Monday, September 23, 2013

!st Day of Autumn

Welcome to the first day of Autumn (officially about 4 pm today CST)
 and all the things that go with fall in the Midwest:


Leaves turning.

Tractors on the roads.


Straw bales.

Corn Shocks.

Scare crows.


Crazy yard decorations.

Clear blue skies.


Storm windows.



Combining corn.


Hayracks rides.


Nip in the air.

First frost.


Yea for Autumn!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Getting Down and Dirty

"Dirty Water" is another name for using water generated during household tasks such as laundry and baths.  It's a water conservation method and it works really well.

The washing machine and bathtub/shower must have alternate methods of draining.  One drain going to the septic system or city sewer lines and another directing the used water to either a holding tank or directly on the gardens and a hand switch to make those changes. 

The reason for alternate methods of directing the water is because of freezing temperatures and storage capabilities.  If routed directly on the garden, it must pass through the house’s siding and will be exposed to freezing temperatures causing the pipes to break. Old homes have the cistern capabilities to hold large quantities of water.  These cisterns were for “clean” water or typically rain water not dirty or used water.

Long term storage for dirty water must have a means of preventing bacteria from growing and it can’t be from chlorinated products or it’s no longer dirty water, it’s treated water and will have an adverse reaction on plants.  There are pellets you can buy for this purpose.  If you’re going to store dirty water, please check out your county extension information or other green on line sites for directions – storage must be done right or it will be a worse mess than drought.

What is “dirty water”?  It’s water that has the residue from washing clothes or humans but does not have harsh chemicals.  Harsh chemicals such as bleach, electric dishwasher soap, antibacterial soap, fabric softener, bubble bath, and most products with fragrance.  Strictly speaking this applies to anyone using a septic system, too. 

As far as the residue from baths, showers, hand dishwashing, mop water and washing clothes, if you use a more natural soap, the “dirt” actually benefits plants.  If you route water with harsh chemicals directly onto the ground it will either kill important organisms necessary for the sub life of your earth or it will directly kill plant life.  Not to mention eventually seeping into ground water.  Either use pure dirty water or don’t practice this conservation method.

If you don’t have a big storage facility, route the water directly to your yard by installing alternate drains.  Have a lever to turn it from one method to the other as needed and weather permits.  In freezing weather, make sure the outdoor drain has been allowed to drip dry.  Cover the outlet drain with wire to make sure little critters don’t find it an avenue for home entry.  Check that wire to make sure it doesn’t clog with lent and cause a backup of water into the house.

Sounds like a lot of trouble but then most conservation methods require some effort.  I will tell you if you are paying a high water bill, are concerned about your use of nature’s resources, or if you are watching your valuable plants die from lack of watering, the trouble and expense of this method is nominal.

Make sure you route the water away from your foundation (like you do with your gutter runoff.)  You can even attach a hose to the end if you want to direct it more specifically.  Any handy person can install this method or use a plumber if you haven’t the time, energy or talents.  Try one appliance (perhaps the washing machine) first and see if it’s a system that works for you. 

Getting down and dirty takes on a whole new meaning!

Lovin It

Although I've crabbed a bit (OK, maybe more than a bit) about the effects of our drought conditions, there's been some really standout performances this summer.

I've always planted one variety or another of sweet potato vines.  The last few years I've gone almost totally for the bright lime green in my planters.  It's bright thick and vines wonderfully.  Not so much this year.  FORTUNATELY, I planted a purple sweet potato vine "Sidekick Black Heart" and it's been the workhorse of my planted pots.  Then the real kicker (in a good way):  It's bloomed.  Who knew!  It has flowers much like a morning glory shape.  It's been a near-perfect annual.

I've used ornamental grasses in my outside pots for years.  One of my favorites has been "King Tut".  It's tall, it's crazy unusual and this year it's been huge.

Another surprise was new to my yard:  Ensete "Red Abyssinian Banana" was a spur of the moment buy.  This fantastic colored banana plant has out-performed even my wildest expectations.  It's in an old washtub where it gets the afternoon sun.  This sun shines on the leaves making them glow.  I'm going to try to keep it over winter (not something I'm typically good at doing.)

Others that have done well:
Chrysocephalum apiculatum "Fambe Yellow" strawflower.  Has bloomed constantly.
Euphorbia "Hip Hop" was used as a filler and has been filling the entire summer.
Alternanthera "Hoja del Loro"  "Little Ruby" is a foliage plant.  It's formed this dense beautiful ruby-purple rounded mass that keeps on going and going.
Petunias:  "Clamouflage Grape" has clear purple flowers and bright two toned leaves.  "Surprise Midnight Cowboy" hasn't needed pinching and stays healthy and full looking into fall.
Calibrachoa hybrid "Superbells Yellow" looks and acts like a petunia and has been performing all summer without pinching or getting leggy.
The true blue "Angelonia Statuesque Blue" is still blooming.  Doesn't get huge but keeps it place in the pot without needed any attention.

