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  • Just in Time for National Moth Week July 25, 2014
    The third annual National Moth Week is winding down.  This year it started last Saturday July 19 and runs through this coming Sunday, July 27, 2014.  The inaugural celebration was back in 2012 and I highlighted some of my favorite moths at the time in my weekly article. Moths serve as food for reptiles, birds […] We love hearing from you! Please click here t […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Buckwheat and the El Segundo Blue Butterfly July 24, 2014
    Nothing warms my heart quite like hearing the happy news that butterflies are flourishing~ somewhere.  Rarely do we get good news about our winged friends lately.  But this story is one of hope and promise! The El Segundo Blue (Euphilotes battoides allyni) is a pretty light blue butterfly that is found nowhere but in So […] We love hearing from you! Please c […]
    Kathy Vilim
  • The Wildlife Nursery July 22, 2014
      Gardening often provides the closest encounters we ever have with wild creatures.  It is a solace and a distraction in bad times, and a shared joy in good ones.  ~Ursula Buchan     When you establish a wildlife garden, you need to be aware that at some point in the spring, summer or fall you will […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all t […]
    Donna Donabella
  • The Good in Grapevines July 18, 2014
    I am sometimes dismayed by the rapid growth of my Muscadine grapevines (Vitis rotundifolia).  Then I spot a bird picking through them and I relax and am glad that I procrastinated on cutting back. Heck, this southeastern native vine can be cut back at any time. This past week I watched the cardinals dancing in […] We love hearing from you! Please click here […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • A Monarch Waystation in a Mall’s Landscaping July 17, 2014
    At the Healthy Living Market, which occupies the old JC Penny’s space in the Wilton Mall of Saratoga Springs, NY, there is a new Monarch Waystation site. I had the privilege of doing a landscape renovation to the surrounding island beds and sidewalk gardens this spring. We included many native perennials, and cumulatively the site […] We love hearing from yo […]
    Jesse Elwert
  • Smooth Sumac July 15, 2014
      Just a couple weeks ago, some of the bushes along my woodland edges were abuzz with pollinator activity. The flowers of Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra, were the magnet.   Butterflies, including this Red-banded Hairstreak, Calycopis cecrops, were part of the crowd.   Honey Bees, gathering nectar, to help some bee keeper with his honey supply were also attracted. […]
    Brenda Clements Jones
  • Sweet as honeyvine July 14, 2014
    This “weed” is a host plant Honeyvine milkweed (Cynanchum laeve) is a vigorous, perennial trailing vine that is native to our eastern and central states.  Some people consider it to be a nuisance “weed”, but I call it Monarch caterpillar food. Hardy hearts I like the honeyvine’s heart-shaped leaves and the fact that I never […] We love hearing from you! Plea […]
    Judy Burris
  • Yellow and Blue make Beauty in the Garden July 11, 2014
    When I see the bright yellow flowers of the Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista* fasciculata) I tend to think of Sulphur butterflies because it is a larval host for several members of the Sulphur butterfly family. The other day I was out enjoying the diversity of insect activity on the Partridge Pea plants back in my pond […] We love hearing from you! Please click h […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Tracking Down a Lonesome Dove July 11, 2014
    Boy, were husband Matt and I baffled when a friend sent us this picture of a bird nest on the ground, with chick and egg. “What is it?” he wanted to know. “Precocious young?” That was our first thought when seeing a feathered youngster next to an egg—that “precocial” youngster already had feathers when it hatched. […] We love hearing from you! Please click h […]
    Sally Roth

#GardenChat

P-O-P Corn

The laziest man I ever met

put popcorn in his pancakes

so they would turn over by themselves.

W. C. Fields

Fresh popping corn bought from a local farmer each autumn has become a tradition for our family. Each Thanksgiving Day as we eagerly await the impending feast to be set upon the table, we idle away the time hulling colored popcorn kernels from dried cobs. It’s a chore that takes time and effort, especially because we don’t have the handy gadget that makes quick work of it, but it’s one we enjoy. It’s less like a burden and more like bonding as our family gathers around the popcorn bowl centered on the table; the warm and cozy kitchen permeated by the lingering scent of herbs, turkey and fruit pies.

