realizations:
  • A ground cover strong enough to compete with the tree roots is also hardy enough to be an aggressive spreader.  Even a shade perennial will reach for the sun.
  • Adding ground cover, edging, and other elements at the same time you plant a tree is easier and healthier on the tree than planting under a large established tree.
  • Planting ground cover requires less plants because they will spread and cover the area.
  • Add a few spring blooming bulbs in the same hole as the new perennial to give pretty spring color plus eliminate the need for more holes.
  • Root damage is condemning a tree to a slow ugly death. 

There's nothing wrong with no perennials growing under trees. 
  • A neat layer of mulch.
  • Pots of shade loving flowers.
  • A piece of sculpture or garden chotsky.
  • A garden bench or seating
  • Bird feeders and baths

“A society grows great
when old men plant trees
whose shade they know
they shall never sit in.”
Greek Proverb    


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Meteorologically Awesome

WQPT Storm Team morning report, "Good morning, everyone! Chief meteorologist James Zahara here with your Storm Team 8 Forecast. This is what I call a meteorologically awesome day!!"  Dang!  As we live and breath, a meteorologically awesome day is pretty much at the top of my weather expectations.

On this awesome day, I picked up a basket of fresh Michigan peaches from Prairie Country Gardens.  I will fast freeze some for my "fruit snacks". 

I've mentioned before:  This is where I take fresh blueberries, green seedless grapes, and other fruit (sometimes strawberries, peaches, pears, red seedless grapes, whatever is available), single layer on a cookie sheet, freeze, put in zip lock bags and back in freezer.  A great quick healthy snack.

Aside from some fresh fruit snacking, I think I'll try Paula Deen's "Sweet Georgia Peach Honey".  Georgia homemakers know peaches as I can verify from my mother-in-law's version of Peaches and Cream.  It's Georgia over-the-top on sweet and rich and simply heavenly.

Here's Paula's recipe:

Sweet Georgia Peach Honey

Sweet Georgia Peach Honey

Servings: 6 pints
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate

12 cups fresh peaches with skins, pits removed and chopped (approximately 20 peaches)
1 large orange with rind, quartered and seeds removed
1 large lemon with rind, quartered and seeds removed
8 cups sugar
6 pint canning jars with lids, sterilized

Using a food processor or blender, puree the orange and lemon until smooth.  Add the peaches to the citrus mixture and pulse until smooth  (you may need to work in batches).  In a large saucepan, combine the peach and citrus mixture with the sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.  When peach mixture is at a full boil, reduce heat to medium and cook until the mixture is the color and texture of honey (approx 1-2 hrs.)

Sterilize jars and lids directly before using for 10 minutes in simmering water or in the dishwasher.  Remove one at a time when ready to fill. 

While peach mixture is still hot, ladle into the hot sterilized jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the top.  Wipe rims with a clean damp cloth and seal jars with lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water bath (making sure water level is 1 in. over the top of the jars) for 10 minutes.  Remove from water bath and allow to cool on the counter. 
Recipe Courtesy of Cooking with Paula Deen Magazine

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

T is for Trumpet Vine

Trumpet Vine (Trumpet Creeper) is either loved or hated by owners. 

The old traditional orange is called Campsis radicans "Enredadera Trampetilla".   The yellow version is Campsis radicans "Flava" Enredadera americana-amarilla.  There are several other new shades of red and peach.

Campsis is a genus in the bignonia family (Bignoniaceae).  The two species are Campsis grandiflora - the Chinese Trumpet Vine from East Asia and Campsis radicans - the American Trumpet Vine from Southeastern U.S..  And, there are several hybrids blending the two.