"Hoja del Loro Little Rugy"
Some lessons learned:
I use potting soil with fertilizer and it doesn't last the entire summer.  This year I added a dry slow-release fertilizer in late June and it's helped most pots.  The geraniums especially loved the extra kick.  The Mandevilla and mullet have not.  Not only have I fertilized but I've made an effort to keep them watered on a more regular basis.  I once read every time a plant wilts, there is death of some of the roots which never recover.

I don't think I will ever plant tender coleus in the back area where something seems to love to eat them off at ground level until they finally die.  The ones on the front porch are going strong with a little pinching to keep them full.

By the time I realize I should have pinched certain petunias back, they are so long they never come back from the pinching.  I either have these semi bare twigs or leggy half dead stems barely blooming in the fall.  Maybe it's time to throw them on the compost heap and put in some fall flowering mums, ornamental cabbage and a few pumpkins.

Hope you had some successes with your annuals and learned some good lessons in the process.  Enjoy the Harvest Moon tonight!    

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Man, Am I Parched!

This sunset looks like a wildfire.
Well, it's been approximately 2,000 days since we've had rain.  Alright maybe in this "watch my yard die" mood, it just seems it's been that long.  Fact is we are setting records and it's not one I was anxious to have bestowed upon me.

When the area is in drought, it is suggested by our learned horticultural colleagues, that you water the most expensive to replace things in your yard.  Factor in the ones that take years to reproduce the current size.  Water deeply and let the annuals, turf lawn and less valuable perennials be sacrificed.

Much of us in this area did that last year to some degree.  Then we received the most wonderful buckets of rain this spring, the drought lifted and we planted and thought we were on easy street.  Alas, easy street wasn't just around the corner, it was only a brief interlude before the current drought conditions set in again.

What is suffering in your garden this fall due to drought?  Are you like me and have a yard too big to ever get it watered to the extent where nothing is going to show wilt at the very least?

Daylily "Siloam Betty Wood"
 is doing a rebloom right now.
On a perennial basis, the daylilies and hosta are pretty much dried up.  Whether they are simply being forced into early winter sleep or if the roots are drying up (as in dead) - we'll see.

Pine trees are especially sensitive to lack of moisture for prolong periods.  Next is what I call exhibition trees:  those hybrid species for show such as Japanese Maples.  Typically, these are fairly expensive and deserve a good soaking about twice a week during drought.

This may sound obvious but when you have a drought and you water a plant - even if you do deep soaking - the rest of the surrounding rock hard soil pulls that moisture away pretty darn fast.  It's why regular rainfall is so much better.  The roots have time to drink without every patch of soil lapping it up in the process.

We're also cautioned to never use overhead sprinklers because so much is lost to evaporation, some plants get mildew and you are watering areas that don't specifically need water - it's a waste of precious water.  I agree and disagree.

I read recently we should stop watering our gardens and buy from a farmer's market or other commercial source.  It's cheaper than watering.  I'm sorry but this summer (and maybe next), I still want my own tomatoes and can't imagine letting them die on the vine.  Having said that I'll go one step farther and admit I do deep spot watering about every other day and then I overhead sprinkler it about once a week.

This duo system seems to work best in my raised garden bed because it soaks the entire bed once a week so when I deep water individual plants, it isn't sucked away from the roots quite so fast.  Seems to prolong the amount of moisture on the roots.

Having said that, my tomatoes and pepper plants are not nearly as big nor are they producing as much fruit as usual.  The tomatoes are really really sweet which is a result of both the variety and the drought.    If I was preserving my tomatoes for a large family and we were depending on it through a long winter, I would be more worried.

I put up 15 quarts of tomato vegetable juice this week but it was the first time and that certainly doesn't cover a full winter of meals.

I remember my dad (born 1908) talking about the year their potato crop failed and they ate rice all winter.  In this day and age of easy to buy food at the corner grocery, we're not that many years away from a time when gardens were the only means of feeding a family.  You either produced and preserved or people went hungry.

And as I'm talking about our drought, Boulder CO is reeling from massive flooding.  Other areas have horrific fires.  Isn't it always an interesting weather hodge podge across this large country of ours?  Blessings on you where ever you are and what ever your weather.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Growing Requires Goggles

Horseradish in my garden
 is the big leaves
in the left middle of this photo.
If you talk about a locally grown hot spicy vegetable, peppers come to mind.  Today I’m going to talk about another great spicy plant:  horseradish.

Every garden used to have a horseradish plant.   It was a way to add flavor to meats that may have been processed or cooked to the bland stage.  Today, few homeowners would know the horseradish plant, let alone know how to make it into the rich wonderful condiment they find in the refrigerator section at the grocery.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana – Cochlearia) is a perennial plant belonging to the Brassicaceae family (that includes mustard and cabbages.)   It’s cold tolerant to Zone 4. 

We assume it arrived in the US with immigrating Europeans.  It’s a staple of German cooking and a root would transport easily by sea tucked into a steamer trunk.  Today it’s popular around the world. 

