December 31, 2013 - Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter
These weekly garden notes are written by Kim Willis, unless another author is noted, and the opinions expressed in these notes are her opinions and do not represent any other individual, group or organizations opinions.
|There is beauty in the ice as well as devastation.|
Oh what a fun time we had with the weather the last 2 weeks! I was without power for a couple days and I know some of you were without power for many more. My yard is a mess of broken trees. As I drive around Tuscola, Lapeer, Sanilac and northern Oakland County I want to cry seeing all the devastating damage done to the trees. My beautiful white pine was just starting to look better from the last ice storm several years ago and it’s a mess again, I don’t think it can ever look normal again.
You think you are prepared for emergencies but after spending a couple days in the cold without power you suddenly begin to wonder if you can survive. Our biggest failure in preparedness was not having a back- up heating plan. I had stored a lot of water and we had lanterns and candles, plenty of food and a way to cook but our only source of heat was boiling soup pots of water on the stove. We closed off most of our rooms and that kept the core of the house about 55 degrees but it required a lot of close monitoring even at night.
After 2 days, knowing that the temperature outside was going to get much colder we decided we had to get a generator to keep the pipes from freezing. I braved the icy roads and was lucky to get to a store just as they received a generator shipment and waited in line to buy one. Then I waited in a longer line to buy gas for it at the only open gas station in Marlette. Most stores were still without power and closed. I came home and announced happily that I was able to get a generator – and I kid you not- the lights popped on. So now you know how to get power restored to a house without it.
Storm damage to trees
The recent ice storm will have a long lasting effect on our trees and shrubs. White pines, willows, poplars, and box elders are some of the trees most affected but all species can and do have damage. While large limbs on the ground and hanging unnaturally in the trees are obvious, some damage will not be so easily seen after the ice is off the tree and the limbs return to a more natural position.
This spring check your trees carefully. Look for sap leaking from cracked or split branches, limbs that don’t fully leaf out or look yellow. If you can safely reach branches that were broken off a good distance from the trunk or in a jagged manner, trim them back to the branch collar close to the trunk. In the spring you may need to trim branches to restore a natural shape and balance to a tree or shrub.
Some split or cracked branches will heal on their own, but some will need to be removed. If they don’t look good by mid- summer I would remove them. If the tree is valuable sometimes propping or splinting a branch may help it heal. Tree service companies can sometimes apply devices to save branches.
Except for oak trees you do not need to paint tree wounds. If your oak trees were damaged during the ice storm you should use a tree sealing paint on any stumps you can reach before the sap starts flowing. Insects are attracted to sap and plant wounds and they often bring disease. In oaks sap attracts picnic beetles, which spread deadly Oak Wilt disease. During the next spring and summer damaged trees of all kinds will be more susceptible to insects and disease and should be carefully monitored and treated if necessary.
Shrubs and small trees who were bent or deformed in shape can often be carefully tied up or supported for a few months to restore their shape. Some heavily damaged shrubs can be pruned right to the ground for a new start. Lilac, spirea, barberry, forsythia, shrub dogwoods, and mock orange are examples. You may lose blooms for a season but have nicer, healthier looking plants.
|Obvious tree damage.|
Pay particular attention to trees that overhang your house or outbuildings. On a mild day before the trees leaf out you may want to examine them with binoculars. If they were cracked or split from ice they may come down in a spring storm. Deciduous trees that were damaged may break when they leaf out and become wet in a spring storm. You may have to have a professional remove these branches.
Give your shrubs and trees some fertilizer about April this year to help them with repairs. Keep them watered during dry spells.
Herb of the year- Artemisia
The herb of the year is Artemisia, which isn’t just one herb but a whole range of species. Artemisia’s grow around the world and are native to many different countries. You may know an Artemisia by the name of Sweet Annie, Mugwort, Wormwood, Tarragon, Southernwood, Sagebrush, or by other names. Artemisia’s of many species have had a long history in herbal medicines, being one of the bitter herbs traditionally used for the digestive system, as a liver tonic and to stimulate the immune system.