I'll start with the negatives: 
  • It self seeds (either by dropping seeds or by birds dispersing.)
  • It spreads by underground runners.
  • The tap root is long and once established it is difficult to totally remove.
  • It holds on by tendrils and those tendrils may damage building surfaces.
  • Climbing up the side of a house, it will cover all surfaces, including gutters, windows, roof, etc.
  • Left to grow, it becomes huge and may shade out other plants.
  • In mild climates, it is very hard to contain or destroy.
The positives:
  • It attracts hummingbirds, bees, wasps.
  • Thrives on neglect.
  • Good to Zone 4a  (-30F). 
  • Will vine up to 30 feet.
  • Blooms all summer.
  • Blooms in sun to part shade.
  • Makes a great privacy shield.
  • Once established it doesn't mind drought.
  • Makes a nice shade.
The trick with Trumpet Vine is it needs the right place to be beneficial; otherwise, it's a pest.

Some other facts:
  • It blooms on new growth.
  • Its roots and vines become woody with age.
  • Shoots that come up in the lawn can simply be mowed.
  • It takes a couple of years to get established before it starts to vine and bloom.
  • Do not plant on utility (phone/electric) poles.  It may become energized if it touches the lines, plus, it's difficult to climb during emergency repairs.
  • Wear gloves when handling if you're sensitive to the leaf sap.
  • If you want to contain, trim in the fall.

Nitrogen rich soil will produce foliage and growth but no blooms.   Do not fertilize the vine nor the grass around the plant.  If this isn't the problem for no blooms, an old garden solution to is beat the woody stem with a broom handle.  Neighbors will talk but it might work!

My success was when the top of the old elm came down in a nasty storm, We left the substantial trunk.  I planted the vine next to the base.  It's a beautiful blooming statement in a part of the yard where there is no other summer horizontal color.  (The idea was thanks to my friend's, Christy, example on an unenergized/unused nite light pole.) 

There's a good possibility it will strangle or weigh down live trees making them a poor arbor option.

The vine becomes very heavy and curls around things.  Planted on an arbor or pergola, it may take it down if it isn't large and well braced.  Because it does twine around the footers/columns, it is not easy to take it off the structure for painting or repairs.  These aren't necessarily negatives, simply the facts to allow you to choose the right products. 

Do I recommend Trumpet Vine?  Weigh the pros and cons and if your yard will accommodate nicely, you may want to give it a try.  Otherwise, admire it in someone else's yard.      

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Galore

Picked another small batch of tomatoes and thought I'd share a few more galores for your tomatoes.

My tomatoes are cracking (weather related**) and it doesn't take long before insects attack and the tomatoes mold/rot.  Even though I'm a believer that vine ripened tastes best, no point in leaving them until they've been destroyed.

I put the tomatoes in a bucket of tap water with a healthy cup of salt.  Totally emerse clean tomatoes and let them soak about 15 minutes.  Don't rinse and lay them in the sun to dry.  The salt bath tends to repel gnats, pushes out the window of health and allows more time to ripen.

If the tomatoes have weeping cracks:  After the salt bath, core, cut into quarters and freeze.  Add these to your next batch of sauce.  They can be at any stage, from green to very ripe as long as they have no rot.  If there's some damage, cut that portion away until the only thing left is solid healthy meat. 

Following is an old Amish recipe.  They called them patties or today they might be called fritters.  It's good as a side dish or include a small salad for a meatless meal.
Amish Tomato Patties
4 to 5 - Tomatoes - cored & peeled
1 C  -  All-purpose flour
1 tsp - Baking powder
1 tsp  -  Sugar
2 T  -  Basil, fresh and minced  (or 1/4 tsp. dried basil)
3/4 tsp - Salt
1 T - Onion - minced
1 T  -  Parsley, fresh and chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp - Worcestershire sauce
1  Egg
Oil for frying
Cut tomatoes into 1/2 inch pieces and drain on a paper towel.

 In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, basil and salt.  If you like "hot", a few red pepper flakes may be added at this point.
Add tomatoes to the flour mixture along with onion, parsley and Worcestershire sauce - DO NOT mix.

In a small bowl, beat egg and add to the flour/tomato mixture.  Blend lightly with a fork to make batter.

Heat oil (about 1/4 inch) in heavy fry pan.  Drop the batter by tablespoons into hot oil.  Turn as needed until golden on all sides.  Cooking too long will remove the flavors and make them tough.  Remove with slotted spoon and drain on papertowels.  Keep warm  until served.

