Tuesday, August 4, 2020

August 4, 2020, Bad Balloons and weird fruits

Hi Gardeners

It’s hard to believe it’s August, but here we are. The garden is mature now, a young mature still but mature. The days have begun to shorten, today we have 14 hours and 19 minutes of daylight, by the end of the month we will have lost another hour and 9 minutes.  Ah, well, maybe it’s best that this year hurries along.

We have had plenty of rain this week, it comes and goes in bursts, with the sun sneaking out here and there. The plants are loving it. There are plenty of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers in the garden and the corn has nice ears started. I’m thinking about starting a new crop of lettuce, if I can find the seeds I bought in the spring for just this purpose.

I still have some oriental lilies blooming, a few day lilies and some tiger lilies.  The black-eyed Susan’s and shasta daisies are going strong.  The quill mum is blooming too.  Lots of hosta are in bloom.  Zinnias, cosmos, nasturtium, cleome, canna and some Icelandic poppies are in bloom now. Woodland nicotiana is playing a starring role here and there. I lost the battle with morning glories and some I missed are opening their deep blue flowers.

The golden glow- (Rudbeckia laciniata) has flopped over as it usually does.  It’s so cheerful when it blooms but it’s a mess. I’ve tried staking it and I’ve tried pinching it back. Nothing seems to work.  I got it at a plant swap- a place where you tend to get most of those spreading, messy plants other gardeners want gone.  Someone asked me the name of the plant, I didn’t know, so I took one of the many plants there home to identify it.  Now I have this huge clump of it.

I got rid of my Maximilian (perennial) sunflowers for the same reason, they get so tall and then fall over and they spread like crazy. Pinching those back and staking didn’t help there either. The golden glow may meet the same fate.

I have been busy this week with indoor work and between that and the rain I haven’t been in my garden as much as I would like. I’m hoping that this week I will have some time for deep weeding and rearranging things here and there. There’s still two months of garden time, at least.

August almanac

The Great Lakes Native Americans called this month’s full moon (August 3rd) Sturgeon moon, because that was when these large tasty fish were easily caught in the Great Lakes.  In other places this month’s full moon is known as the Green Corn moon or the blueberry moon. The moon perigee is the 21st and the apogee is the 9th.   Today is the 217th day of the year.

If you want to see or catch a falling star this is the month to do it. The Perseid Meteor showers peak will be the nights of August 11-12th and the 12-13th.  At the peak you should be able to see 60-75 “falling stars” an hour, about one a minute.  The meteors are the dust and debris in the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle.  You won’t see the comet, but you may see Mars and Saturn.  The meteor showers continue to be visible until August 26th.  Go out after midnight, look north and give your eyes a chance to adjust to the dark when watching for meteors. This year the moon will be in the last quarter, which will interfere a little, but you should be able to see the brighter meteors.

The August birth flower is the gladiolus. When glads are given to someone they signify remembrance and integrity, perhaps that is why gladiolus are frequently found in funeral arrangements.  The August birthstone is the peridot- a beautiful green gem.

August is National Peach month, National Picnic month, Family Fun month and National Catfish month.  The 9th is National Book Lovers day and the 10th is National Lazy Day. The 13th is Left Handers day, the 14th is Creamsicle day, the 21st is national Seniors day, and the 26th is National Dog day.  The 29th is More Herbs day. August 31st is International Bacon day.


Things to do in the garden in August

Harvest and preserve those fruits and veggies.  It’s prime canning, pickling and freezing time.

Divide bearded iris- see article below. Hold off on dividing other perennials until its cooler.

Remove and destroy any ragweed and giant ragweed plants before they start shedding that pollen that will make you miserable.  Also remove and destroy the burdock “burrs”. Don’t leave them lying around as the “burrs” continue to ripen and make viable seeds even after cutting. Remove stick tights and bur grass too.  Your pets will thank you.

Start shopping for spring bulbs. They are planted in the fall and if you shop early, you’ll get the best selection and prices. The bulbs are shipped when it’s time for you to plant them.  I always avoid bulbs in big box stores.  They are shipped too early to the stores and sit around in poor conditions. Plus they are generally lesser quality than you get when mail ordering from a good bulb company.

Fertilize containers and baskets of annuals.

Repot houseplants that need it. They may have grown over summer, whether inside or out. Remember not to use too large of a pot for the plant.  Go 1-2 inches wider and deeper than the pot the plant is in now. You can divide houseplants at this time too, if they are a species that reproduces well by division.

Collect ripe seedpods of anything you want to save the seeds from. Let seeds ripen on the plants for as long as possible.