Many Artemsia’s have silvery foliage that is fernlike but the foliage and form of Artemisia’s varies widely. Some have dark green narrow leaves, some have broad leaves. Some Artemisia’s form small rounded bushes, some grow as sprawling mats, with many variations in between. There are even species that form small trees. The flowers of Artemsia’s are insignificant for the most part, although some are used in medicinal products. Some species are annual, others perennial. There is a wide range of hardiness in Artemisia’s. When you are purchasing plants make sure to check if the species is hardy in your zone.
Tarragon is a culinary herb and many Artemisia’s including Sweet Annie, an annual member of the Artemisia family, are used in herbal crafts. Artemisia’s of many species are also used as ornamental plants, lending a soothing silvery cast to the perennial garden. (There is now a golden foliaged Artemisia ‘Gold Mound’ wormwood on the market too.) In the garden Artemisia’s are used for their foliage.
Native Americans pounded the seeds of sagebrush into flour; they burned the leaves in ceremonial cleansings and used sagebrush for chest congestion. They also placed sagebrush leaves in stored grain to keep away insects. In Europe wormwood was used to stimulate the appetite, expel intestinal worms, as a liver tonic and colic reliever. In Russia and China the shoots of some Artemisia’s were eaten when young, it was used to stop bleeding and cure infections as well as a digestive aid. They were used for male impotence and female reproductive problems.
In Africa Artemisia’s were used as digestive herbs but also in the treatment of malaria. Recent research has isolated a chemical, artemesinin, that is quite effective in killing the malaria parasite in the blood and it is sold as a prescription medicine in Africa, Asia and Europe. This anti-malarial compound is isolated from Sweet Annie, Artemisia annua. This plant is also used in the treatment of fungal pneumonia’s common to AIDS patients. Dog wormwood, ( Artemisia keiskeana) is being studied as an anti-cancer agent, particularly for breast cancers.
Any discussion of Artemsia’s must mention their use in alcoholic beverages; they are used to make Absinthe (Artemisia absinthium), and Chartreuse, ( Artemisia genipi), some very potent drinks. They are bitter and were probably first concocted as medicinal drinks. At one time vermouth also was flavored with Artemisia, but modern vermouth doesn’t use it. French soldiers were given absinthe or chartreuse to ward off malaria and our current research suggests it may have had some benefit.
Absinthe had a reputation of being a psychoactive drug as well as a drink and it was banned in some places. It was probably the high alcoholic content of the drink that really caused the problems. However it was later found that Absinthe and Chartreuse also had high levels of thujone, a chemical derived from Artemisia (and other plants) thought to cause cancer. That caused some additional restrictions on selling the drink. However modern versions of the drinks do not contain thujone, and absinthe is enjoying a revival in popularity.
Many gardeners already have an Artemisia in their gardens but if you don’t, 2014 might be the year to add the herb of the year to your garden.
You may notice a pretty new plant on the market this spring, a cross between common Foxglove (Digitalis) and a cousin, Isoplexis, that is being called Digiplexis‘Illumination’ . The plant is hardy only to zone 7 but can be grown as a tender perennial in other areas. ( Additional growing experience may change this hardiness rating.) It will make an excellent addition to containers or beds.
Illumination has exotic foxglove like flowers of peachy red with a yellow throat on tall spikes. Unlike common foxgloves it has a long blooming period because the plants are sterile and don’t set seed. They also form on side shoots after the main shoot stops blooming. Digiplexus Illumination grows to about 36 inches high and is semi-evergreen. It won the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year Award 2012. Garden stores and catalogs will be carrying it this spring.
Oca- an unusual plant for the vegetable garden
Want something new and unusual to try in your vegetable garden this year? Want to make some money on a new crop that foodies are focusing on? Try Oca, (Oxalis tuberosa) a root vegetable from South America, the country that gave us potatoes. As a bonus the plant with shamrock like leaves and little yellow flowers can be quite pretty.
