|Have a great Thanksgiving like this turkey|
You may be wondering why I didn’t post my usual weekly blog on the 14th and why this blog is late. It’s a combination of two things, me almost dying and my computer actually dying. I suffered a pulmonary embolism and spent a few days in the hospital. I am doing much better, but I came home to find that without me my computer had withered and died. I am writing this on an old laptop, so it isn’t as long as usual and there may be fewer pictures than normal.
I think of myself as a person who plans for emergencies so it was a bit disconcerting to find that when a trip to the ER turned into a hospital stay I wasn’t as prepared as I thought. I was out of chicken feed and my houseplants were due to be watered. My husband is in a wheelchair, there are things he can’t do, and I don’t like leaving him alone a long time. With the help of our sons’ things managed to get accomplished but it taught me a lesson. Always have an extra bag of chicken feed on hand and leave directions on houseplant care somewhere, (along with device passwords, directions for feeding the pets and chickens and leaving the husband with some cash money to send with people on errands).
Luckily the outside work has dwindled to almost nothing this time of year. We have had a lot of cold weather and there is nothing left blooming in the garden. There’s hardly anything with leaves left in the garden. However some of the roses and the snapdragons are still green. I was able to get some nice fresh sage picked today for my turkey on Thanksgiving. Fresh sage has a slightly different taste than dried sage, a slightly citrus note. I’ll chop it and add it to the chicken broth I baste the turkey with.
Inside I still have many things in bloom, hibiscus, fuchsia, Christmas cacti, the bidens basket and several streptocarpus. Everything survived a few extra days without water. While waiting for a prescription I found a color of Christmas cactus I didn’t have so I treated myself to a new plant. There’s barely room to squeeze anything else into this house but I managed.
Hopefully my regular computer will be repaired or replaced soon and my blogs will once again be posted on Tuesdays. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and finds much to give thanks for. I know I am feeling very thankful.
Growing herbs on the window sill
If you are a cook you know that the best tasting herbs are fresh ones, plucked right from the plant just before using. But if you live in a spot where herbs aren’t available in the garden during the winter your source of fresh herbs is limited to what you can purchase in a store- and those herbs are never the same as fresh picked. The good news is that some herbs can be grown indoors during the winter either on a sunny window sill or under grow light.
Not every herb is a candidate for indoor growing and the conditions in your home will also limit what you can grow. If you have a cool (45-60ºF) but very sunny spot you will have success with more types of herbs. All common herbs need good strong light so if you don’t have a south facing window (and it doesn’t have to be a kitchen window) you may need to supplement your light with a grow light. A few herbs may grow well on a west facing window sill.
Some herbs are perennials and they can be grown in pots that are set outside in the summer and returned to the house in the fall each year. Most perennial herbs do best in that cooler, sunnier environment mentioned above. They will rest during the winter for a few months but can still furnish you with fresh herbs for cooking. A sunny unheated porch or sunroom or an unused room where the heat is turned down are excellent places for most perennial herbs.
If you don’t have a sunny window sill you can use a grow light to keep your herbs healthy. It will need to be about 18 inches above the top of your herbs. Temperature is still important; some herbs need cool winter temperatures, others like warmer temperatures that are similar to the ones we are comfortable in.
Herb varieties for indoors
Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow on a window sill. They can do well on a south or west facing window sill. Chives can be started from seed in late summer for indoor use or you can dig a clump from the garden in fall and pot it. Chives are sometimes sold in pots in the produce section of stores too. You can put chives outside in the summer in the pot or plant it in the ground as it is a perennial and it can survive winter outside in most areas of the country. Chives grow best in cool conditions but will do all right in warmer rooms.
Don’t over water chives inside; let them dry a bit between watering. In March you can fertilize the pot of chives lightly to promote flowering. You can snip the chive leaves off for cooking at any time but try to remove less than a third of the plant at a time. Chive’s purple flowers are also edible.