It’s a good time to dry flowers and seed heads for dry flower arrangements.  It’s also a good time to dry herbs. Your car sitting in the sun makes a good herb/ flower dryer. Put herbs/flowers loosely in brown paper bags and let them sit them in the car until dried.  It makes the car smell good too.

Dividing iris

August is a good month to divide your bearded iris.  As iris grow, they make huge clumps of plants and as they get crowded, they don’t bloom as well. Iris should be divided every 3-5 years to improve blooming and keep the spot from getting too crowded. You may also want to divide iris to give some to friends or make another garden bed.  If you need to move iris to another location in the garden August is also a good time to do it.

It’s pretty easy to divide iris and any gardener should feel competent to do it.  You’ll need a good sharp knife to help divide rhizomes, some scissors to cut the iris leaves and something to put your divided rhizomes in. You may also want some common household bleach for disinfecting rhizomes.

Start by deciding what you will do with the divided plants.  If you need to prepare a new site, you should get that done first.  Iris will “hold” outside of the soil for a few weeks but it’s best to get them planted as quickly as possible. 

Next dig the whole clump of iris up.  Irises have shallow roots, and this is easy to do.  If the clumps are packed together in a bed you may cut through some with your spade as you lift them, but you will generally have plenty of good rhizomes left. Cut the iris leaves back to about 3-4 inches; it doesn’t matter if they are cut on a slant or straight across. 


Put the clump of iris on a tarp, a board, or on cement and gently wash all the soil off the rhizomes with a garden hose so you can see what you have.  Rhizomes are tan, knotty looking and can branch off in unusual ways. There should be roots on the bottom of younger rhizomes. Rhizomes are actually underground stems and you will see joints or nodes along the rhizome with leaves (or fans in iris terms), popping up along each node.

Examine the clump you lifted carefully. You’ll want to divide iris between joints, leaving each section with one or two sets of leaves and a healthy section of rhizome consisting of 2 or more joints.  You can start new plants from a single node or section, but they will be smaller and may not bloom for 2 years.  Sometimes you can snap the joints apart with your fingers but cutting is more precise.

After a rhizome section blooms it will never bloom again. To determine which rhizomes sections are old you can look for the flower stem.  Old rhizomes may also be devoid of roots and have tiny holes on the underside where the roots fell off.  In a clump, old rhizomes are generally in the center. 

If the old rhizomes have new small sections of rhizomes with very small leaves on them you can save the old rhizome and replant it with the young daughter plants. It will provide food for them until they grow more leaves.  Otherwise discard old rhizomes that have bloomed. 

Examine the rhizomes you are keeping looking for mushy areas or large holes in the top side of the rhizome.  Large holes may indicate iris borers and there may be a large pink worm inside the hole. Those pieces should be discarded in the trash, not the compost pile.  Soft, mushy areas indicate bacterial rot and should also be discarded.

Next add one cup of common household bleach, without scent added, to a gallon of water and soak the good rhizomes for 10 minutes.  Remove and allow them to dry in a sunny place for a few hours. This removes disease organisms.  You can re-use the bleach solution for several batches on the same day.

If you know the name or color of the iris you are dividing you can write that on the leaves of the divided pieces with a marker or add a label held on with a rubber band to the piece.

Replant the divided sections of rhizome shallowly, root side down, leaves up, with the surface of the rhizome just under the soil. Plant 1 foot apart. Iris bloom best in full sun positions. If the weather is dry water the replanted rhizomes once a week. Larger rhizomes sections will probably bloom in the spring.  Smaller sections may take two years to bloom. 

If you buy iris to plant, try to get them into the ground by mid-September.  This will make it more likely that they will grow well for you and bloom the first spring.

 What happened to this fruit?

 Every year about this time people begin showing odd fruits and vegetables to others and asking what happened.  It may be that the fruit looked misshaped or was a color the grower didn’t expect or maybe it didn’t look like what they thought they planted.  But almost invariably someone will respond and say the odd fruit/vegetable was because of cross pollination.

Technically that may be so – but the cross pollination happened the year before and the odd plant grew from seeds resulting from plant sex last year, not this year. It did not happen in the gardeners plot this year. With one exception common garden plants do not show a change in their fruit due to cross pollination in the year the cross pollination occurs. 

If two types of tomatoes are next to each other in your garden and they happen to cross pollinate, let’s say a cherry tomato and a beef steak type, the fruit the plants produce this year (the part of the tomato we eat is a fruit) will look like cherry tomatoes on one plant and beefsteak on the other, they won’t change the looks of their fruit because they had sex. But if you planted the seeds from one of those tomatoes having crazy sex this year, let’s say from the cherry tomato, the fruit that grows on those plants next year could be very different from the typical cherry tomato.

