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Grass Stains-How to Remove Them    December 20, 2004

Grass stains (and stains from other green plants) can be a problem to remove from clothes.  The following methods should work:

Pour or sponge undiluted rubbing alcohol over the stain, repeat several times.  Apply laundry soap, rub, and then launder as usual.

Use white paste-type toothpaste rubbed into the stain and then launder as usual.

Try 'Spot Shot Carpet Cleaner' on the stain.  I like to keep 'Spot Shot' in the house for hard to remove carpet stains that can't be removed with regular laundry soap.  You can find it in many stores.

As with any stains, never put the item in the dryer until the stain has been removed as heat will set the stain.


Winterizing Gas Powered Equipment   December 13, 2004

If you live in an area where wintertime gives you a break from lawn chores now is the time to winterize your lawn mower, gas trimmer, leaf blower, etc; anything that uses gas and won't be used for several months.  Left over gas can cause varnish deposits in the carburetor and other parts of the fuel system; a real headache waiting to happen.    

First choice is to drain the gas and finish off by running the equipment dry to use up any remaining gas.  Second choice is to use a gas stabilizer in the remaining gas; follow directions on the container.

Clean the underside of your mower and sharpen the blades.  When springtime comes and the grass is lush and heavy your mower will be ready for use.


Time to Mulch Strawberries, Asparagus and Garlic  December 6, 2004

Soon the ground will be frozen in most areas (obviously not in warmer climes) and strawberries and garlic will benefit from a layer of mulch.  Most important is their need of protection from thawing and refreezing cycles.

The best mulches are those that are weed seed free and loose.  Weed free straw is a great choice; but if you don't have access to weed seed free straw than any is better than nothing.  Whole leaves tend to matt and become water logged so they are not a good choice.  If you use leaves, shred them first.

There is a debate about whether to cut down asparagus ferns in the fall to prevent a haven for pests or to leave them for winter protection.  If you cut them down in the fall, mulch the area after the ground is frozen.  If the ferns remain for the winter remove them in the spring before new shoots start to develop.  Add a layer of compost in the spring to feed the crowns.


Project Feeder Watch    November 29, 2004

Bird feeding and watching has become a national pastime.  There are many reasons bird feeding and watching lures newcomers each year but one big reason is the tranquility a person experiences with this hobby.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology conducts Project Feeder Watch with the help of newbies and experienced birdwatchers.  Anyone can participate, young and old alike.  For children this project can bring a new awareness to birds, teach counting and reporting skills, researching skills and give the family a new inexpensive hobby they can all join in on. 

The information collected assists the experts in tracking bird populations and changes in bird patterns.  This information can help identify problems in the environment or population shifts.  Sometimes new birds are found in areas they haven't lived before or diseases are identified.  But the entertainment that it brings to your home is reason enough to join.

There is a participant fee of $15.00 to help defray costs associated with this non-profit venture.  You will receive all the materials needed for Project Feeder Watch.  Although you will receive a color poster of the birds likely to live in your area I found an additional book helpful.  I particularly like National Audubon Guide because it has photos not drawings, which I find easier to compare with the birds.

Perhaps someone on your gift list this year would like a bird book and binoculars along with a membership to Project Feeder Watch.  This gift would be something they could experience all winter not just a short few hours and then toss it aside.

To find out more about Project Feeder Watch or join go to:

phone #800-843-2473


With a lack of cash, you can always take a quick loan. Go to:



Anti-transpirants     November 15, 2004

Certain plants such as holly, rhododendron, azalea, laurel, or boxwood will better survive winter's harsh winds with the help of anti-transpirants.  Many bushes that don't fair well during the winter but are properly matched with your zone will incur less damage and look better come spring if you use an anti-transpirant.

Holly bushes are notorious for winter burn.  To minimize this problem spray them with an anti-transpirant (like Wilt Pruf) when temperatures are at least 40 degrees or higher.  Most garden centers sell this product.  It is well worth the cost.  You can even spray a Christmas tree or greens with it to prevent them from drying out too early.

Don't use anti-transpirants on cedars, junipers, cypress or arborvitae; they usually survive winters just fine, it isn't good for them, and it would be a waste of time and money.


Winter Preparations    November 8, 2004

Winter is knocking at the door and for many of our readers that means freezing cold weather.  The following are things that should be done for those who experience cold winters.

Drain and coil your hoses.  This will help them last longer and good hoses aren't cheap.  Mounted hose holders on the inside wall of a garage or shed is one of the best ways we have found to store hoses.  This gets them up out of the way and they aren't hanging on one small point putting stress on that spot.  Unless you have freeze free spigots turn off the outside water lines and drain them.  Completely dry out any sprinklers, hose adapters (extenders, Y connectors, etc) and similar items or bring them indoors.  Any moisture left in items such as these will freeze, expand and could cause damage.

Bring in any terra cotta pots or porous garden art before a hard freeze.  Due to the nature of porous material, moisture can remain in the item, freeze, expand and break it.  Most plastic (resin) items aren't sensitive to this kind of damage but plastic does become brittle when temperatures drop so do remember to be gentle with them in freezing weather.  I have a little girl statue that I accidentally hit with a broom while brushing snow away and she ended up missing the top of her head.  (My sister gave me a hat for her so I could cover up the poor thing's head!)

Gutters need to be clean for winter or you could increase the possibility of ice damming in the worst case scenario or your gutters won't perform well in the lest.  Ice damming is very destructive to your house and one cause can be gutters that don't flow properly.  Ice damming can also occur from inadequate insulation or improper roof ventilation.  Leaves and pine needles wreak havoc on gutters so get up there and clean them out or hire someone to do the job.

If you haven't had your fireplace chimney cleaned yet for the coming heating season make plans to get it done.  Ask any fireman about dirty chimneys and you will get an ear full about how dangerous they can be.  Many homes have been lost due to chimney fires.

Make sure pines, shrubs and trees have had enough water before the ground freezes.  They need to store adequate moisture before freezing weather.