**  See my article #53 "Tomato Perfection" for more information on splitting.   

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tomato Everything!

Do you have tomatoes coming on like gangbusters?  Due to our area's "slight drought", tomatoes aren't producing as much as we had hoped.  Usually, by this time we're into canning at least a couple of times a week.  To date, I've canned once. 

Don't get me wrong, we've had enough for as many tomato sandwiches, salads, and simply sliced as we want.  It's unfortunate, I have the pioneer gene making me feel uncomfortable if I haven't "put up" enough tomatoes to get us through a very long winter.

At any rate, I've started watering the garden once a week in hopes it will come around and I'll see tomatoes galore!  Galore is the point when tomato production is so heavy, you must think of new and different ways to use the tomatoes so they don't go to waste.  Galore is when you give so much away, people start hiding from you.  Galore is when the church folks and charities refuse to take more tomatoes.   I doubt if I'll have a "galore year" but in case you're having one, here's another recipe:

Tomato Preserves 

1 T  -  Mixed Pickling Spices
1  -  Ginger root piece
4 C  -  Sugar
2  -  Lemons, thinly sliced and seeded
3/4 C  -  Water
1 1/2 Qts.  -  Tomatoes (about 2 lbs.) small firm red, yellow, greens for color
  (remove stems/leaves - leave whole - do not core)

Tie spices in cheesecloth bag.
Add spice bag to sugar, lemons and water.
Simmer 15 minutes.  (stir occasionally to keep from sticking)
Add tomatoes and cook gently until tomatoes become clear.  Occasionally gently stir so as not to break the fruit up too much.  Because of the high sugar content & tomatoes, this will burn if you don't keep watch and stir when needed.

Cover and let stand 12-18 hours in a cool place.

Heat to boiling (keep it from burning), using a slotted spoon, pack tomatoes and lemons into hot sterilized jars leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Remove spice bag from syrup.  Boil syrup 2 -3 minutes or longer if it's too thin.  Pour boiling hot syrup over tomatoes - leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Adjust caps.  Process half pints for 20 minutes in hot water bath.   Makes 6 - half pints. 

This is an old recipe and may not appeal to people who are used to processed jellies.  It will not "set up" in a jellied form; it will be more like a textured condiment.  Others may not be familiar with a spicy sweet tomato taste.  At any rate, it really is good and makes a beautiful canned preserve. 

Your ID Please!

A case of mistaken identity - that's all it is officer.  Here!  Look!  I've got my ID and I can get a score of people to swear I'm who it says I am!

Sure, even the most professional of garden enthusiasts may misidentify a plant.  Go into a reputable nursery and you're insured of correct identification.  Right?  Wrong!  Look on the Internet and a web page certainly has enough people browsing that all the mistakes have been corrected.  Right?  Wrong.  Listen to an old timer and take it for gospel the name of a certain plant is such-and-such.  Right?  Wrong.

At plant stores, tags may be removed by the far sighted shopper and replaced on the wrong plant.  Or, the seeds from their source may have been in error.  I was the victim of that this year.  Last year I had enough butternut squash that people refused to take more.  I still have squash puree in my freezer.  This year I wanted summer squash to add to salads and my tomato juice.  It was planted, it has thrived, it is butternut squash.  Rats!

The Internet (as always) is only as good as the source typing.  It is "rife" (always wanted to use RIFE) with mistakes; even information gleaned from places that have their own botanists and experts.  It's just human nature to get some information wrong or to have information transferred incorrectly.

Old timers (and most gardeners will eventually fall into the old timer category) often use localized or folk information for plants.  This blurs the lines of horticulture correctness.  With the way people move out of their native born areas more often than in the past & Internet accessibility, that information moves across the world.

The attributes of plants may also be incorrect; having been incorrect years and years ago but refusing to give up to new research.  That's the whole folklore thing.  "Grandma said goldenrod makes her sneeze and so it must cause my allergies today."  Research proved it is not goldenrod but ragweed making some of us suffer although they bloom at the same time.
Another example is a little booklet I found at a Goodwill store (one of my favorite book shopping stores.)  It was about butterfly gardens and written by a man with my original family name.  At fifty cents, I couldn't resist.  There was a two page spread on early fall flowers that attract butterflies and a lovely picture of mixed zinnias.  Those zinnias were misidentified as marigolds both in the photo and in the index.   I'm not sure how that one got by everyone.