So, unless you are going to be saving seeds for planting next year it doesn’t matter if you plant various types of tomatoes, peppers, squash and so on next to each other. This year’s fruit should look exactly like the variety you planted and if it doesn’t something besides cross pollination occurred. We’ll get to that in a minute.  Cross pollination does not affect leafy plant parts or roots either, in the current year plants. 

The one exception to what happens in the current year from plant sex is in sweet corn.  If you plant yellow kernel corn varieties next to white kernel corn varieties this year’s corn ears may have both colors of corn kernels on each cob.  Cross pollination in corn may also affect the flavor of this year’s corn.  Field corn, popcorn, or ornamental corn varieties pollinating sweet corn will leave the sweet corn tougher and tasting less sweet.

So what does happen when you get a deformed or odd looking fruit?

A number of things can cause changes in fruit as it develops.  Sometimes weather conditions, mechanical injury, insects feeding, plant diseases, or pesticide exposure can result in fruits looking odd.  There may have been a true mutation in the genes of the seed that produced the plant. There may have been undetected cross breeding the previous year, resulting in seeds that were hybrid and the fruit from plants grown from those seeds have mixed genetic traits.  

Sometimes insufficient pollination will cause deformed fruit.  Some plants require a certain number of pollen grains to land on the female stigma and be successful in fertilizing eggs in the ovary before fruit begins developing.  When only 4 pollen grains land on the stigma instead of the optimum 5 grains as an example, fruit may sometimes begin developing but will be lopsided or not formed perfectly.

By the way it doesn’t matter if the pollen grains came from different plants or even a different variety as long as they could fertilize egg cells. All the peas in the pod could have different daddies.

In the vast majority of cases, with the exception of pesticide exposure or possibly radiation exposure, the odd fruits would be edible. (Remember anything with seeds is a fruit.)  In many cases not all the fruit on a plant will be affected, and the problem is a temporary one.  Enjoy the oddball, take pictures but don’t worry too much.


So how come my eggplants are white?

Most of the time when a gardener gets a fruit, he or she wasn’t expecting it’s because the seed variety or seedling wasn’t properly labeled.  How many times have you seen people shopping in greenhouses removing plant tags from the cell packs seedlings are growing in? Or even switching plants from cell pack to cell pack?  Sometimes the greenhouse/nursery accidentally mislabeled the plants also. 

Sometimes a stray seed from one variety gets mixed in with another variety.  If you saved the seed yourself, you may have mixed up the varieties, or back to cross pollination- your plants last year may have bred with other plants and the seeds have a combination of the traits.

People don’t always read the description of seeds or plants they are choosing carefully.  I remember a gentleman bringing in a white colored eggplant fruit to my office and he was so excited to have found a new variety.  But when I explained to him that there were varieties of white eggplant on the market and we discussed it, we figured out that he had planted a variety with white fruit, not the typical purple. He was unaware that eggplant fruits came in various colors.

It’s easy for gardeners and nursery employees to mix up plants with similar leaves, like squash, gourds, and pumpkins.  Inexperienced gardeners who aren’t familiar with plants can even mix up things like beans and cucumbers or tomatoes and peppers, by forgetting where they planted what or by buying mislabeled plants and not recognizing it.

Sometimes the plant is performing exactly as the variety should, but the gardener has harvested the fruit at the wrong time.  I have had many people complaining to me that their “green” pepper was actually red or purple.  Bell peppers are generally picked when they are young and still green.  When they mature the fruit color changes to red, yellow, orange, purple or other colors depending on variety.  And if you want red bell peppers and are only seeing green, just be patient, the color will change, hopefully to red.

Generally, cucumbers turn yellow or reddish when they are completely mature, which is not when most people prefer to eat them and not what you see in the grocery.  Muskmelon starts out with smooth green fruit that develops the brown netting near maturity.  Pumpkins start out green and mature to orange, (or other colors).

What about flowers that are a different color this year?

When it comes to flowers, a change in color may be caused by weather conditions, soil conditions, flower age or plant age. Some plants have slightly different looking flowers the first year they bloom from what the flowers will look like in following years.  Other types of plants also have flower color changes as flowers, (not plants), age.  If the soil pH changed for some reason, some plants like hydrangea have flowers that are different colors with different soil pH numbers.

Usually cross pollination does not affect flowers, although in some plants any form of pollination may cause a subtle color change in the flowers.  Pink apple blossoms turn very pale pink or white after pollination for example.  White is less attractive to bees, keeping them focused on the pink ones that still need pollination.