Either run gas powered lawn tools out of gas or put a fuel stabilizer such as 'Sta-Bil' in the remaining gas using directions on the bottle.  Clean them before you put them away and sharpen any blades.  Air intakes need to be checked and cleaned thoroughly. We lost a leaf blower once because the cooling fins were clogged.  You will be so pleased come springtime when your lawn tools are ready for use.


Autumn Leaves - A Gardener's Blessing   November 1, 2004

Every autumn thousands of bagged tree leaves line the streets; set out at the road by homeowners who have no idea the importance of leaves to nature.  Fallen leaves are nature's way of replenishing the nutrients in the soil.  Take a walk through the forest or a woods, pull away the top layer of organic material and you will find dark rich soil teeming with beneficial organisms and nutrients.  This soil was created from years of fallen leaves.  How sad that the average homeowner will go their local nursery or hardware in the spring and purchase chemicals to fertilize their newly planted plants when they have the makings of great soil right in their own yard.

Leaves can be tilled right into barren garden soil or when used along with other organic material (grass cuttings, kitchen scraps, pulled weeds, etc.) made into compost.  Read almost any gardening book and you will find reference to "leaf mold" which are leaves starting to break down.  Earthworms love piled leaves and gravitate to a pile almost like a magnet.

Enough leaves tilled into the most difficult of soils, rock hard clay, will turn the clay into good garden soil over the course of two full years.  John and I have done it ourselves, we have the proof.  This year we grew thousands of pounds of produce in a large garden that only three summers ago was hard nasty clay lacking in necessary nutrients to grow much more than some puny vegetables and a lot of weeds.  Most of the tilled in leaves will decompose unless there are too many.  If leaves remain as whole pieces in the spring and haven't decomposed nitrogen will be stolen away from the plants until all decomposition has ceased.  Using shredded leaves will help speed the process.

Shredded leaves will decompose more quickly.

Shredding leaves will greatly reduce their volume.

When mixing materials for compost you need a mix of green and brown materials.  Fallen leaves provide the "brown" material.

Bagged leaves can be saved for mulch in the spring.  This works well when you have plenty of leaves to add to the soil and still have leftovers.

Many oak trees will still drop leaves in the spring so if you have oak trees you probably don't need to save leaves for spring mulching.

Leaves allowed to sit on a lawn can smother the grass.  Don't allow leaves to remain on a lawn.

If you don't have an adequate supply of leaves find other sources.  Look for leaves all ready bagged up and put out for trash.

Oak leaves have had a reputation of making the soil acidic.  This is not true.

Help spread the news about fall leaves.  If more people knew how good they were there wouldn't be so many sent to the curb.


Winter Time Mulch   October 25, 2004

In gardening circles we hear a lot about mulch.  Mulch for the summer, mulch for the winter, mulch, mulch, mulch.  Winter mulch is used for different reasons than summer mulch.  Winter mulch is applied to protect perennials from freezing and thawing cycles.  This action can wreak havoc on perennials causing heaving and possibly plants prematurely coming out of dormancy. 

Heaving is when the root crown is pushed out of the soil, even slightly, and being exposed to the elements.  This can damage the roots by drying them out.  Most hardy perennials survive winter just fine because they go into dormancy.  But if they come out of dormancy prematurely and start to grow, the tender new growth will be zapped when freezing temperatures return. 

Winter mulch will help prevent these problems by keeping the soil and plant under the mulch at a more constant temperature.  Warm sunny days can melt snow and ice but the mulch will keep the ground underneath from thawing out thus protecting the perennial beneath. 

When to apply mulch?

After the ground has frozen. 

When to remove?

Be careful not to remove all the mulch as soon as you get the first warm spring weather.  Most of the time you will have some more snow or ice after the first warm up.   Your plants will appreciate their 'blanket' still on when that cold weather returns.

What to use for winter mulch?

I really like using pine boughs for covering perennials especially chrysanthemums.  I get them from a Christmas tree lot in the discard area.  Many Christmas tree lots trim the trees and have discarded boughs.  Or just wait until after Christmas and cut up discarded Christmas trees; the timing will be perfect.  Other choices could be straw, shredded leaves (unshredded will mat down and possibly smother the plants), hay, pine needles or other similar organic materials.  


Taking Your Tender Plants Indoors    October 18, 2004

Many houseplants enjoy the summer outside and will flourish during their 'vacation' outside.  Most houseplants originated from the tropics so summer outside is more akin to their likings.  But most of us can't leave tender plants outside all winter so moving them back indoors needs to be done.

First you must look for insects.  I try not to kill most insects as long as they are where they belong, outside.  I can live in harmony with them out there.  But I don't care for them in my home.  Sometimes simple removal is all that is needed.  Spiders often lay eggs between the pot and saucer; look for white fuzzy nests of eggs.  Also examine any holes in the bottom of the pots for hiding pests.  This is a good time to clean them up of dead or yellow leaves.

After picking off any visible insects a strong spray of water might dislodge eggs.  If you need an insecticide first try insecticidal soap.  Even though this is an organic solution test one leaf first before spraying the whole plant, not all plants can handle insecticidal soap and will have leaf damage.

If possible keep newly relocated plants separated from other houseplants until you know they are free from pests.  This will prevent even larger headaches; you don't need all your plants infected.

Many plants will decline once they move inside.  The typical house is not the most hospitable environment for tropical plants.  Even in bright locations light is lower than outside and often the humidity is also, especially during the heating season.   If you have leaf drop, more than likely your plant will survive and put out new leaves once acclimated.  For certain varieties you might need to cut the stems back to stimulate new growth and have a bushier plant.

This is not the season to fertilize houseplants.  Let them rest and just water them.  They will go slightly dormant during the winter.  Wait until spring to fertilize.