If you really care about the identity of plants (say for research, hybridizing, or you're that way), check several sources and take the average. As for misidentified nursery plants, you could go back and ask for them to make it right. Although by the time you realize the mistake, it's too late to make it right in your garden. SO, anyone want a butternut squash - cheap????  Really cheap!!      

Friday, August 19, 2011

S is for Susan

If you enjoy taking pictures of garden flowers, plant Black-eyed Susans "Rudbeckia hirta (Asteraceae).  Susans will pose perfectly!    

They are native to the Eastern portion of the U.S. and almost indestructible.

Susans are typically an inexpensive flower to purchase.  Garden friends will often give starts to those who ask.

There are hybrids and some so old no one will ever remember where or how they arrived.

Susans are an upright stiff-stemmed perennial standing about 2-3 feet tall for the old fashioned variety.  New hybrids, such as "Vietee's Little Suzy", may be a short as 12 inches.   I just saw one that claimed to grow over 6 foot.
It's now endemic throughout North America.  They are perhaps the most popular and common all-American wildflower. 

The characteristic brown/black domed center is surrounded by bright yellow ray florets.  It does good in most soils, needs full sun and likes it dry.  It simply thrives on neglect.  OH YEAH!

Different hybrids start blooming in June - others through August. 

They are pest free and seldom have diseases other than powdery mildew if it's very wet or they don't get much air circulation. 

They brighten the late summer garden when other flowers are ending their bloom season. 

Although Susans are sometimes considered a short-lived perennial, they can be divided.  They self-seed or form a naturalized bed. 

Occasionally, they will pop up in another bed, but, they are never invasive in my garden.

When cut, they will have a vase life of 6 to 10 days.  Deadhead to promote more blooms.   
Most Rudbeckias are hardy to at least Zone 3. 

Rudbeckia "Goldsturm" was voted PPA Plant of the Year in 1999.

Susan's attract butterflies and bees.  Birds will eat the seeds in the winter (hence, finding new plants in other places!)

Plant some Susans and get out that camera.  If you listen very carefully you will hear them calling your name.  They will then sit up tall and show their sunny face.  Count to three and they may even smile. It's the way of Black-eyed Susans, they so aim to please.     

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tickle - Tickle

There’s not too many of us who don’t have ticklish feet:  From tickling to pain, the foot takes a beating over the years.     

One area of the garden that is foot worthy is the garden path.  If you’re planning a new garden path, here are a few pointers: 
Garden paths are classified as hard and soft.  Soft paths are made up of grass or other plant cover, gravel, mulch, and soil.  Soft is any material that “gives” when you walk on the surface.   Hard surface paths are made from cement, stone pavers, brick, wood, or any material that doesn’t give to the pressure of foot traffic.                                                                        

All paths take some preparation and upkeep.  The cost for a path is determined by the materials brought onto the property and if you hire outside labor. 

Unless you plan to use your paths for exercise, the use of hard or soft surface usually isn’t determined by foot comfort.  Looks and how the path is installed is often the most important. 

No matter the style of your gardens and yard, your paths need to be wide enough to comfortably accommodate two people walking side by side.  Assuming you will have others with you walking the paths; it is difficult to talk unless you’re side-by-side.  It’s also difficult to maneuver lawn care equipment down a narrow path.  It’s recommended 3-4 foot for comfort.

Natural plant or soil materials should be weed free.  To keep these paths weed free will require hand weeding.  A thick healthy grass will deter many weeds.  Plants such as creeping thyme and even grass will not do well if the path is too well traveled.  Paths of natural plant material will usually need to be mowed (think width of mower deck).  A path of cleaned soil will need to be compacted and will be muddy & slick when it rains.