Most of the time when someone thinks a flower has changed color from the previous year or even from earlier in the season it’s because the flower is from a different plant. Many plants reseed in the same location and the seeds can produce plants with different colored flowers. Gardeners often don’t realize the plant blooming this year is not the same plant that bloomed there last year.

When a rose or other grafted plant seems to have a flower color change it’s often because the grafted part has died, and the plant is producing flowers from the root portion. And then of course, there’s always memory problems of the gardener, that’s why I take pictures and keep records.  There are times when I would swear a certain rose should be pink, but my pictures tell me it was actually a yellow rose there, exactly what is blooming now.

In short- the type of fruit, flowers, roots or vegetative parts a plant has this year (with the exception of corn and maybe a few other uncommon plants), has nothing to do with who it is sharing pollen with.  What a plants fruit looks like this year has nothing to do with the pollination taking place this year.

 

 Let’s talk about balloons

One of the things often mentioned for pest animal control is using mylar balloons or other helium filled balloons. Sometimes these balloons get loose and float away.  And it’s the season for outside birthday parties and weddings. One of the things that’s sometimes done at these parties is to release balloons. But balloons are dangerous for wildlife and bad for the environment and should be kept indoors.

Helium filled balloons can travel miles on the wind, and end up in wilderness areas, lakes, or the ocean. They tangle in trees, float in the water, and litter the ground. They are not only ugly litter, but they endanger wildlife. Wildlife caretakers can tell you tales of birds getting their legs or necks wrapped in balloon strings and dying or birds and other animals swallowing balloons and dying from obstructed digestive systems.

Balloons are considered to be the most deadly form of plastic litter for seabirds, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Scientific Reports.  A study done by University of Texas Marine Science Institute found that 5% of marine turtles found dead in the Gulf of Mexico had ingested balloons.  Bighorn sheep in the mountains are known to eat balloons that land there and often die from ingesting them or from strangling on ribbons.


Wildlife protectors tell of birds tethered to trees by balloon strings until they die of starvation and animals dying of starvation because their digestive systems are full of undigestible balloon fragments. I read about a little screech owl that had one wing tangled in a balloon ribbon dangling from a tree for days, struggling to fly, until someone found it, still alive but too injured to save.

Balloons, even the so called degradable latex ones, can take years to break down and strings and ribbons even longer. For years after that birthday party your balloons could be killing wildlife. Balloon companies lobby hard to keep balloons legal using that degradable label, but it’s a false argument because of the years it takes, and the ribbons and strings often attached to them.

Balloons not only litter and kill wildlife they can harm humans.  Mylar and other metallic balloons can short out powerlines, starting fires and causing power outages. Balloons have caused small planes to crash and larger planes to have to divert from their course. In 1986 the United Way released 1.5 million balloons in Cleveland Ohio. Rescue helicopters couldn’t fly through them, causing the death of 2 boaters who had capsized in Lake Michigan. Helium used to fill the average celebration balloons, is a scarce resource used in science and medicine and shouldn’t be wasted on littering.

Balloons are the only form of litter that we ignore people discarding on a routine basis. Releasing balloons should be covered under any litter laws, because that is what’s being done, littering. Balloons have been tracked thousands of miles from their release points, often ending up in wilderness areas. 

Don’t use balloons to discourage animal pests in the garden. It doesn’t work well after a day or two and there’s the risk the balloons will float off. Balloons need to be kept inside and disposed of properly when the party’s over.  If used outside they should be weighted down and never released.

Puncture balloons and dispose of them after use. Encourage your locality to ban releasing balloons and don’t use this form of celebration or memorial if you care about wildlife and the environment.

Balloons don’t just disappear into the atmosphere when released; they fall back to the earth somewhere. When someone releases hundreds or even thousands of balloons as a memorial, as a celebration, as a decorative background, they are throwing away hundreds or thousands of pieces of litter into the environment, litter that can maim and kill. Releasing balloons is an idiotic custom that needs to cease.

 More reading

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36585-9

 

https://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2015/8/5/balloons-and-wildlife-please-dont-release-your-balloons

 

How to freeze zucchini

Many gardeners plant way more zucchini plants than they need, which is generally one. Then they agonize over what to do with the excess fruits. Neighbors and work colleagues start avoiding them. You can only eat so much zucchini bread at a time.  But what if you could make zucchini bread all year round?

You can-if you freeze the zucchini. Here’s how to do that. You’ll need clean freezer containers. You can use freezer bags but containers with rigid walls often keep the frozen produce better. Containers of any size must seal tightly.  Pint size containers hold 2 cups of shredded zucchini, which is what is usually called for in recipes.