Amaryllis need to be brought in and placed in a cool dark location; basements are perfect.  If you live in a warmer climate where it won't freeze a garage will work as long as the plant is in the dark.  Perhaps put it in a box to keep out light.  Withhold watering and allow the leaves to die back.  It is time for your amaryllis to go to sleep for 3 to 4 months.  In the late winter or early spring, bring it back out, clean up dead foliage, water and feed.  If it received enough sunlight and nutrients in the summer to feed the bulb nourishment you will see a new stem growing and soon new blossoms.  If there wasn't enough nourishment then all you will get are leaves and will have to wait another year.  Put the plant outside next summer in sunshine, water and feed well and try again.


Time to Plant Garlic     October 11, 2004

Fall time in garlic plating time.  Purchase garlic bulbs from a nursery or seed company.  Don't use the garlic you buy in the grocery store, it may have sprouting inhibitor sprayed on it.  Do not separate cloves until planting time.

Garlic is a heavy feeder so very fertile soil is important for the largest most flavorful garlic.  Locate the garlic bed in full sun with good drainage.  Adding compost is important for most soils due to garlic's need for many nutrients.  Don't let this intimidate you though, growing garlic is easy; just make sure you have fertile soil.

Plant anytime after the first fall frost until November.  Last year I was given bulbs late into November, zone 5, and the soil was all ready crusty on top from freezing but I planted them as an experiment.  They grew into nice bulbs, not as large as the October planted garlic but still nice garlic.

If you grew garlic this year, use the largest bulbs for your seed garlic this fall.  Once you start saving your own garlic and plant the largest bulbs each fall you will find that your garlic grows larger and healthier.  This is due to putting the largest cloves back into the soil (genetics) along with the garlic becoming acclimated to your growing conditions.

Separate the cloves and plant each clove 2 inches into the soil (2 inches of soil on the top of the clove) and 6 inches apart.  If your soil in loose and fertile you will be able to just push them into the soil.

Once the soil has frozen mulch with straw or chopped leaves.  Garlic does not perform well with weed competition so mulching serves two purposes, protecting from freezing/thawing cycles and weed suppression.

Our garlic this year grew right up through the straw mulch.  Other years I pulled it away in the spring.  I will leave it again this coming spring because it helped with weed and moisture control.  Anything to help cut down on chores is great in my book.


Wait until summer to harvest when bottom leaves begin to turn brown but before more than one or two leaves are brown.

Stiffneck varieties need to be "topped" when the curly "scapes" begin to form.  Scapes have a hard round stem and curl.  Scapes take energy from the plant so leaving them on will result in up to 30% reduction in bulb size.  Use scapes in stir-fries.

Dig carefully with garden fork.  Don't bruise the bulbs.  Cure in a warm shady plant with good air circulation.  Save the largest bulbs to put back into the ground in the fall.

Once you grow your own garlic and taste the difference compared to the store bought you will be sold on "home-grown" garlic.


Vegetable Gardens and the End of the Season   October 4, 2004

It is important that your garden be prepared for the winter and more importantly for next year.  What chores you tend to now will pay off big time next spring.  Amending your soil now will result in healthier plants next year.

In the beginning of our vegetable gardening years we didn't really understand how important organic matter was for replenishing the soil so we would burn (in the garden) dead vegetable vines and plants.  The ashes did help some but now that we have more knowledge we understand how important all the dead matter is for improving the soil

Incorporating dead plant material into the soil can be difficult.  Vines tend to get wound up around the tiller's blades and stalks and stems don't decompose very fast.  A chipper/shredder will grind everything up or use your lawnmower (with the blade set high) to cut debris into smaller pieces; they decompose quicker.  We have found the mower makes quick work of this job.  Don't use plants that had diseases, bag and send them away.  Pile fallen leaves in the garden also and chop them up with the mower.  The more organic material you incorporate into the soil the better your crops will grow next year.

Once all the dead plants, debris and leaves are chopped, till it all into the soil.  Even the newspapers we used for mulching, with organic material on top, get tilled into the soil.  By next spring almost everything will be decomposed and the soil will be rich and dark. If you have access to manure this is a good time to apply it and work it into the garden.

A word on manure - cow manure has less viable weed seeds than horse manure.  Horses don't break down seeds as well as cows so more of the seeds remain viable.  When horse manure is used you can expect a strong stand of weeds to follow.

If you desire to go another step 'cover crops' will add more organic matter for next year improving the soil further.  Cover crops also prevent soil erosion.  Common cover crops are clovers, legumes, vetches (not crown vetch*), grains and many more.  If you want more information about types of cover crops you can go to (Peaceful Valley Farm Supply) or call for a catalog at 888-784-1722.  The varieties they offer are too numerous to list.  There are different types for different zones with even some for colder zones that have hard winters.

If you don't have a tiller you can get good results with using a good old fashion shovel and your strong back and arms.  Raised beds will benefit from this type of turning the soil.  If you garden in a "Layer" or "Lasagna" system the above guidelines can be bypassed.

*Crown Vetch:  While crown vetch is beautiful when in bloom and does a great job of covering a hillside it should NEVER be invited into a garden area or near other desirable plants.  It is very invasive and needs LOTS of room to roam.


Hello to our readers!  September 27, 2004

This week we have two submissions; one from my twin sister and one from a reader that has been with us for a while.  The soup recipe is timely since this is winter squash season and the garden craft was a neat idea.  We have a 'Garden Question and Discussion' site, along with one for the 'Home', so if you have something appropriate you would like to post to our web site, feel free.  Enough introductions, "Now, on the with show!"

Make Some Soup from Barb

One of my most favorite things to do to stay well and strong is make a pot of soup.  I have 2 very senior friends that eat soup every day, are healthy, have bright minds and a positive outlook on life. One is a man and the other is a woman so gender has no basis in this observation.  I served this Apple Squash Soup with Spiced Sour Cream at a harvest dinner and it was a success.  Some of the men wrinkled up their noses but after they tasted it and I assured them that they wouldn't grow breasts if they ate it (they thought it was a girly soup) they agreed that it was great! You are probably wondering what kind of people I hang out with!  My lips are sealed!  Of course we all know that each individual soup has a unique property to it that will help us feel better because of what is made with. i.e.-chicken-breathe easier, chili-spicy, pea soup-comfort, vegetable with cabbage-boost of vitamins and minerals that you might be deficient, etc. EAT SOUP!