This season our youngest son chose heirloom popcorn varieties ‘Strawberry’ and ‘Dakota Black’ to try growing in our home garden. Unfortunately the ‘Dakota Black’ was promptly devoured by a young bunny soon after it sprouted, along with our heirloom ‘Jarrahdale Blue’ pumpkin plants. The ‘Strawberry’ popcorn, however, was planted in a border outside of the garden proper, near the heliopsis and pear trees. It was only a small patch, but it did quite well.

Planted as all of our corn is, I left it pretty much alone the entire season. (My benign neglect wasn’t by choice, we had a crazy summer.) Thankfully the weather cooperated in July and August and the gardens had plenty of rain alternating with hot, sunny days as the corn tassled and the ears grew. September brought cooler temperatures and less rain, coaxing the corn stalks to dry a lovely golden brown… a sure sign it’s time to harvest!

After plucking the ears from the plants we peeled the husks back and were delighted to see small cobs of red popcorn shaped very much like large strawberries. After completely removing the husks, it’s necessary to further dry the popcorn while it’s still on the cob. Ours are in mesh bags that are hanging in the garage. It will take several weeks until the kernels are slightly shriveled and can be easily removed from the cob with a little pressure. I’ll pop a few kernels every now as a test until I’m sure they’re ready. To store the kernels, put them in a glass jar (like other seeds) and keep them in the refrigerator.

I don’t think we’ll be storing our small stash of popcorn for long and we’ll definitely be taking another family trip to the farm stand for more… after all it is tradition. Happy gardening!

Kettle Corn

  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 c. popcorn kernels
  • scant cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the popcorn kernels and sprinkle the sugar on top. Stir quickly and cover with a heavy lid. As the popcorn pops, shake the pan to keep the sugar from burning onto the bottom. Remove promptly from the heat when the popping stops, after 3-4 minutes. Turn into a bowl and toss gently. Enjoy!

#Gardenchat Facelift: New Format

#gardenchat

Mondays, 9 p.m. (ET) – 10:00 p.m.

What do you get when you add one garden topic, one guest host who specializes in that topic, an avid and friendly group of gardeners and Twitter? The answer is #gardenchat, a forum for sharing all things growing as well as a host of other topics that relate to the gardening community. It’s fun, inspiring, informational and fast paced. VERY fast paced…the ideas, answers and questions all flying at Twitter warp-speed which can lead to a bit of confusion and unanswered questions. We can’t have that!

Welcome to the new format for #gardenchat. The format is similar to other chats on Twitter, with questions submitted beforehand and discussed in order that they are answered. Here’s how it will work:

  • Starting Monday and continuing throughout the week, the new #gardenchat topic and guest host will be announced. There will also be a link to a form  where you can submit a question you have about the upcoming topic (you can also click the gardenchat icon on the right sidebar of my blog). Your questions can be entered at any time during the week up until Thursday at 11 p.m. (ET) to allow the guest host time to prepare their answers.

  • Your questions will be given to the guest host who will choose which to answer based on the time allotted. The new format will also allow for a brief live question/answer period as well (see below).
  • #Gardenchat will now be broken up into three sections:
  1. 9 p.m. (ET)- 9:10 will be reserved for greetings and introductions.
  2. 9:10 – 9:45 is reserved for the answers to submitted questions. Each question will have a brief discussion immediately following the answer. (Discussion times will vary according to the number of questions being answered by the guest host.)
  3. 9:45 – 10:00 is reserved for live questions, answers and open discussion.

My hope is that the new format will make it easier to follow the conversation as well as insure as many questions as possible are answered. The last 15 minutes may still be fast-paced… but hey, after all that is part of the fun! Thank you for joining in every week and I look forward to our next #gardenchat!

*A special thank-you to a certain garden friend with a Brown Thumb for all of your help, I truly appreciate it.*

Talking Pumpkins?!