 Gravel is considered a soft path because it gives with pressure.  Ground-up material should have something on the outside of the path to keep it contained.  To deter weeds:  Dig down at least one foot, level and compact the soil, add a weed inhibitor fabric (something porous), 6 inches of sand (compacted) and 4 inches of ground-up material.  (This might be any of the smaller sized gravel, garden glass, rubber tire mulch, shells and such.  Think about if you will wear shoes or be barefoot before picking a path material.)

I recommend researching the techniques for a hard surface path.  Cement might be the most exacting and I recommend a professional unless you have the equipment and experience.  All paths, and especially hard surface, require strength to do-it-yourself.

Stones and bricks will heave with our freezing and thawing weather unless they are laid on a base much like I recommended for ground-up materials.  Even with cement between the materials, it will crack and become dangerously uneven without the proper base.

Once you research the instructions and whether you are able to do this project yourself or hire a contractor, determine the material to be used.  Locally obtained materials will be the cheapest because most hard surface path materials are heavy (equaling high shipping costs).

Man made pavers, bricks and stepping stones are available locally – sometimes even free.  The more exotic bluestone, marble, limestone and etc. are available at most landscaping businesses. 

Take into consideration, the upkeep, if there’s space to construct, the cost of material and labor, the size, the desired look (blend in - be a focal point), will it hold up to years of service, will it serve the purpose needed.  And, will it be a comfortable surface for walking?  It should tickle your feet as-well-as tickle your fancy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Great Resource

Renee's Garden Seeds has a blog that I find has good information and is helpful even if she is in California and I'm in the Midwest.  Good garden practices can often blurr the state and climate borders.

Although some of her plant products must either be considered annuals up here or treated to protection, I often find other information that is interesting and helpful.  (Plus, her California humor and photos are fun.) 

This week she talks about organic pest and disease control products.  Scroll further down and she has a delicious pesto recipe.  Excellent use of  garden herbs.

Have a wonderful week - Hope it's perfect garden weather where you live!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What's Going On?

This is the time of the year when you're glad you babied those annuals because a lot of perennials have finished their bloom season.  Annuals like  inpatients are loving the cooler and wetter weather.

Phlox is going strong and there are butterflies all over them.  I have a few very late daylilies blooming or reblooming.  Seldom do we experience daylily rebloom this far north and it's quite a surprise - a welcome surprise.

Fall blooming Hydrangea, Hibiscus and Butterfly bushes are blooming and some of the more late blooming hosta.  It's still too early for the asters, mums, and most sedums. 

Clematis, trumpet and honeysuckle vines are again putting out a strong flush of blooms.  Can't forget the Black-eyed Susan and Joe Pye Weed in full bloom.  Pinks are doing a second bloom.

I guess I DO have quite a few perennials blooming when I begin to list them.  It just seems bare when the daylilies slow down. 

We are experiencing beautiful days - sunny, not too hot, sky the color of robin's eggs, a little breeze and a screened porch.  I am blessed.

“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining,
the breeze is blowing,
the birds are singing,
and the lawn mower is broken.”
 By:  James Dent

Monday, August 8, 2011

Boody Scootin' Boogie

Note:  For anyone young and healthy as a horse - just pass this one and come back tomorrow. 

On June 4th, I developed a severe headache.  Now, Mrs. G where is your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?  Since I've been blessed my entire life as being healthy as a horse and under the misconception I was still young, my ten was birthing an almost ten pound baby.  This was no #10 birthing experience, but, it put me flat on my back for almost two months.

The end of story is I must change the way I do physical labor, including gardening.  "Soooo", says I, "if I have a pick-up truck of rock, can I unload it by myself?"  PT lady looked at me a minute while she controlled the urge to say something unflattering and then said, "If you do it for half an hour, stop, go inside, rest and assess if it hurt you."  She continued, "If it didn't hurt, you can go back out and do another half an hour of work."  "If it did hurt, you know you did too much or you did it the wrong way."

I'm pretty much OK with making some changes because I don't want to be in that much pain again and I don't want to loose that much time to inactivity.  It beat the original GP's comment, "You'll never get any better and you'll only get worse."  I wasn't ready to settle for that - fortunately neither was the PT. 