                                    Apple Squash Soup with spiced Sour Cream

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ginger and cloves

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1 1/2 T. butter

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

2 tart apples, peeled cored and chopped

1 1/3 cups apple cider

3 cups chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

For Spiced Sour Cream:

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp. sugar 

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

Lemon juice to taste

Sauté onions and spices in butter over very low heat until onions are tender, stirring frequently. Add squash, apples, cider and stock or broth and heat to boiling.  Reduced heat and simmer covered until squash and apples are tender, about 25 min.

Process mixture in batches in food processor or blender until smooth.  Return mixture to soup pot and heat to simmering.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  I serve mine out of a slow cooker and everyone helps himself or herself with the sour cream next to it.  I put a heaping dollop in the center of the soup bowl and swirl. It is so beautiful.

Next time you are feeling not quite up to snuff, make a pot of soup that you are craving and I can guarantee you will feel a lot better after you have a couple of bowls and be quite amazed.

Garden Craft-from Elvera

I recently went on a local garden tour and I saw unique stepping-stones made from rhubarb leaves.  I use stepping-stones quite often for my flowerbeds.  Turn a nice sized rhubarb leaf upside down and just mix up a batch of qwik-crete cement or quick setting cement, we usually get it for about $2.00 a 60# bag which would make about three of them.  Make sure the leaf lays flat on a piece of plywood and wet the plywood a bit so the concrete doesn't stick to it.  Using your gloved hands (those cheap rubber gloves work well) mound the cement on the leaf carefully to the edge.  I made mine about 3 inches high, gently tap around the plywood with a hammer, this seems to settle the concrete in nicely. Wait about 5 - 7 days and turn over your stone and the rhubarb leave will peel away leaving a fossil looking stepping-stone.  I am sure children could embellish them and I took it one step further and put a shallow bowl down, the rhubarb leaf over it and then the cement.  After it hardened I had a cute birdbath that could sit on the ground in a mossy area.


All Those Tomatoes   September 20, 2004

Perhaps you grew your own tomatoes this year or you have a generous friend who did and have an abundance of them; what do you do with them all?

Besides the typical canning and spaghetti sauce did you know you could freeze whole tomatoes in freezer quality gallon size zipper bags?  If you have the freezer space you can preserve tomatoes for cooking purposes this winter in just a few minutes.  Just wash and freeze them whole.  When you need tomatoes for cooking take what you need out of the bag, place in hot water to remove skins, core and continue to thaw.  They will release a lot of water, which you can either use along with the tomatoes or thaw them in a colander with a pot underneath to catch the water.  This water can be reduced on top of your stove for tomato sauce.

Fresh Winter Salsa

We have been spoiled with fresh salsa in the summer and don't care for salsa either canned or frozen.  So now I use the formerly frozen drained chopped tomatoes along with a fresh onion and either a fresh or frozen green pepper.  Then add the spices and the salsa is almost as good as 'summer fresh' salsa.

NOTE: 'Paste Tomatoes' work best for this procedure.

Here is a recipe for extra tomatoes that is well worth the ½ hour to make.  I took it today to a potluck and it was a big hit.  I kept hearing, "This is really good soup, did you try it?"  We like it so much that I can it for winter soup and the beginnings of pasta sauce. 

Tomato Soup

1 T. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 quarts of chopped or canned tomatoes

½ cup fresh basil (or ¼ cup dry)

sugar (optional-to your taste)

sea salt and pepper (to your taste)

tamari or soy sauce (to your taste)

extra garlic powder (to your taste)

oregano (to your taste)

Heat butter in skillet, sauté garlic, carrots and celery.  Add tomatoes and simmer 20 minutes.  Add sugar, basil, sea salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, and tamari; simmer 5 - 10 minutes longer.  Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.  Eight servings.

If you have a food processor you can buzz the carrots, celery and garlic first.  Empty into skillet.  Then put in your fresh tomatoes (skin included) into processor.  Lastly use the processor for chopping basil and any other fresh herbs you have.  A food processor makes this recipe a snap.


Apple Time!  September 13, 2004

This is the time of the year when apples become abundant and a trip to the Cider Mill is often an annual event.  While you are visiting the orchard don't just buy cider and doughnuts but also pick up some apples for your good health.  New studies are showing that the old adage "an apple a day will keep the doctor away" isn't too far from the truth.

Apples are rich in fiber, flavonoids and phytonutrients all of which promote healthy bodies.  They are one of the richest sources of dietary fiber and a leading source of phytonutrients among all plant foods.  Several published studies from the U.K., Finland, Mayo Clinic, Cornell University and University of Hawaii point to the apple as being a strong anti-cancer food that we can all enjoy.  Cancers specifically mentioned in the studies are digestive cancers (pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum), prostate cancer and lung cancer.  Heart and brain health are also mentioned as benefiting from the protective benefits from apples.  The Finnish study links apples to stroke prevention.  Apples are also promoted in one of the studies for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and asthma.

The USDA reports that apples are in the top three ranked fruits in total phenolic content, an important class of phytonutrients, and in antioxidant capacity, an indicator of how active the food is in fighting disease causing oxidative damage in the body.

Dentists report that apples are excellent for cleaning and whitening of the teeth.  And have you ever heard of someone gaining weight because they ate too many apples?  Nope, didn't think so!

I remember my grandmother pulling apples out of a deep hole in the ground.  This was a common way to store extra apples.  For modern times apples are best stored in your refrigerator.   But if you have a hole in the ground then you can use that also!