In the Andes mountains of Peru the natives grow more than potatoes. They also grow Oca, a plant cultivated and modified by selection for so long it no longer exists in the wild. Like potatoes the stems of Oca swell and make small tubers underground, which are harvested for food. The tubers come in a wide range of colors like the potatoes of the Andes, varying from purple to white. There are said to be different flavors associated with different colors, some being sweeter than others. The leaves of Oca are also eaten like spinach when they are young.
In the 1800’s Oca was introduced to New Zealand where several varieties are now grown as commercial crops. It’s found in supermarkets there in the fall. Oca has been grown in the US and Europe from time to time and was a food craze in the 1830’s for a while. In recent years many gourmand chefs have been featuring Oca in recipes and demand is growing for the vegetable. In Mexico raw Oca is sliced and served with lemon and hot sauce as a tasty appetizer. Chefs are using Oca to add zing to sautéed and stir fried dishes.
Oca is about the size and shape of small potatoes, generally longer than they are wide , about 3-4 inches long. They have a thin tender skin that doesn’t need to be peeled. They are high in an easily digestible starch, vitamin C and iron and contain some protein. They also have oxalic acid, (also found in Rhubarb) the concentration of which varies depending on the variety. For this reason people with gout or prone to kidney stones may want to avoid Oca.
Oca is said to vary in taste depending on variety. Some are sweet tasting, some have a tart lemony taste, some are blander and starchy like potatoes. They are cooked in all the ways potatoes are cooked and are also eaten raw. Oca can be sun dried which concentrates sugars and the right varieties are said to taste as sweet as dates when dried. One named variety from New Zealand ‘Apricot’ is said to taste like its name. The leaves and flowers are used in salads and the leaves are also cooked like spinach.
Oca can be started from seed but that is difficult and like potatoes they are usually grown from tubers saved from the last season. In practice pieces of tuber or small tubers are generally left in the ground during harvest and will return the next season. ( It is not known how well they survive in the ground in planting zones lower than 7.) They will slowly increase in a garden setting but are not as invasive as Jerusalem artichokes.
Oca tubers are planted like potatoes in rows or mounds 18-24 inches apart. Plant when the soil is moderately warm and heavy frost is no longer expected, just like potatoes. They can have soil pulled up around the stems two or three times to increase the amount of stem underground that will form tubers. Oca plants have clover like leaves and form bushy plants about a foot high. They need full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Like potatoes they do not tolerate drought well and will need to be watered when it’s dry.
Tubers are harvested after the tops are killed by frost. They can be left in the ground until just before the ground freezes. Sun curing for a few days after harvest is recommended. Tubers become sweeter during storage. They store about as well as potatoes and should be kept in a cool dark place.
While Oca could be an interesting, even lucrative crop to grow there are some challenges. Oca is a perennial plant. The plants need a fairly long frost free season to grow and while the plants may survive in colder climates the tubers start growing when days are less than 12 hours long and stop growing at a heavy frost which kills the foliage. That means in a zone 6 climate the plants would begin forming tubers in September but if there is an early frost they might not have time to produce many tubers. The suggestion here would be to add low or high tunnels before a heavy frost is predicted or growing them in tunnels in planting zones lower than 7.
Another challenge is finding planting stock. Few varieties are available. Potted plants are usually sold and they are expensive compared to potato sets. Territorial Seed company www.TerritorialSeed.com sells potted plants. A couple of well cared for Oca plants should give you a harvest of many tubers that could be planted the following year. Producing planting stock to sell might net you more profit than producing tubers for cooking.
While many trendy chefs are using Oca in recipes, sales could be slow outside of major cities unless one develops a market with local chefs or foodies. But if you just want something unusual to offer at a farmers market or just want to try something different for your own dinner a few Oca plants might be just the thing this spring. I intend to try a single plant and see how it grows and how I like the taste.
Have a Happy New Year. I wish you enough love, happiness, health and wealth.
Garden as though you will live forever. William Kent