I've normally stood and bent at the waste to pull weeds in my garden beds.  This causes the spine to bend at the hips one way and the other way in the neck.  Years of this and my neck protested.  Plus, I had never realized how many things require a similar position.  Looking in bottom cupboards, washing floors, pulling laundry out of the dryer, picking up things - you get the idea.

I now sit on my derriere and scoot so my eyes are looking straight ahead and my neck is no longer bent.  It works until I have to get inside a large bed to pull weeds or trim.  I then make a conscious decision to squat and even if I bend from the waste, I don't extend my neck as if looking up.

And, and these are the biggies: I think out the move before I start.  I quit prior to hurting.  I don't do one more thing and one more thing and one more thing before quitting.  I don't "soldier through".  I can appreciate a small portion of the bed cleaned out without being bummed I didn't get the entire three acres completely perfect.  (Oh, yeah, that's a hard one!)

I have a garden friend about ten years older than me.  She has decided she will start taking out some of her beds because she can no longer get them all perfect.  I thought I might be at that point and I'm all too happy to scoot a bit while keeping all my beds at this time.

I've been thinking, perhaps rethinking, how to simplify what I already have.  Certainly, mulch is a grand help to help curtail weeds.  Fact is, it takes a lot of work to get a bed ready for mulching and more work to lay it down.  I've never used landscape fabric since it tends to show.  Rethinking.

Typically, I've always been planning the latest additions - increasing the size - moving - and rearranging.  Perhaps, I should consider making each of what I have optimal without adding more work.  Rethinking.

If I had to give up this home and the gardens, what would I take with me - what favorites?  Rethinking.

 Each plan that I may still have needs to be judged on whether it will help maintain, add/decrease work, and is it worth the effort?  Rethinking.

I've heard older folks too often ask their children to help them maintain their prized gardens.  A few, very few, children/grandchildren/spouses may actually care about your flowers and gardens.  In most cases, they don't care and it's a mighty imposition.  I know, I know, you birthed those little darlings, but, they still may not have inherited the gardening gene.  Even if they did they may not have the time, energy, or desire to keep your hobby going strong.  Yes with the possible exception of food, most gardening is a hobby.

The end of the tale is this:  If you wish to continue gardening after you reach that certain age and certain condition, then you must either figure out how to do it within your limits, pay others to follow your instructions, or give some of it up.  Right now for me the boody scootin' boogie is a good option!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Best Vacation EVER!

A group of gardeners were at our home the other evening to discuss a proposed garden walk next year.  The details were unfolded, the ideas were generated, a beginning was developed.  And then - the fun began.

A group of enthusiastic gardeners in one room is my idea of entertainment at it's best. 
  • We talked about garden problems and what has and has not been working. 
  • Japanese beetles were discussed, ideas and damages assessed and finally the little devils were scorned.
  • Our different garden passions were discussed, admired and shared. 
  • The weather's effects on certain plants and how we have to be willing to move, change, or eliminate as the need arises.
  • Because one prospect for the garden tour declined because she was no longer able to effectively take care of her large gardens, discussion wandered to how our aging does or will effect how we garden in the future.
  • We noted, because of our different passions, our gardens were at their peak beauty at different times of the year. 
  • And as always, we saw again how gardeners - I mean the truly dedicated and absorbed in your soul kind of gardener - loves to hear and see an other's garden.  They appreciate the beauty, the differences and can sympathize with the problems without judging or criticizing.

The best comments I heard was every single one of these gardeners felt the same as we do:  the best vacation is the one spent at home with our own gardens. 

We love the beauty, the serenity, and the work.  The creation of these things in our garden is more satisfying than a trip to the great gardens of the rich and famous, or the renowned landscapers, or nature's wonders.  Not that we can't appreciate those other things, it's just we get that much joy out of our own back yards.  It's our vacation destination!

For the new gardener, loving your own garden space is perhaps the best goal to seek when developing a plan.  You will know the satisfaction of being in the best vacation place on earth when you're in your own garden. 