Mustard and watercress are herbs that are sometimes grown to sprinkle on salads and other dishes for a tangy zip of taste. Mustard and watercress are grown from seeds. The seeds can be mixed together or sown separately. You harvest these plants while they are young and tender so you need to make several sowings each winter. Simply fill shallow trays with a good potting medium that has been well moistened, sprinkle on the seeds and press down lightly so they have contact with the soil. Cover the tray with a plastic bag and place it in a warm spot until the plants sprout. After the seeds sprout remove the bag and put the trays in a sunny window or under grow lights.
Mustard and watercress prefer cooler, sunny areas. Keep them moist but not sitting in water. Trim or pinch off leaves when the plants have several sets of them. You can also pull the whole plant and trim off the roots before using. Start a new batch of seeds about 2 weeks after the first one sprouted so you will have a continuous supply. Discard the first batch as the new one gets ready to harvest. These plants do not do well indoors when they get larger and can’t be transplanted outside with good results.
Rosemary is a delightful evergreen, perennial herb. In planting zones 6 and higher it is hardy outside in the garden through the winter. In some mild dry winter climates you could harvest it from the garden all winter. However, for those gardeners who live in zone 5 and lower and those who have snowy wet winters you will need to pot a plant and bring it inside for the winter. Rosemary is often sold around Christmas in pots sheared to look like a small evergreen tree.
Rosemary needs a cool, sunny place to do well indoors. Let it dry out between watering. You can place the pots outside in the summer and keep your plant for many years. It will often bloom indoors in late spring or even in the fall just after you bring it in. Repot the plant each spring before you put it in the garden, give a light dose of fertilizer and watch it get bigger each year.
Snip or pinch off young leave tips from your rosemary and never remove more than a few sprigs at a time. Rosemary is used to flavor meat dishes, soups and stews and sprinkled on bread dough before baking.
Thyme is another perennial herb that can be grown in a pot in a cool, sunny area inside for winter harvests and placed back in the garden each spring. Make sure to get a culinary type of thyme, there are dozens of ornamental varieties. Let it dry between watering and keep it trimmed fairly short inside. Harvest young leaves or whole tender shoots. Thyme is used on meats and in soups and stews.
Bay and lemon verbena are tender perennials that form shrubs or small trees in warm climates. In planting zones 8 and lower, they need to be potted and placed outside only after the danger of frost has passed. These two make pretty houseplants and prefer warmer sunny rooms. Leaves are plucked off and used as needed.
Basil is sometimes grown inside. However, it is somewhat finicky and prone to disease. It is started from seed. It likes warm, sunny conditions and should be kept evenly moist.
Parsley also does better outside but may do fairly well in a cool, sunny place inside. It is slow to germinate so start seeds in late summer in pots for indoor use. Discard these plants in the spring.
Sage and oregano have been grown in the house but don’t always do well. They need a cool but sunny spot and to dry out between watering. Make sure to get culinary (cooking) types of sage or oregano. Start with small seedling plants in the fall. You can transplant these into the garden in the spring but start with new young plants every fall for indoor use as younger plants adjust better to indoor conditions.
Mints of various flavors will grow satisfactorily in the house. As with sage and oregano start with young potted plants each fall. They can be grown in hanging baskets. Cool, sunny conditions are best and keep them pruned or pinched back to prevent them from getting straggly. Let them dry between watering. They can be transplanted to the garden in the spring.
If you have other herbs that you favor in cooking you can always try to grow them inside. Even if they survive only part of the winter you will have extended your fresh herb availability. Some medicinal herbs, such as catnip and chamomile can also be grown inside but results vary as many of these prefer a cold winter rest.
Japanese maples are popular with gardeners and will make an interesting addition to any partly or lightly shaded garden. They dislike full sun situations, but some varieties can take the sun if kept moist. Japanese maples are grown for their lovely leaf colors, shape and interesting bark. These versatile trees can be also be grown in containers, or as bonsai plants.
Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, come from Japan, from the temperate mountainous regions of the country, where they have been cultivated for hundreds of years. A few sub-species also come from China and Korea.