Choose young, thin skinned zucchini fruits for freezing. Zucchini fruits that are the size of baseball bats will often be tough after freezing.  Wash the fruits well.

Grate or shred the zucchini.  You could chop it, but pieces should be no thicker than ¼ inch.

Prepare a large pot of boiling water and a large container of ice water.  Measure how much zucchini will fit in one of your clean containers.

Place just enough rated zucchini in a colander or strainer to fill one freezer container. Dip that colander or strainer with the zucchini in boiling water, just until the zucchini turns translucent (starts looking clear), about 2 minutes.

Drain the colander of zucchini.  Push down lightly on the shredded zucchini to remove more water.  Then pack the hot zucchini in your container.

Next sit the packed container in the ice water bath. The ice water should not get into the containers.  Let the containers sit at least 10 minutes.  Then wipe the containers and place in the freezer.

Let the zucchini thaw before using in recipes.

This quick blanch (hot water treatment) and rapid cooling makes for the best tasting and storing zucchini. Blanching stops an enzyme reaction that can cause off flavors when zucchini is frozen fresh.

You can freeze sliced zucchini for other recipes by slicing it no thicker than ½ inch and blanching it for 3 minutes, or until translucent.

Note: canning zucchini and other summer squash is not recommended by food safety experts, even in a pressure canner.  Not only will it turn to mush, but it is very difficult to properly determine processing time, due to the dense nature and low acidity of the product.  Canned summer squashes, including zucchini, may not be safe to eat. Pickling zucchini can be done.

https://hgic.clemson.edu/no-canning-zucchini-summer-squash/

 

 

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone.     

-Natalie Babbitt




Kim Willis

All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.

 

And So On….

 

Find Michigan garden events/classes here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/118847598146598/

(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)

 

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If you have a comment or opinion you’d like to share, send it to me or you can comment directly on the blog. Please state that you want to have the item published in my weekly blog if you email me. You must give your full name and what you say must be polite and not attack any individual. I am very open to ideas and opinions that don’t match mine, but I do reserve the right to publish what I want. Contact me at KimWillis151@gmail.com

 

 


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

July 28, 2020 the Hopniss is happy


Hi Gardeners

It’s a beautiful day here today with lower humidity and temperatures. Yesterday afternoon we had a nice, soaking rain of about 7/10 inch, which keeps me from having to water for a day or two. My zinnias are finally starting to grow well and bloom. The tropical plants are happy too.  The taro and elephant’s ear are getting huge leaves.

My new Joe Pye weed is in bloom and garden phlox are blooming. Some daylilies are in bloom and the lilies Casa Blanca and orientpet “Debby” are blooming.  Black eyed Susan’s and the shasta daisy are still blooming.  But it looks like I’m about to have that lull in bloom, just as I am expecting visitors to the garden in a week or two.  Isn’t that what always happens?  Of course, the annuals are still going strong, especially after the rain.

I’m starting to see lots of butterflies.  The hummingbirds must have their babies out of the nest and flying because there are little hummingbird battles all around the garden. They fight so fiercely, then they come to the feeders and get chased away by bees.

I was out with the dogs in the old pasture and kept hearing a weird noise. It sounded like a hawk scream, but odd. There were a lot of blue jays flying around and I thought one of them was mimicking a hawk. Then I finally saw him, a young hawk, I think a red-tailed hawk, sitting in a tree.  He was practicing his call, I guess. It was low and kind of muffled.

And after the rain the other day, which was late in the day, I saw a turkey vulture perch in a dead tree and spread his wings out, turned so that they were facing the sun. He sat there until the sun got too low to hit him, drying his wings. I love watching the birds and this time of year there are many to watch.

Oh, the weeding I need to do.  And now I will need to mow again. The grass is green and growing again. But when the days are like this, I still love summer. I am hoping the hot and humid stuff has mostly passed. After all we are a month pass the equinox and the sun is sinking lower each day.  We lose a few minutes of sun every day now.  How time does fly.

Seeds from China

You may have heard this already, but for those who haven’t people in several US states have received packages from China that contain seeds they did not order. These come in little plastic packages that fit in your mailbox. They are often labeled jewelry or electronics, but the inner package contains seeds.  The outer package may have Chinese lettering or say Chinese Post.

If you get one of these packages do not open the seeds.  Save the outer packaging.  Call 1-800-877-3835 or email SITC.Mail@aphis.usda.gov

Or go to this link and find your closest USDA office.

Contact the USDA office and they will tell you if they want the seeds and packaging or not and how to dispose of them.