"Dirty hands, iced tea, garden fragrances thick in the air
 and a blanket of color before me, who could ask for more?" 
Bev Adams, Mountain Gardening

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Falk-Columbo.jpg(Photo of Columbo, played by the late Peter Falk)
Have you ever come in from 90+ degree weather and felt bedraggled?  Webster calls bedraggled: “To make limp and soiled as with rain or dirt.”  Dang that’s so right.

Gardens get bedraggled about this time of year, too.  It’s too much of something and not enough of something else.  It’s the end of bloom times for some plants and others are out of control. 

 Although hot and humid, it’s the perfect time to take bedraggled to bedazzled.  Webster calls bedazzled: “Impress forcefully especially so as to make oblivious to faults or shortcomings.”  Yep, that’s exactly where we need to head as August makes its way into our gardens.

Any weeds that have emerged since your last big pull should be destroyed or they will set seeds.  If you haven’t added an additional layer of mulch this summer, it’s a good time.   

Next, trim off stems from any plant that’s stopped blooming and has no more flower buds.  Don’t trim off any stems with seed heads if you want them to self seed.

Don’t trim off the leaves because the plant needs the nourishment through them to withstand winter and set flowers next year. 

Two plants that can be tidied up by trimming off flower stems are daylilies and hostas.  Cut the stems instead of pulling as they may be strongly attached.

Any bush that benefits from pruning may have a final haircut of the season.  Scraggly bushes make the entire garden look unkempt.

Dead branches may be trimmed out of bushes and trees. 

While in the yard, it’s a perfect time to inspect for insect or disease damage.  There’s some nasty stuff going around this year and a plant benefits from fast action to eliminate the source (if possible.) 

Home gardens benefit from weeding this time of the year to help the vegetables get their full amount of sun.  Weeds not only keep them from ripening and steal away nutrients; they add the possibility of mildew because air can’t circulate.

Destroy any diseased brush and weeds.  Compost the rest. 

Cut off the branching portion of the spent oriental and Asian lilies, leaving the rest of the stalk and leaves.

Perennials such as bishops weed, buttercup, dame’s rocket, Shasta daisy, forget-me-not, etc. may be trimmed down to a mound and they will often bloom again.  I always leave a portion in the fall to self seed - making sure I have a good crop the next year.

If annuals are getting leggy, trim them back to a set of leaves and they may rebloom.  If they are beyond help, pull and plant with new plants. 

I seldom divide perennials in the fall simply because I try to do as little watering as possible.  If you decide to divide or plant new, make sure they have adequate moisture until the ground freezes. 

“The work of a garden bears visible fruits -
in a world where most of our labors seem suspiciously meaningless.” 
From:  Pam Brown

Side note:  Thanks to Diane Nelson of Prairie Country Gardens, Galva, IL for her years of providing a nice selection of garden plants and accessories; your store will be missed.  I wish her well in her new endeavors.          

Vacations & Other Deterrents

Vacations and other deterrents refers to things that get in the way of gardening - IE:  successful gardening.  While many people consider summer vacations the goal - the end game - of working all year, in gardening, it's often the death sentence to some plants.

To date, we don't have a "garden sitter" in our area - fact is I don't think we've ever had that service in this area.  We have friends and family who offer to help, but, they aren't gardeners in the sense they may not know what they need to watch.  They don't have that intrinsic feeling that a specific plant needs a specific whatever.

We're not gone long enough at a stretch to warrant giving away the plants and so...........

I put plant saucers and various deep containers under most pots or hanging plants and set them in the shade.  A few love this, a few die of rot and a few dry up anyway.  The biggest "few" are just stunted and never really get lush again the rest of the year.  A few pots are too big, odd sized or heavy to sit in a saucer and they REALLY look bad.  The window boxes are sad and should be torn out and replanted with something "fallish".

A few annuals I bought the week before vacation  (really, who can resist 75% off a really beautiful watermelon colored nasturtium or the cute peppermint striped zinnia???) were planted and deep watered.  Quite root bound from living in that little packet, they needed good watering every day after planting.  The nasturtium didn't do well after a week's worth of neglect - the zinnias have established and are now florishing.