The plant grows with large palm shaped leaves reaching up to five foot.  It’s not invasive although it slowly expands its footprint.  Digging some of the roots annually will keep it healthy and in check. 

The horseradish root itself has hardly any aroma.  When cut or grated the enzymes from the damaged plant cells breakdown sinigrin (a glueosinolate) to produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil.)

Horseradish may be harvested in the spring or fall although cooks definitely have a preference because the flavor is more pungent in the fall.

Horseradish roots
Anyone who’s taken that white root, peeled the outside with a carrot peeler and tried to grate Horseradish will have stories to tell that rival any cooking experience.  As the mustard oil is released, anyone within a few feet will have their sinuses and eyes irritated unless extraordinary precautions are taken.

Most people process Horseradish outside.  I have friends who have “horseradish processing apparel”.  It consists of goggles and some even so far as a sealed headgear.  Others swear by using a food processor or blender.   All use rubber gloves when handling the raw root because it can blister the skin.

If it has all these scary attributes, why do we even bother?  Because it adds such wonderful spice to our meals.  It’s especially valued with beef and always an ingredient in cold seafood sauce.  Some old recipes call for using the leaves in salads but I’m thinking it would be a little like eating hay. 

Whatever your method, the grated Horseradish must be immediately mixed with vinegar or it looses its pungency and becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.  It’s best to put in sterilized jars and kept in the refrigerator.   It can then be used mixed with other ingredients or simply as is. 

Horseradish is grown commercially and as such is treated as an annual.  Annually grown plants tend to have more tender creamy white roots.  It should be planted in early spring and can be grown in almost any soil except sand and heavy clay.  If your local nursery doesn’t carry the plant, look on-line or in catalogs or dig a root from a friend.

Horseradish in bloom
Use only the tender white roots, as the old ones are tough like wood pith.  Recipes are usually found in very old cookbooks.  Some recipes add so many additional ingredients; it masks the zing and essence we so love.

It was used (back in the day) as a means of clearing the sinuses.  And whoa baby, eating a half-teaspoon can power its way through your sinus cavities like a blowtorch.  My advice, if you’ve never eaten fresh Horseradish, takes it a little slow and in small portions.  You’ve been warned!

If you’ve never eaten fresh ground Horseradish, it’s like so many things – it’s another taste altogether.   Examples:  Fresh tomatoes from the garden vs. hothouse.  Peaches fresh from the tree vs. commercially canned.   Sweet corn from a farmer’s field vs. frozen in a bag.   

 It’s a wonderful garden plant; needs little care or extra effort.  The leaves have a beautiful tropical look without the fragility.  Best of all, it is a wonderful food.  Now gather your goggles and get grating!


Monday, September 2, 2013

The Miracle of Fall

Sometimes there's a web site that's so good, it's just easier to copy it to the Blog and let you access it from here.  

Whether you're in Illinois or another state, this site provides access to fall viewing, visiting, photographing and fun places.  

I'm just sure September Labor Day is the perfect time to plan the rest of our fall fun!  I did notice yesterday some of the maple trees have definately started turning red, the tulip tree is turning gold, the walnuts are simply loosing leaves (they are always the first in my yard) and the burning bush is starting to turn "burning red".  The field corn is drying so fast it's a new brown/gold look every day.  Bottom ears are pointing down.   We saw harvesting in the southern part of the state last week.  

We'll start seeing pumpkins, gourds and other fall decorations available at roadside stands and markets.  If you don't want to use creative juices, simply buy someone else's creations.  

Website of the Day: The Miracle of Fall

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Labor Day 2013

Here we are at Labor Day weekend and wishing for some much needed rain.  40% chance of storms and we're gearing up for another full day of activity.

Yesterday I watered my garden, pots of annuals and the few things recently planted/transplanted.  I can seriously hear the water being sucked away.  A few things have simply given it up.

On the flip side, I'm so enjoying fresh tomatoes.  I can enjoy a fresh cut tomato on about any other food for any meal no matter what.

Yesterday I prepped the food for today's lunch since family are coming over after church.  Having so much fresh produce was certainly my inspiration.  Potato salad with those lovely purple potatoes combined with a few red ones, sweet bell peppers, red onions, eggs, zucchini and it's mega yummy.  The purple potatoes have more starch in them, which was a surprise.

Cut up sweet banana peppers and cucumbers in prep for dressing the salad later.  Pickled some beets because I love them.  Cut up a locally grown muskmelon and a unique yellow watermelon (from Beagle Creek Farm).  The yellow watermelon is really sweet. A plate of deviled eggs because it's tradition.  

Have easy cold sliced ham for sandwiches and I'll put on a crock pot of mac and cheese for the kids.  A plate of sliced tomatoes, onions and peppers should round out the field for the starving.

We are blessed with family and friends to share our holiday, whether near or far.  Hope your summer bounty is full of fresh produce, loved ones and the blessings of living in a free nation.  I pray for all of these.

(Photos from Pinterest)