The Japanese took the genetically diverse Japanese maple and turned it into hundreds of different forms. While some older cultivars have disappeared from the market new cultivars are always being introduced. Japanese maples are excellent plants for collectors with deep pockets, as there are nearly 1000 varieties available. The average gardener can find a number of good varieties at reasonable prices, but some are still a bit expensive.
There is much variation in Japanese maple species and varieties. Most are small trees or shrubs in form. There are weeping varieties, upright forms, dome shaped forms, multi-trunk and single trunk forms. The leaves are generally lobed, many have lobes that are deeply or completely divided except at the base. The lobes can also be divided until the leaf takes on a lacy, fern like appearance. Japanese Maples lose their leaves in the winter.
Color of the leaves is also extremely variable. Gardeners seem to prefer red and purple shades, but there are golden, cream, and variegated leaves as well as all shades of green. Some have leaves that take on a different color each season. Trunk color also varies from brown, to red to golden or green.
Japanese maples have typical maple seed pods although the size and color can vary here too. It’s called a samara, two winged seeds joined at one end, like an upside-down v.
The names of cultivars are often confused in the nursery or garden store and if you are looking for a particular type of Japanese maple it’s always wise to see it when it is leafed out, so you know what you are getting.
Finding the right place
Japanese Maples come from moderate climate zones. Most varieties will not do well in zone 4 or lower or in zone 8 and above. They dislike extreme winter temperatures but need at least several weeks of temperature below 45 degrees to do well. If they do not get a dormant season they will decline after a few years. Always check the zone rating before buying and be careful with new varieties just coming on the market whose hardiness may not be known.
Most Japanese maples should be planted in light shade, or dappled shade. They are under-story trees in their native habitat. Some Japanese maple varieties tolerate more sun if they can be kept evenly moist. They do well under deciduous trees that allow filtered light to reach the Japanese maple or on the north sides of buildings.
Japanese maples prefer deep, loose soil rich in organic matter. They have relatively weak root systems and suffer in compacted soil or heavy clay. They also need to be kept moist, so sandy soil is not the best location. They do not grow well where the soil is always wet however.
Planting and care
Proper planting is one of the best ways to keep a Japanese maple thriving. Plant Japanese maples in the spring or in the fall about six weeks before the ground freezes. Avoid planting in the heat of summer. Always remove anything around the tree roots such as burlap, peat pots, cages, strings and wires before planting. Check the root system by gently washing away any soil covering the roots and look for circling roots. Circling roots should be trimmed at the point where they begin to curve. Loosen and spread out the roots if they form a tangled mass.
Find the top lateral (or sideways growing) root. The tree should be planted so that this root is just a couple inches below the soil surface. Trees that are left in burlap balls have often had this root buried deeply and if you leave soil and burlap on the root system you won’t plant the tree at a good depth. Trees need a root flare, a widened area, at their above ground base to develop trunk strength and grow properly.
Do not use fertilizer in the planting hole or amend the soil you back fill the hole with. Always refill a hole with the soil taken out of it, no matter how terrible you think your soil is. Research has shown this is the best way to achieve quick root establishment and get a tree off to a good start. Don’t let salespeople talk you into a bag of peat or topsoil to add to the hole. After planting, you can work some compost and a small amount of slow release fertilizer into the soil around the tree if you wish.
Japanese maples should be mulched with organic matter, bark chips work well, after planting. Don’t mound the mulch up like a volcano and keep it from touching the tree trunk. The trunks should be protected with tree wrap or a wire screen. A trunk that will receive the south or west sun on it in winter should be protected with white tree wrap or shaded in some other manner to prevent frost cracking.
Keep the tree well-watered as it establishes the root system. If planted in the fall you may want to consider burlap, a tree tube or another type of protective screen for the first winter to keep it from drying out in the winter wind.
Each spring, fertilize Japanese maples with a slow release fertilizer. Japanese maples, like other maples, may suffer from iron or manganese deficiencies. The symptoms are pale or yellowing leaves, sometimes with darker veins. Don’t confuse this with color variations of some Japanese maple selections. Have the soil tested and apply remedial nutrients if needed.