I would rather sit on a pumpkin

and have it all to myself,

than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

~Henry David Thoreau

Our heirloom pumpkin harvest is still a few weeks off. Though the vines are starting to die back a bit and the leaves beginning to show some signs of powder mildew from the cool, rainy days, the stems are still very green and new blossoms are still being produced… albeit few and far between. This is the perfect time, about three weeks before the harvest, for a fun fall pumpkin project.

We grow four varieties of pumpkins and winter squash each year and every bit of the sweet flesh is steamed, pureed and stored for using all winter (we love winter squash), but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a bit of fun with them first. Shallow etching of words and pictures into the shells of the squash before they are harvested results in a very cool design that slowly appears as the “wound” heals over. It’s easy, fun and a unique way to show off your harvest!

What You Need:

  • Pumpkins large enough to etch, still attached to the vine and about three weeks shy of harvest time.
  • A carving tool. We use the point of an old corkscrew. Anything with a fine, sharp point works well, including a small drill bit.
  • A pen or marker to draw the design. (optional)
  • A rag or sponge.

What You Do:

  • Using the tip of your chosen tool, trace a shallow imprint of your design into the shell of the pumpkin.
  • Retrace the design, pressing harder to etch the shell to a depth no more than 1/4″. The designs can be as simple or complex as you’d like.
  • A vegetable peeler tip is perfect to remove any bits of colored shell left.
  • When you are finished, soak a rag/sponge with chamomile tea and wipe the shell. (Chamomile has anti-bacterial properties which will help protect the etched areas.)
  • Do not use bleach or soap…especially if you plan to eat the squash later.

That’s it!  Watch the pumpkins carefully the first few days and continue to wipe them down until the etched areas have begun to heal over. It’s a lot of fun to see the design become more pronounced as time passes…and the look on friends’ faces when they see your ‘talking pumpkins’ is priceless! Happy gardening!

Make Your Own Pectin

“If you have an apple and I have an apple

and we exchange these apples

then you and I will still each have one apple.

But if you have an idea and I have an idea

and we exchange these ideas,

then each of us will have two ideas.”

~George Bernard Shaw

It’s (almost) autumn in New York and the apple harvest is so inviting! Who can resist orchard rows aligned with gnarled old trees full of bright, juicy jewels in greens, golds and reds?! The mere sight of them makes my heart sing and my mouth water. It’s time for appple pie, applesauce, apple juice and …pectin. Yes, pectin! It’s a great way to use the apple peels and cores you’d otherwise compost and can save you a bit of money.

Fruits and vegetables naturally contain various amounts of pectin (defined as “collodial carbohydrates soluble in water”) which diminishes as they age. Some fruits, like apples, blackberries, quince, and Eastern concord grapes are naturally high in pectin. Others like peaches, pears, and strawberries are naturally low in pectin. If you like to make jams and jellies or preserve fruit in the freezer you will use pectin to help prevent the fruit from turning brown and to help your jelly ‘set.’ Commercial pectin is widely available in stores, but it’s also very easy to make fresh from local fruit in season…especially apples which don’t lend a strong flavor to whatever you are preserving. Why not give it a try?

Apple Pectin

  1. Wash all of the apples well.
  2. Place the peels, cores, any windfall fruit or pomace you are using into a pot and cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer the fruit until it’s soft, about 30 minutes. (Whole apples should be cut into chunks.)
  3. Strain through cheesecloth until it stops dripping. This can take a while, if you don’t mind cloudy jelly (or you’re using the pectin for freezing fruit) you can hasten the process by gently squeezing the cloth to extract the liquid.
  4. Return the cooked fruit to the pot, cover with more water and repeat the process again, cooking for only half the time, about 15 minutes.
  5. Now the liquid must be reduced to a concentrate. Place all of the liquid back into a pot and bring to a simmer. As it reduces, it will become smooth and have a slick texture. When the liquid reduces by half it can be used in a 1:1 ratio with low pectin fruit to make jelly. (One cup of pectin for every cup of juice.) It can also be mixed with low-pectin fruit before freezing to prevent darkening. Allowing the liquid to reduce down further to 1/4 of the original volume makes a thick pectin syrup similar to the liquid pectin available in stores. It will only require 1/4 c. of the pectin syrup for every 4 cups of juice when making jelly. (Follow the directions for canning jams and jellies with commercial liquid pectin.)
  6. Extra pectin can be frozen for later use.