If you have an abundance of apples consider making applesauce.  Homemade applesauce is so good your family won't believe it came out of your kitchen.  There are many ways to make applesauce but none of them is that difficult.  If you need a recipe check a recipe book or do a search on-line for "applesauce".  Applesauce freezes wonderfully too.  I freeze it in little lunch size containers.  By the time lunch arrives it has thawed out.


Saving Heirloom Tomato Seeds   September 6, 2004

Heirloom tomato seeds are easy to save and a good way to secure tomato seeds for next year.  Hybrid tomatoes won't come back true to the plant you grew this year because they have two parents of different varieties and the second generation will likely be inferior.  This is why we seldom allow volunteer plants grow the following year.  Space is at a premium and if a tomato isn't great tasting it isn't worth growing.  Since they don't pop out of the ground with labels on them we don't know if they are heirlooms or some other strange tomato plant.

To save seed from an heirloom or open pollinated tomato place seeds in a labeled glass jar.  Add water and secure cap.  Allow to sit for 3 or so days until a smelly scum starts to form on top.  This fermentation eats the gelatinous substance around the seeds so you can get nice clean seeds without much effort.  Dump the whole mess into a strainer and rinse under running cool water until seeds are totally clean.  You might need to use your finger to rub them while rinsing.  Dry on a labeled paper towel.  Place the clean dry seeds in a labeled envelope or another container for storage.

One year I bought a variety of heirloom tomatoes from Whole Foods so I could taste several different types.  I saved seeds from the ones we liked.  This saved us the trouble of growing something we didn't like the following year.

Speaking of tomatoes!

We were at the grocery store today.  This might sound strange but we don't go to the grocery store much because we buy most of our food from local farmers if we can't grow it ourselves.  This is how we buy our meat, eggs, milk, etc.  So a trip to the store often brings some surprises.  The first surprise was the price of tomatoes; tomatoes that weren't even that appetizing in appearance!  May I suggest if you didn't grow your own tomatoes go to a local farmers' market or a roadside stand this time of the year and buy directly from the farmer.  Your business will be greatly appreciated and your family will be able to taste what tomatoes are really supposed to taste like.  Please buy most of your produce there if you can.  You will be surprised how good vegetables taste.

If you don't know where to find a local farmer go to for listings in your area.  Or call your county extension office for information.  

Another surprise was a "Microwave Ready Potato"!  These potatoes were probably cleaned in some kind of disinfectant and wrapped in plastic; two no nos!

I spend a considerable amount of time encouraging people to cook from scratch even though our society is pushing convince foods.  The reason I am involved in this is for healthier bodies and healthier families.  So now we are at a point in this country we can't even scrub a potato!  Wow!  Where are we going!  Off to the doctors, that's where!

(Sorry!  I can't help myself sometimes!)


Extending the Vegetable Garden August 30, 2004

Last week we talked about extending the beauty of a flowerbed so this week it is the veggies turn.  Just because autumn is beckoning, it doesn't mean you have to stop growing your own food.  There are several ways to extend the season to get you well into the fall, past the first frosts.  And if you are fortunate enough to have a high tunnel or other protection you can harvest your own food well into the winter.

The following is a list, although not complete by any means, to get you started for extending the season.

Broccoli:  If you have allowed your broccoli go to seed you can get it back into production by cutting off all the seed stalks.  This will encourage the plants to start to produce seed heads again, which when harvested young are the broccoli heads you eat.

Cabbage:  Cabbage laughs at your first frosts.  Leave the stump from earlier harvesting and small cabbages will grow from the stump.  Pinch off most of the new growth leaving one or two new heads to grow.  These will grow into small little cabbages.

Carrots:  Use some type of protection to keep carrots through the winter.  For eons gardeners have used straw as an insulator for carrots.  They would cover them well and harvest them as needed, often having to remove snow from the garden plot where the carrots were grown when needed.  Carrots sweeten with the cold temps.

Kale:  Another plant that laughs at frost.  Continue to harvest the leaves from the stalks well into fall.

Lettuce:  Lettuce prefers cooler weather.  Start in flats then transplant to the garden for best results for the "heading" varieties.  When too cold protect under row covers, low or high tunnels, pods or cold frames.

Pole Beans:  You can rejuvenate pole beans by cleaning off all dead leaves, spray with foliar spray (we use compost tea and kelp), then shock the plants by using a garden fork to slightly lift the root zone along one side of the row.  Insert the fork approximately 6 inches from the stems and gently lift the soil.  This will disturb the roots and they will put out a new flush of blossoms in an attempt to reproduce.

Rutabagas & Brussels sprouts:  These should have been started back in early July and all ready moved to the garden.  Frost will bring out the best flavor because the sugars develop after a frost.  They can survive frost.

Spinach, mache, mustard greens, etc.:  These plants prefer cooler temperatures also.  Can be direct seeded in mass plantings.  For best production plant in wide beds.  Protect under row covers, low or high tunnels, protecting pods or cold frames.   Spinach is a crop that will continue to produce all winter long if given proper protection.  A bonus is the flavor, so sweet you won't even recognize it!

Tomatoes:  Hybrids tend to withstand colder temperatures over heirlooms.  Cover the plants with old sheets when frost threatens.  Usually you will have a couple nights of frost then another month of warmer temps.  If you can bring your tomatoes through those first frosty nights you often have another few weeks of growth.  When it gets too cold for this method harvest all the green blemish-free tomatoes that have reached mature size.  You can distinguish mature fruit by a more pale green color than the immature fruit.  Green tomatoes will ripen at different rates so check them often for ripeness and rotting.  I prefer to just leave them out on the counter, table or floor in cardboard flats for daily checking.  I don't like the method of wrapping in newspaper because they need checking often for any that have spoiled.

Where to find out more about cooler season gardening:

Many seed catalogs have cool season crops identified with symbols.  "Johnny's Selected Seeds" have an easy to use system of identification for plants you can grow into the fall and some even through the winter with tunnels, protecting pods or cold frames.  Become familiar with these protective systems through books and gardening magazines.  There are many methods to use to extend your growing season.  Some crops even grow better in the fall than the summer. 