Do not plant or handle these seeds. The motivation behind the seeds is unknown but packages examined contained mostly weed seeds.  It is thought the seeds may simply be a cheap way to do a scheme called “brushing”.  The packages are sent to people and then fake reviews are put online about a product to give it a good rating and the recipients name and other information is used in the rating. But there could be other motives.

Since the seeds were not inspected before entering the US, they could be a noxious weed, a dangerous plant or infected with plant diseases. And they are illegal to have, and certainly illegal to plant.  If you don’t want to bother with the USDA at least dispose of the seeds by burning the seeds and package.

Since we are talking about Chinese seeds let me repeat a warning about buying seeds on Ebay or Amazon.  There are all kinds of fake seed companies operating on these sites. They offer things like blue strawberry and rainbow rose seeds among other more common seeds. Inexperienced gardeners are often fooled by faked pictures of these plants and lured by low prices.

There are no blue strawberries or rainbow roses and they certainly wouldn’t be grown from seeds. Almost all of the seeds offered on these sites aren’t what they are represented to be. Someone emailed me pictures of strawberry seeds they received. The seeds were large, flat and light brown.  I have no idea what they were from, some weed behind the seller’s house I would imagine. You can see what strawberry seeds look like if you examine a ripe strawberry, they are the tiny black specks on the outside.

Buy seeds from reputable seed companies with a US based company. Seed companies from the UK and Europe usually have US outlets. They are going to cost more and generally charge a shipping fee. But you will actually get what you order. Ebay and Amazon just aren’t good places to buy seeds. By the time you realize you have been fooled it’s too late to get a refund in most cases.  The Chinese and other fake companies make a lot of money from those small, cheap packets of seeds.

Fall webworm (Tentworms)

A lot of people are getting excited and worried over fall webworms, often mistakenly called tent worms. While the “tents” look bad, the worms don’t harm the trees much. Often people damage the trees more with their control methods- like using a blow torch- than the worms damage the tree.  You can safely ignore the tents.


Fall webworms make a web like structure on the ends of branches that encloses leaves inside, which the worms feed on. They occur in mid to late summer. In spring the Eastern tent worm makes tents in the branch crotches and the worms leave the tent to feed on leaves.

Insects often have years when they seem to have a boom in population, and this seems to be a boom year for fall webworms. You know, why not? It’s 2020.

For more information and removal tips read this article.

Side dressing sweet corn

If you are growing sweet corn and it’s starting to tassel, it’s time to apply a side dressing of a high nitrogen fertilizer.  This means sprinkling the fertilizer on the ground between your plants. If you are totally organic there are organic fertilizers, but you could use blood meal, I guess.

Corn is a heavy feeder and unlike some garden plants, needs a lot of nitrogen to produce a good crop.  Nitrogen is the one nutrient in the garden that disappears quickly.  When you fertilize at tasseling time, you’ll have a better chance of getting lots of big ears of corn.

Male flower tassel center top, silks the female flower at the ends of the ears


Sweet Corn pollination information

Corn has two types of flowers on each plant, male and female. The male flowers are at the top of the plant and are called the tassel.  Female flowers are formed in a husk at the junction of leaves and the corn stem. You probably know them as “silk”.  Each strand of silk is a single female flower and produces a single kernel of corn. They’ll still be attached when you shuck the ear to eat it.

Wind shakes a cloud of pollen down on the silks to pollinate them.  Wind can blow pollen to nearby corn plants too. How the wind blows can affect how well your corn ears fill out with kernels.  That’s why it’s good to plant corn in blocks, rather than a single row. Pollen from a single row can just blow away and not get many silks pollinated. When you have ears of corn where only one side has kernels developed, it’s caused by poor pollination.

Corn is the one common garden plant where this year’s pollen can affect the taste or shape of this year’s harvest. That’s why it’s not a good idea to plant sweet corn close to field corn or popcorn. The kernels that develop from cross pollination won’t be as tasty or tender. And popcorn might not pop as well if sweet corn grew nearby. Separate corn types by at least 100 feet.  

You can sometimes grow two types of corn near each other if you carefully plan for when they will be pollinating so that one is far ahead of the other, but that is tricky to do.  Some types of sweet corn need to be isolated from other types of sweet corn for the best taste also.  You’ll see these listed in catalogs with a warning about what types of corn they should be isolated from.  These are usually the more expensive, super sweet varieties.

Hybrid corn is produced by planting rows of different varieties next to each other. Then the tassels are removed from one variety.  The ears from the de-tasseled corn will be hybrid, since they could only have been pollinated by the other variety. This used to be a job that farmers hired high schoolers to do every summer. The hybrid ears are generally used as seed corn for next year.