Unlike my daughter, I'm not the greatest container gardener.  Every year I think I'll match her lush containers of healthy florishing flowers.  Every year I don't.   I want beautiful flowers in containers. I start off with beautiful flowers in containers.  I neglect.  I pay.  And then, vacation brings them to a dangerously lethal level.

I vow to learn from my mistakes.  Each year I vow.  Each spring my brain totally blocks out my failures and lack of container gardening success.  Each spring I rush madly through the nursery isles putting colors and plants together for the most beautiful containers every seen in the Midwest - possibly the entire world.

What did I learn this year?  Blame the vacation and not my own lack of care prior to the leave-of-absence.  Grasses, ferns, rose moss and foliage, in containers, survive better during neglect.  Mandevilla is happy sitting a week in a tub of water, getting dropped upside down on our return, and over and under watering the rest of the summer.  Or it was the fact my daughter gave it to me - she touched it first - could it be that's all it takes for a container plant to florish in my garden????  A new theory to absolve myself of container failure blame!       

Note:  I did not include photos of my dead/dieing container plants - who would want to see those?  These photos are from the period where I actually think, "I've got it down this year!"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme

Two men sitting and looking at the viewer. The one in the middle has yellow hair and a blue shirt and jeans, while the man to the left of him has black hair blending in with the background and a white shirt. Only the right side of the second man's face is visible. Flowers are in the images foreground. The right of the first man it is written in script "Simon and Garfunkel" and below that "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme". There are symbols in the top left and center top of the picture.Simon and Garfunkel might have missed one of the all time great herbs:  Basil!  (You know you're going to be humming that song the rest of the day and be extremely aggravated at me each time.)

Basil is considered a culinary herb and a landscape plant.  It is used for healing and worship practices.  It is called St. Joseph's Wort in some areas of Europe.  Studies are showing the possibility the essential oils might help in the treatment of cancer.

Originally from India it's been cultivated for over 5,000 years.  There are annuals, non-woody perennials and shrubs.  Some estimates report over 150 kinds of basils but most are in the sweet basil category. 
In addition to the many different looks of basil, the fragrance varies according to the types and quantities of essential oils.  Sweet basil may smell much like cloves.  Lemon and Lime basil has a citrus scent.  African blue basil smells like camphor.  Licorice basil smells like anise.  Other scents abound.  

I always find the origin of plant words fascinating:  The word basil comes from the Greek βασιλεύς (basileus), meaning "king", as it is believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross.   It has significant folklore in French, Welsh, Jewish, Greek, European, African, India, and Egyptian cultures.   The French have the best one, "Smelling too much basil produces scorpions in the brain."  Folklore at it's best!

Basil is easy to cultivate.  I buy sets but they are easily started from seed.  Once established, they prefer a hot well drained sunny spot.  Over watering can cause fungal problems.   I pinch the flowers off to prolong the growth and increase the bush size.  Stop pinching off the flowers in late summer if you want to save the seeds.   

I don't think there is a category of recipes that doesn't contain one featuring basil.  A few examples:
Soup, Pesto, Ice Cream, Chocolate, Tea, Raw vegetables, Salads, Fish, Duck and many others.

Although I usually plant several sweet basils, I try to get at least one other unusual basil for the experience.  This year I added Italian (a form of sweet) and lemon.  Basil essential oil is very toxic to mosquitoes.  Not sure how you're to use but a plate in the middle of a picnic might be worth the try.

Use basil fresh for best flavor.  Throw into a cooking pot at the last minute to keep the flavor strong and the green from turning black.  Keep in a glass of water in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Freeze in ice cube trays of basil/water.  Both fresh, frozen and dry loose flavor quickly. 

I have been known to include a few basil cuttings in flower arrangements.  It's beautiful and scents the air for days.  I pull a few leaves as I walk by the plant in the garden and my hands smell good the remainder of the day.  My all-time favorite is its culinary uses.  Well, that and singing along with Simon and Garfunkel:  "Parsley-Sage-Rosemary-Thyme and Basil".  I'm sure that's what they meant to write!