Tidy Up Those Gardens  August 23, 2004

Flowerbeds can start looking a bit ragged by this time of the year, especially with leggy annuals and perennials going to seed.  You can tidy them up by cutting back anything not in blossom.  Annuals can be replaced with fresh new ones available at some nurseries or plant stands.  By planting new plants now your gardens will continue to be lovely and fresh looking.   Pansies and snapdragons can withstand the first frosty nights.  I have even seen pansies blooming during a mild Michigan winter!  Ornamental kale and hardy fall mums are beautiful fall plants.  Geraniums can withstand a few frosts but might need some sprucing up by now.  Cut off any dead blossoms and feed the plants with fertilizer.  Water well and they will put out a new flush of blooms.  

Perennials past their prime should be cut back.  If they are invasive perennials that drop seed you can cut your work down for next year by cutting off their seed heads before they mature.  If you have found some perennials in places you don't like or too many of them either move them or offer some to friends.  If those two choices don't fit then you will need to do some serious thinning; get tough and pull some perennials out, even if it means they go to the compost heap.  Remember: A weed is any plant in a place you don't want it.  Fill in the holes with good soil or compost and you will have some empty places to plant spring-blooming bulbs this fall.  If you use compost to fill the holes chop soil away from the sides of the hole to mix it with the compost.  Not all plants appreciate total compost for a growing medium.  Most soil, no matter how poor, offers some minerals and nutrients not found in compost. 

While you are out in the flowerbed pull the weeds.  They now have mature seed heads and are dropping hundreds, if not thousands, of weed seed everywhere!


Create a Beautiful Perennial Bed  August 16, 2004

Putting together a satisfying perennial bed can be fun and rewarding for some and frustrating and difficult for others.  If you want a perennial bed that pleases you, you will need to do some planning, searching and making some hard decisions.  First you need to decide what appeals to your eye.  Starting points are to decide if you like symmetrical and formal or relaxed, colorful, two-tone or a riot of color or even one color of various shades and hues, tidy and neat or a more informal look, etc.  Do you have time to devote to a bed or should it be relatively carefree?  As you drive around make mental notes of what you like.  Pick up gardening magazines or library books on gardening.

Don't try to follow someone's advice until you know what you like.  There are so many choices and styles and no one garden is right for everyone.  I remember reading an article once where the author believed in monotone gardens.  One color was recommended and for that person one color worked.  But I wouldn't be happy with that approach and was shocked that the author would try to convince everyone else that his or her way was the only way.  That person would have been shocked our local library's walkway, it was filled with flowers of every imaginable color.  It was wonderful.  I haven't been able to successfully pull off such a riot of color myself but I found the walkway fantastic to look at.  One word of warning; orange is a color that needs careful consideration.  It doesn't work in all gardens but when it is mixed with the right color, say bright blue or purple, it can be fantastic!  I have seen it also used well with reds.  

A good flowerbed or garden should have a focal point.  A focal point could be a fountain, a special tree or shrub, statuary, a path leading to a bench, a decorative fence, arbor, etc.  Work your plans around the focal point.  Your eye should rest comfortably on the focal point when scanning the garden.  

Most successful gardens have "good bones" or foundation plantings that remain even when everything else has died during winter.  These plants are often repeated several times.  Repeating the foundation plantings is pleasing to the eye as opposed to every bush in the front of your house being different.  That would be unsettling to look at.  Several different types of bushes can be used effectively when the same cultivar is repeated in groupings.  A frequent recommendation is to use odd numbers in repetition, for example 3 or 5 bushes instead of 2 or 4.  

A successful perennial bed will have a good mix of plants that come into bloom at different times of the season.  There are many choices of perennials to bring color, texture, height and variation to the bed.  A good perennial book will help with this job.  Or tour a good nursery every month of the growing season to see perennials blooming so you know what they look like in full bloom. Many perennials only bloom for a short period of time.  Adding annuals here and there brings color to the garden, especially when the perennials are waning.  They are great for supplying color all summer long when chosen carefully to match the growing conditions.  For example don't try to grow impatiens in a hot dry location.  For our beginning gardeners: annuals grow for one year and perennials grow for several years if not indefinitely.  Then there are biennials that grow for two seasons, often not blooming until their second year. 

Shady perennial beds often rely on texture, height and various hues and shades of green to bring together a lovely bed.  For those who want color in the shade grow impatiens. Plant in groups of 4 transplants to a group and when mature you will have a mound of color mixed in with the green perennials.  Note: Impatiens need moisture so 'dry shade' will not work for them.

The nice thing about perennial beds is you can move things around if you find you don't like the placement of a certain plant.  The important thing to remember is to follow what pleases you. 


Currants   August 9, 2004

Currants are not a common fruit for the average homeowner to grow but since having three bushes of our own for only three years I have decided they were a very good choice to buy.  They aren't the best tasting fresh fruit to eat raw but the jam they produce is worth growing them.  They started producing fruit the year after I planted them even though they weren't large bushes.  We have the dark variety or sometimes referred to as Black Currant.  My first taste of what appeared to be a ripe berry sent me to the computer to find out when these dark little berries should be picked; it wasn't sweet or tasty.  I discovered you should wait at least two weeks from the first appearance of ripe berries to pick all the berries at once.

Waiting to pick the berries all at once is great because making jam is the reason for growing currants.  These unusual berries just beg to be made into jam.  You don't need additional pectin or jam preparations, just sugar and water.  John claims the black currant jam I made is the best jam he has eaten.  Currant jam has seeds but they don't get caught between the teeth as with some other berries.  We got 6 jars of jam the year after planting and this year got 12 jars. 

Our black currants are in full sun and seem very happy there.  They don't receive much care and don't require pesticidal sprays.  There are some areas in the country that have problems with blister beetles and have banned currants because they are a host plant for the beetles.  You could check with your local Extension Service or another knowledgeable source to find out if your location has a ban on currants.  We haven't noticed any pest problems of any sort.