When corn is pollinating avoid spraying anything on it. Pollen isn’t carried by insects, but it needs to be fluffy and light to be successfully delivered to the silks. Oily insecticides for example, might keep pollen from landing on the silks.

Sweet corn takes a lot of room in the garden but if you have ever had sweet corn just after picking it, you will immediately want to grow corn every year.  There’s just nothing to compare with sweet corn picked at the right stage, brought into the home and cooked immediately and then eaten.

Hanging basket, containers and annual beds in mid- summer

If your hanging baskets, containers and annual beds are starting to look a bit straggly it might be time for two things, a fertilizer boost and a cut back.  If you act now your plants could bounce back and give you many weeks of color until frost comes.

Some people use the fertilize with every watering method of caring for baskets and containers. If you tend to water with the hose though, you may not be doing this. I use a granulated, slow release fertilizer in my baskets and containers when I plant in spring. Then I don’t worry about fertilizing them until right about now. If you used this method in the spring or you haven’t been fertilizing now is the time to do it.

If you want to use a granulated slow release fertilizer simply follow label directions for the amount to use, sprinkle it on top of the planting medium and water it in. If you want to use a liquid fertilizer mix it according to label directions and apply.  Most liquid fertilizers do not last long.  You may not want to use them with every watering but every week or every other week would be a good idea. Those of you already using diluted fertilizer every time you water don’t need additional fertilizer.

Annuals in the ground may not require fertilization, especially if you fertilized when you planted them. If the plants look dark green and full, they may not need fertilizer. However, if they look pale, yellowed or spindly a fertilization may be in order. Granular fertilizers work best for plants in the ground.

Should you trim plants back now? Many annual plants look better and flower better if cut back around this time in summer. Petunias that are straggly and long are a good example. Older varieties are more prone to doing this, newer varieties may stay compact and blooming all season.  Other plants that benefit from a pruning back are lobelia, straggly ivy geraniums, sweet potatoes that have gotten straggly, million bells, osteospermum, nemesia, bacopa, and any of those trailing plants added to containers.

When I do a pruning back, I take off about a third of the plant. They bounce back quickly from this.  If you are going on vacation and don’t mind the plants not blooming for a couple weeks to a month, you could prune back the plant to about half.  Prune off any dead stems, dead flowers and anything that looks really bad.

Other annuals do best with a good deadheading, cutting off dead flowers, but stems should not be cut back. This includes begonias, snapdragons, zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, salvia, most geraniums and any annual plant with a single stem.  Just remove the dead flowers.  Coleus is a kind of in between plant, some varieties that get long and lanky, with lots of bloom stalks might benefit from a prune back, more compact, bushy types can just have flower spikes removed.

I have pruned back plants that like cool weather, like pansies, diascia and calendula, back to an inch or so from the ground, after they have yellowed and start to look bad. In fall with good weather these may perk back up and bloom again.

The common ditch lily dies back in hot weather, if you remove the dead foliage it will probably green up again and look better in cool weather, although it will not bloom again. It is a perennial.

Oriental and Asiatic lilies, canna, dahlias and other bulbs can be trimmed back after the stalks have yellowed. They won’t bloom again this year and are perennial plants. Do leave the stalks to finish maturing and turn yellow if you want bigger, healthier bulbs the next year.

Gladiolus

Want to know about growing the gladiolus for cut flowers?  You may want to read this article.


Hopniss or Groundnut

Apios americana, Hopniss, groundnut
How would you like a vine that’s native, edible, medicinal, and has pretty chocolate colored flowers? I have some growing rampantly in my yard, but I bet most gardeners have never heard of the plant. Hopniss or groundnut, Apios americana, is an unusual plant that more gardeners should try growing. I’m going to call it hopniss because groundnut is also a common name for the peanut.  It’s also called Indian Bean or Indian potato.



There is one other species of hopniss in the US called Price's Groundnut (Apios priceana). It is extremely endangered and found in one small area of Illinois. The flowers of this species are a light pink.  It has one larger tuber instead of many small ones.

Hopniss was a staple in the diet of many Northeastern Native American tribes and may even have been selected for certain traits and grown as a cultivated crop. It’s native from southern Canada to deep in the southern US from the east coast to the Rockies. It is becoming rarer and is listed as endangered in some states.  A few nurseries grow the plant and Louisiana State University has tried to develop hopniss into a commercial crop. Other universities have studied the plant for its medicinal qualities.  There is a small commercial crop grown in Japan.