Keep the tree mulched and the trunk protected from animal and weed wacker/mower damage. Japanese maples often leaf out very early in the spring and these leaves are susceptible to frost damage. If the tree is small you can cover it with a protective sheet when frost threatens. Most frost nipped leaves will drop off but a healthy tree will replace the leaves.
Keep Japanese maples well-watered until the ground freezes. The edges of the leaves may brown and curl in hot, dry weather even if the tree is well watered. This is called leaf scorch. It’s more likely to happen with some varieties than others and with trees in more sun. As the tree establishes itself this should become less frequent. If it doesn’t you may need to move the tree.
Aphids can become a problem with young Japanese maples. A strong rinsing of plain water or an application of insecticidal soap (not a dish soap concoction!) may help. You may also need to apply an insecticide that’s lists control of aphids on its label.
Pruning Japanese Maples
Japanese maples vary by cultivar as to the rate of growth and the ultimate size the tree will obtain. However, they do grow, so plan for a larger tree when planting them. Most grow to about 20 feet high and wide at maturity. They are easily pruned to the shape you desire. The Japanese way to prune is to thin out the canopy so the structure of the branches can be seen. The way you want the tree to look will determine how you want to prune it.
Prune Japanese maples in late winter, just before the buds begin to swell. Prune a little each year; never remove more than twenty percent of the tree. In general, remove dead branches and branches that obstruct vision or protrude into paths and then work on shaping. Prune branches that cross each other and rub and ones that grow inward. Examine the tree carefully and take off what think will give you the height and shape you desire.
Cut the branches just above a bud or back to the branch collar against the trunk. Use sharp, clean pruning shears or a saw. If your Japanese maple must be cut during the growing season you may want to treat large cut surfaces with an antimicrobial pruning sealer, especially if it is a rare and expensive variety. Normally it isn’t recommended to seal pruning wounds, but in this case it may be helpful.
A healthy Japanese maple is an asset to most garden settings but don’t try to force a tree into an unsuitable environment. Do your homework and carefully select a variety of Japanese maple that best suits your zone and growing conditions. Once established the tree could live for hundreds of years and bring joy to many generations.
Decorating with live plants for the holidays
Combine your love of gardening with holiday decorating by using live potted plants as part of the decorations. You can use nice potted plants that you have around the house or use holiday decorating as an excuse to buy more exotic house plants. Potted plants also make great office decorations and gifts.
Many stores feature gift plants such as mums, poinsettias and Christmas cacti around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but these aren’t the only plants that can be used as decorations. With a little imagination a beautiful plant can become the center focus of holiday decorating and remain after the holidays to lift the spirits all through winter.
Almost any green plant can be made festive by adding a brightly colored pot, a bow or even tiny decorations. For Thanksgiving you’ll want to decorate with harvest colors but after Thanksgiving the same plant can be re-decorated with Christmas colors, and the palette of colors used at Christmas has expanded in recent years from red and green to many other color combinations.
Common houseplants like Boston ivy, palms, ribbon plant, ferns, philodendron, spider plants, Norfolk Island pine and jade plants make excellent decorations in pretty pots with ribbons. Pots of the herb rosemary make excellent holiday plants, fragrant when brushed. Sometimes you can find them sheared into a Christmas tree shape.
A less common plant called Frosty Fern is available only near the holidays. This lovely plant looks like the tips of its fronds are frosted white. Frosty Fern, Selaginiela Krausianna Variegatus is a club moss, a fern relative. It tolerates the low light decorative plants are often subjected to and looks lovely in a red pot. Rabbits Foot fern is also a good decorating choice.
Other great choices for exotic potted plant decorations include blooming orchids, gardenias, tropical hibiscus, and potted citrus or pomegranate trees. Miniature roses can often be found in stores. These tiny roses can bloom all winter in a sunny window.
Check any store that sells houseplants for an endless variety that could become holiday decorations or gifts. The nursery that sold you plants in the summer may sell houseplants and exotic tropicals in winter.