Here is the easiest and one of the tastiest jams you can make:

Currant Jam

1 cup water

3 cups currants

5 cups sugar

Clean and sort berries.  Combine water and currants.  Boil for 2 to 5 minutes.  Let set overnight.  Add sugar- Boil for 30 minutes.  Transfer to jelly jars for freezing.  You can follow USDA guidelines for sealing jam jars for shelf-storage but I freeze ours. 


Seed Saving   August 2, 2004

At this time of the growing season seeds are starting to develop in the mature flower heads.  Saving seed is a time-honored practice and thankfully past generations have been diligent in preserving for the future; our future and children's future.  Large seed companies would prefer for you to buy their seed every year and have been taking steps to build monopolies in the seed industry.  I could write a whole article on this subject and the dirty practices of these big companies but not today.   Today we will discuss how to save seed for next year.

Two important tips to follow:

#1-Make sure the seed head is mature

#2-Make sure the seeds are dry before you store them

Mature Heads:

How do you know when seeds are mature enough?  These guidelines are generalities, like everything in life there are always exceptions to the rules.  The heads are usually dried up brown remains of the former flower.  The seeds will often fall out into your hand or at least easily pop out of the seed head when disturbed.  Green seed heads or green seeds usually are not ready.

Collect seeds into containers and allow the seed heads to dry completely before continuing with storage steps.  More seeds will usually fall out of the seed heads during the drying process.  Some seed heads will not drop their seed and need to have the whole head dry out such as marigolds or hollyhocks.  Others, such as poppies and dianthus, are easy to harvest and need little drying.  Just turn the heads upside down and they fall into your container.  A great container for this, and many other things, is a little dishpan that you get from a hospital stay.  Those little dishpans are so handy for many gardening chores, a great gardener's helper.  Plastic bowls or envelopes work also.  Make sure you label your seeds, don't count on your memory.

I save return envelopes from mailings for collecting seeds and sharing them with friends.  They are easy to write on and allow good air circulation.  Other things to save for saving seed:  desiccant packets from shoeboxes or other packaging and little zip lock bags, the tiny ones are best. 

Once the seeds are dry and sorted from leaves, insects and other residue you can put them away for the winter.  I have saved seeds in discarded film containers, envelopes or plastic bags.  Prior to growing for the CSA I stored seeds in containers or envelopes in the freezer.  But the quantity of the left over seeds is too great now and I had to devise a different plan.  Now they are stored in separate packets inside larger zip bags with a desiccant packet, which are then filed in a file box.  I keep them in categories such as peppers, annual flowers, perennials, brassicas, etc.   If they are completely dry it doesn't matter if they can breathe or not.  Seeds should be fully dry before storage or they can spoil.  Save the original seed packets from store-bought seed.  I even save empty packets for ordering purposes the following winter.  Those packets have valuable information along with the name of the cultivar in case you need it.

What to save?

It is easier to tell you what you can't save-hybrid seeds, than to list the ones you can save.  Hybrids are plants derived from two different 'parents' or cultivars.  They usually will not produce the following year the same as the first generation of the cross.  The offspring is usually inferior to the original.  "F1" in a seed description it is noting the first generation of a cross breeding.

We save heirloom and open pollinated seeds.  Some of the freebee seeds we have collected were poppy seeds from in the front of a subdivision sign, giant celosia seed that we admired as we drove by, and seeds from someone's pretty red plants that we didn't know what they were for years.  We named them "Dorothy" after the woman we got them from until we discovered they were amaranth!  We labeled the celosia "Highland Celosia" after the town we found them in until a fellow grower identified them for us as "Chief" celosia.  (That goes to show how plants get different names!)  If you don't know if a plant is a hybrid or not, save the seed and experiment by planting some next year.  If they grow back the next year with the same traits they are either heirlooms or "open pollinated".

Plants I would not recommend to save seed from are plants in the cucurbit family, e.g. cucumbers, squash, melons.  They crossbreed so easily that you will likely come up with some oddities such as we have seen; a cross between spaghetti squash and zucchini or a cross between winter squash and a gourd.  If you get a volunteer squash at your compost pile you can allow it to grow if you are willing to except surprises.  But be ready to grate up the fruit for "zucchini bread".  (Just about any soft squash will make zucchini bread.)

There are so many seeds to save; it could become a part-time hobby.  And like the celosia, poppies and amaranth we have so happily made at home here in our gardens you might just stumble across some great plants also!


Perennial Beds   July 26, 2004

Now is a great time to take stock of your perennials and their locations.  Are they where you want them?  Are they the correct color for that area?  Are they healthy and get enough sun or too much sun?  Do the water lovers get enough water and do the plants that prefer it drier have the dryness they prefer?  Do you have a tall perennial in front of a shorter one so it hides it and it can't be enjoyed?  Make notes in your garden notebook* about things you want to change to make your perennial beds prettier.  Don't count on your memory unless it is ironclad.

Some examples of notes I need to make for my perennials are: A lovely apricot lily that needs to be moved to another bed because of its color.  I also have a very tall white balloon flower in front of a shorter purple veronica.  If the balloon flower were in back of the veronica it would be perfect; purple in front of white.  There is also a problem brewing between some sweet woodruff and a hosta.  The sweet woodruff is choking out the hosta; something I didn't know was possible but I can see it happening.  I will move the hosta since that is easier than controlling the sweet woodruff.

The nice thing about perennials is that nothing is carved in stone; you can move them around if things don't look right.  Just wait until they are finished flowering and move them with enough time for the roots to regrow before the ground freezes.  Most perennials can move just fine at the end of summer.  Keep them watered well after the move and all should be fine.  But I would wait until next spring to move something like a rose, which can be a little fussier.