It may take a bit of experimenting before you are familiar with the process, but don’t let that keep you from trying it. The pectin is also great for mixing into tea with a bit of honey to soothe sore throats. Nature really has it all..

Happy harvest!

Conserving Calories In The Garden


“Evolution has not been kind to the bees.”

R. Hellmann

Plant ecologist Robert Hellmann has a lifelong love of studying plants. His passion is now being lived out as he restores six acres of abandoned farm land to reflect the native wildlife areas of New York. His approach is that of a scientist that loves to garden… after all he has advanced degrees in ecology and education… but you’ll never meet a more dedicated and down-to-earth teacher. Bob shared many gems of wisdom and knowledge with me as we toured his property, this is just the beginning.

Help Bees To Conserve Calories

In nature everything works in cycles, a delicate balancing act that is easily altered. The changing landscape of today has made it more difficult than ever for pollinators, especially bees, to carry out their jobs. How so? Aside from the environmental onslaught of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals, the way we garden affects how efficiently they perform their duties.

Bees, by their very nature, are programmed to forage from a single nectar source at a time. In a native wildlife setting you won’t often see a wide variety of blossoming plants, but rather the area undergoes several different phases with large masses of a single plant ultimately dominating the landscape for a period of time. This is ideal for the bees who expend a lot of calories searching for the same blossoms to collect from. In many home gardens the focus is, of course, color and flowers throughout the season which is excellent for pollinator food sources, but the way we plant them can be detrimental to the bees’ efforts.

How can we help bees conserve calories and encourage strong populations? Easy. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Grow gardens that include plants native to your area which are rich nectar sources for bees and other pollinators and food sources for other wildlife. (Your local cooperative extension has lists of  natives for your area.)
  2. Plan the garden beds so that there are periods with just one or two varieties of plants blooming at a time, and plant them together in drifts.
  3. Include larger plantings of late summer and fall flowering plants to help colonies survive through winter.
  4. In the vegetable garden the same idea applies. If you are seed saving and want to prevent cross-pollination of your open-pollinated varieties you can stagger the flowering times by starting different varieties from seed a week or two apart. (You can also isolate blossoms.)
  5. To ensure a healthy garden use organic and sustainable garden practices.

I confess my gardens are a jumble of flowering plants and vegetables at any given time. Now that we’re moving our vegetable beds and creating a new garden, I’m going to plan a bit more. Planting in drifts that bloom at different times isn’t a new design concept by any means… it’s just one I haven’t followed very closely. There’s always something new to try…and the bees are worth it! Happy gardening!

Wordless Wednesday:

I’ve watched you now a full half-hour;
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little Butterfly! Indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless! – not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!
~William Wordsworth, “To a Butterfly”

A Local Gem

A gentlemen is one who puts more into the world than he takes out.

~George Bernard Shaw

I never know what new things I’ll discover when I visit local garden shops. On a recent trip to our favorite nursery we not only found several native plants to consider for our yard when we move the vegetable beds this fall, but we also discovered we have a rare gem of a garden friend living very close by.

It was serendipity when a conversation about native plants with the owner of the nursery, Dave, led to his surprising me with a calling card. The gentleman listed, Robert Hellmann, generously invites others interested in native and wildlife gardening to his home and property to “see what he’s doing.”  What he’s doing is nothing short of incredible. Bob is in the lengthy process of restoring six and a half acres of abandoned farmland to a native state representing Western New York.  Bob’s gardens and property include naturalized areas representing wetlands, ponds, transitional forests, the Adirondack Mountains and Alqonquin peak. He’s named his property: ‘Die Seimal’ German for both ‘The Homeland’ and ‘The Habitat’, quite fitting as his log home is centered in the habitat he’s re-creating.