For Thanksgiving some artificial pumpkins or even small real gourds could be added to the pot. You can hollow out a small pumpkin and insert a plant in its pot. A large wicker basket with several green plants inserted then surrounded by mixed nuts in the shell, or bittersweet sprays, or artificial leaves in bright colors would be pretty.
For Christmas add artificial birds, or put tiny elves in the pot. Spray a few twisted branches with fake snow and insert in the pot. Try setting the potted plant in a bowl that’s larger than the pot and filling the bowl with glass Christmas ornaments. Insert a smaller pot into a clear glass vase or jar and totally surround the pot with tiny glass ornaments or even beads in your color scheme. Plastic confetti, tinsel, or plastic ribbon shreds could also fill the clear container. There is glittery plastic snow that you scatter on Christmas displays that could fill a container or even dust the top of a pot.
A clever party favor would be to glue a small wood square on the bottom of large glass Christmas balls to make them sit upright. Then remove the top of the ball which is usually a piece of metal held in place with tiny spring wires. Fill the ball with water and insert starter plants such as a small spider plant, which will grow in water for a while.
Wrap pots in colored foil and tie with a bow. Or use gift bags with the plant peeking out the top. Plants will need to be watered so if the item you wrap the plant in could be damaged by water, put the pot in a plastic bag or waterproof container first.
Take good care of your green decoration and it will survive the holiday. Try to place the decoration in good light or keep it only a few days in poor light situations. Water the pots when they are dry. Keep them out of cold drafts. Keep brown leaves pulled off and browned tips of leaves trimmed off.
Don’t use lights or heavy ornaments on green plants. Keep them away from candles and fireplaces or anything that gives off excessive heat. Don’t use spray on flocking or “snow” on live plants. When the holidays are over remove fancy coverings and place the plant where it gets the proper lighting for its type.
Forget the difficult to save poinsettias and use plants meant to survive in the house for holiday decorating. You’ll love the results.
Americans tend to think of Weiner as having to do with hot dogs but Weiner in German means ‘from Vienna’ or Viennese and the dish is a lightly battered and fried veal cutlet. If you don’t eat veal you can make this recipe with a pork cutlet or regular beef. In fact, Weiner schnitzel is much like chicken fried steak.
Pounding the meat is important to the recipe, you want a flat thin piece of meat. The pounding helps tenderize the meat too. Lay a piece of waxed paper over the meat and pound it with a wooden mallet or rolling pin. Try not to make holes in the meat.
If you are tired of turkey leftovers Weiner schnitzel will give up something different to break up the holiday week. It’s a comfort food prepared at home for many but also served in the finest restaurants. This recipe will make about 4 servings.
½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon white pepper (black pepper is also fine)
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
4 veal cutlets, pounded to 1/4" thickness
Put the eggs in a bowl and beat them until fluffy.
Mix the flour and spices together in another bowl.
Put the bread crumbs in another bowl. You now have three bowls of coatings.
Using a fork or tongs dip a piece of meat into the flour. Flip it to coat both sides.
Now dip the coated meat into the egg mixture, turning to coat both sides.
Next dip the coated meat into the bread crumbs, flip to coat the other side.
Repeat these steps with the other pieces of meat.
Heat about a ½ inch of cooking oil in a large frying pan to 350F. You need enough oil to float the meat pieces, they shouldn’t sit on the pan bottom.
With a spatula carefully lower the meat pieces into the hot oil. Watch for grease spatters. Leave room between the meat pieces, don’t crowd them in the pan.
Fry the meat about 3 minutes until it looks golden brown, then flip the pieces gently and fry 3 more minutes.
Place the cutlets on a plate with a layer of paper towels to absorb grease for a few minutes then serve warm.
Wiener schnitzel is usually served with gravy over it. A good side dish is German potato salad or mashed potatoes.
Have a wonderful holiday everyone.
“He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero
© Kim Willis - no parts of this newsletter may be used without permission.
And So On….
Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)
An interesting Plant Id page you can join on Facebook
Here’s a seed/plant sharing group you can join on Facebook
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