 *Your garden notebook doesn't have to be fancy, just a spiral notebook or a three ring binder.  Make sure you date your pages.  It is interesting to go back over the years and discover how much you have learned about gardening.  And there will be times when you are thankful you took notes because life just has too many other things to remember.


Allelopathy  July 19, 2004

Allelopathy can occur when compounds from one plant can inhibit growth or halt germination of other plants.  A very common and well-known example is the Black Walnut Tree.  Ask any homeowner who has a Black Walnut Tree how other plants grow around their tree and you will probably hear some grumbling.  Some other common plants are certain pine trees, sunflowers, wormwoods, sagebrushes, and trees of heaven.  I heard of a report from an experienced gardener who wanted to grow flowers under her bird feeder.  After several years of failure she realized the sunflower hulls dropped by the birds had an allelopathic effect on the flowers below.  Paving stones solved the problem; no plants would grow but at least it looked neat and tidy.  I would think hull-less sunflower seed would work also.

What do you do about allelopathic conditions?

Do some research on the particular plant causing the allelopathy before wasting any more money on plants.  There are plants that can live around certain allelopathic plants.  If the offending plant or tree is removed you will need to replace the affected soil, which could be a tremendous job.  You could solve the problem such as the woman mentioned above.  I have some friends who could not grow plants under very large pine trees.  So they cut the branches on the trees about 10 feet up and then created a lovely sitting garden under them.  With some plants in pots that tolerate shade, pavers, a bench, birdbath or fountain they have a most lovely garden.  They even located a few plants that could tolerate such conditions that are growing around their sitting garden.  It is truly a very lovely restful place to sit and enjoy.


Summer Squash  July 12, 2004

It is that time of the year when the summer squash is producing and hopefully abundantly.  There is a saying, "Lock your car this time of year or you might find zucchini in it when you return."  Sounds like a blessing to me!  But then we love fried summer squash, hot zucchini bread, zucchini pancakes, zucchini in stir-fries, tomatoes and zucchini, and much more.

Summer squash need 1 inch of water a week but if it has too much water the new squash will often be soft and rot at the ends.  All you can do when this happens is pick off the bad squash and wait for the soil to dry out a little so new ones will grow healthy. 

The two biggest pests of summer squash are squash bugs and cucumber beetles.  Squash bugs are shield shape and the color of dirt and cucumbers beetles are small yellow and black insects.  Both can cause death to the plants because they can spread disease, eat the roots and leaves and damage the plants.  If your plants suddenly die these two pests are often the culprits along with squash vine borer.  Since we don't use synthetic pesticides our weapons are very limited. 

Hand picking and squashing the bugs are the first line of defense.  Even if you spray with approved organic chemicals you still can harm beneficial insects so we prefer other methods when possible.  We even vacuum up cucumber beetles with a hand held vacuum such as a dustbuster.   

John has also devised a solution for painting the squash bug eggs.  Mix three parts canola oil and part dish liquid and "paint" the eggs with a small paintbrush.  This solution will kill or smoother the eggs.  We recently talked to another grower who takes a torch to his squash bugs eggs right on the leaves!  The damage to the leaves doesn't seem to bother the plants production.  For more in depth information you can read our Tip of the Week from July 29th, 2002 by Clicking Here:-

To read how to combat powdery mildew on squash plants read our Tip of the Week from July 8, 2002 on the same Web page as above.

You can also find one of our family's favorite yellow summer squash casserole dishes by Clicking Here: -

Follow the recipe even though it tells you to boil the squash first; I thought that was weird but trust me it is a fantastic recipe.  If you are eating organically or following Nourishing Traditions, Slo Food or another 'back to basic' form of eating, you can substitute some of the ingredients listed as needed.  Most of our recipes were posted to our Web site before we changed to organic food but time is never in surplus around here to make changes to the recipes.  So it is up to the individual to make the necessary changes.


Deadheading  July 5, 2004

Summer is in full swing and many annuals and perennials are putting on a beautiful show.  Most gardens have been planted and now the work of keeping them tidy is underway.  Obviously weeding is top priority.  Every weed pulled now prevents hundreds if not thousands of future weeds.  Another garden chore is deadheading. 

Deadheading is removing faded flowers from plants either by pinching off the tops with your fingers or cutting with pruners or scissors.  Not only does this make your flowerbeds and pots look nicer but also many plants will reward you with new blooms.  

Another Benefit!

Aggressive self-seeders that are deadheaded will not be able to drop seed all over the garden.  Next year you won't have to 'weed' out all those little babies.  A plant in the wrong place or too numerous can easily become a weed.  There are certain perennials that I deadhead every year for this very reason.  You will know which ones to deadhead when you see your garden being overrun with certain plants. 

Last chance to trim Hardy Mums:

Hardy Mums (chrysanthemums) often need pruning to promote fuller more lush flowers.  Many mums will grow too tall, flop over and produce fewer flowers if allowed to "do their own thing".  The rule of thumb is, "Pinch back three times by the fourth of July".  If you haven't done any pinching back yet, you can still give a mum a "hair cut" without hurting your fall flowers but do it now.  Take off one third of the top growth.  This will cause each stem to branch off into two stems creating a fuller more compact plant.  If your mums aren't growing much you can just trim off the ends of the stems.  When pinching back mums, even out the height all over the plant to create a uniform appearance.  

There are some newer cultivars, which don't need pinching back.  They have been breed to behave better and don't fall all over the place by the end of summer.  If you brought one of these newer cultivars, the hangtag probably gave directions for their care.

Tip from a reader:

When I sent out the tip a couple weeks ago about using lemon juice to remove gardening stains from hands and fingernails a reader reminded me that Bag Balm is wonderful for softening skin.  I had some in the house but had forgotten about it.  I have since started using it and my hands appreciate the treatments.  A little goes a long way too!

Lemon Juice on green hair:

Hair will often turn green with repeated exposure to pool chemicals.  Lemon juice will take the green right out.  Just spray on and sit in the sun a little while.  It works better than the special shampoos or other treatments meant for this purpose. 


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