A two- and a half hour tour of his acreage along with multiple native plant quizzes (I passed) and tree quizzes (I failed) was only the beginning of everything he had to share. I’ll be posting a few of  his most valuable tips with hopes to inspire you to take a different look at the way we plant and grow with (and sometimes against) nature. The things he’s shared are true for every yard and garden (including vegetable gardens). I confess, there’s still much more to learn and Bob has generously given me an open invitation to study his work in progress. I will be visit again soon… but first I’m studying up on trees!

Where Have All The Gall Flies Gone?

I know the lands are lit

With all the autumn blaze of Goldenrod.

~Helen Hunt Jackson, Asters and Goldenrod

Today’s damp autumn weather has kept me indoors tending to the chores I left unfinished the moment spring’s first breath was upon the garden. It’s been satisfying to put things in order, to tidy up and get our house prepared for the seasons ahead, but even with somber skies and drizzling rain the gardens beckon me to come outside and walk around. Who can resist?

A summer heaves its last sigh our yard looks a bit (o.k. a lot) like a jungle… lush, green and filled with towering plants that seem to have forgotten their boundaries and are toppling over one another in a happy jumble. There’s no mistaking this is the fall garden, scattered with the first falling leaves in shades of brown and yellow, the scent of ripe apples adrift on the chilly air and the sight of goldenrod lighting the edges of the beds like lanterns on a country lane. How I love goldenrod!

Originally a gift from the birds, we have several bands of Canada goldenrod in our yard happily mingling among the shrubs and flowers. The glowing golden blossoms abuzz with bees and other pollinators seeking a late season snack are a sweet reminder that though summer is quickly waning, ‘it ain’t over yet!’ A closer look at the plants today revealed something interesting:

An old gall from the goldenrod gall fly. I’ve noticed the galls on our goldenrod almost every season, not a surprise considering the flies don’t move very far from where they emerge and their entire lives are centered solely around goldenrod… but this year I don’t see any new galls on our plants. It may be a bit soon, when the leaves have fallen the stems will be more visible and I will know for certain. I’ve grown accustomed to the sight of the swollen stems with larvae hidden away inside protected and insulated from the winter snow and wind, I’m a bit bothered there are none to be found.  Where have all the gall flies gone? Perhaps nowhere and I just need to wait a bit until the garden unveils them. Until then I’ll watch the garden change, enjoy the small surprises it reveals each time I visit and relish all of the glorious colors… especially the goldenrod. Happy gardening!

Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate

Is not a kiss the very autograph of love?

~Henry Finck

Have you ever grown a plant for years only to have it slowly disappear, unnoticed perhaps, from your garden? I confess that though I keep a good record of what I have planted every season there’s a lot growing on in our yard. Through the years annual and perennial flowers have ceased to reseed or survive the winter, only their presence wasn’t missed as greatly as the open space they left was appreciated and so…

This past winter as I read through my old garden journals (always keep a journal) I was inspired to once again grow a few of the heirloom flowers that had once graced our gardens. My greatest desire was for old-fashioned poppies, my second favorite was ‘Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate’… after seeing the blooms on the latter I am in love all over again with this graceful cottage garden annual!

As I worked in the garden gathering seeds from beans and sweet peas I glanced up captivated. Our Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate currently stands at the edge of the vegetable garden fence and measures in at a height of nine feet. (Yes, the rich soil of the garden undoubtedly has encouraged this showy annual to aspire to great heights!) Kneeling down while working and glancing up to see the pink pendulous blossoms swinging in the breeze against the blue sky is a vision to behold.

Lesson learned. Always enjoy the here and now in the garden… it’s true you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. (I’m just happy it’s back!) Happy gardening!

Wordless Wednesday: Favorite Garden Sights

“It is always the simple things that change our lives.

And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen.

Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so.

You feel like running, but life is on a stroll.

This is how God does things.”

~Donald Miller