The native habitat of hopniss is at the edges of moist woodlands and along rivers and streams in moist bottom lands. Hopniss is a vine or it sprawls over the ground if it doesn’t have something to climb. It will climb to 8 feet or more in a good site. The leaves are arranged alternately, pinnately compound, consisting of 5-7 oval leaflets. They remind me somewhat of wisteria leaves. 

Two butterflies use hopniss as a larval food plant, Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper) and Thorybes bathyllus (Southern Cloudywing). Deer feed on the foliage and small animals eat the tubers.

Hopniss flowers are intriguing. Bloom time is mid to late summer, with August being the bloom period in Michigan. The plants produce clusters of “curly” looking milk chocolate colored flowers, with a flared “hood’ consisting of two fused petals, two tiny petals near the bottom and a curious curved tube in the center that protects the pistil and stamens. 

The end of the tube appears to be buried at the top of the hood but if you so much as touch the curved tube it will coil away from the hood wall and the tip will slowly split, first the pistil and then the stamens will poke out.  You can watch it slowly happen.  I imagine that an insect landing on the hood area or the curved tube would also provoke the reaction.  After the flowers curved part has been activated the hood folds around the curved tube and is said to be “tripped”.  

It's not known for sure what pollinates hopniss.  Leaf cutter bees and flies do visit the plants. Leaf cutter bees have been seen to trip the “tube”. Honeybees occasionally visit the flowers, but since honeybees aren’t native, they are not the original pollinator.  However, the subject of pollination may not be important, as many plants do not produce seeds.

Hopniss comes in two strains, a diploid and a triploid. This refers to sets of genes that the plant has. It’s impossible to tell whether hopniss is a diploid or triploid by looking at it. In the north most hopniss is triploid and does not produce seeds.  Reproduction is from the little tubers the roots form.

Farther south and in a distinct region around the Black River in central Ontario,]some stands of hopniss are diploid and produce narrow, bean like, slightly curved pods. The pods have maroon seeds that darken to chocolate brown when dried. The pods split when mature and “shoot” their seeds.

Flowers and seeds of hopniss are edible.  The flowers are used medicinally in the treatment of diabetes. The beans were dried and ground into flour or boiled and eaten by Native Americans.

It’s the little tubers that form along the rhizomatous roots that earn hopniss the name groundnut and that are the primary food product. The tubers form along the roots like knots in a rope.  They are about the size of your thumb or smaller. They are dark brown on the outside and creamy yellow inside.  The texture is much like a potato.

These little tubers have about 3 times as much protein as potatoes and a different type of starch called oligosaccharides.  They also have lectins, a chemical found in raw beans. They are high in iron and calcium. The tubers should always be cooked before they are eaten.  Even so some people who eat the tubers will experience extreme gassiness and bloating and may have diarrhea.  It is said that a sensitivity in some people may build up after consuming it about ten times, causing an allergic reaction.

Native Americans collected hopniss tubers and dried them on mats for winter storage. They were powdered and used as a flour or boiled in soups. Some tubers were sliced and fried as we do potatoes. Hopniss was boiled in maple syrup to produce a type of preserves.  The taste of hopniss is said to be like a nutty potato and quite good.

Hopniss was one of the native foods that the first European settlers had to survive on the first winter after they arrived. It remained a popular winter survival food for many years.  Hopniss tubers were introduced to Europe and other places. Japan embraced them as an edible crop as they were similar to another Japanese crop.

Hopniss is said to be a signal to archeologists that an Amerindian site is nearby, so maybe my yard is located on one. The plants were here when I arrived and this house is over 100 years old.  Henry Thoreau is said to have eaten them when his potato crop failed.  

Hopniss on old fence


Growing hopniss

Hopniss is a perennial plant and if you want to grow it you will probably start with tubers, not seeds. Just plant the tubers on their sides in about 3 inches of soil.  It likes light textured, moist soil in full sun to light shade. The plants fix nitrogen in the soil like soybeans, so they need little fertilization. It can take several years for the vines to grow until there is enough tubers for a harvest. Hopniss is hardy to at least zone 4.

If you grow hopniss for the flowers or for a screening vine, remember that they spread quite quickly in spots they like. They can take over a lot of fence or cover a lot of ground. The vines die back in winter and come back from the ground.  Most flowers in the north will not make seedpods.

Hopniss has few insect or disease problems. They may die back in very hot, dry weather.

Growing hopniss as a crop is tricky because of the perennial nature of the plant and the years needed for a crop. You dig up the vines in early fall after the first frost to collect the tubers. You can’t pull the vines out of the ground; they need to be dug.  Save some tubers to replant, right there after harvest.  Tubers are stored like potatoes, in a dark, cool but above freezing place.

Medicinal uses of hopniss

Hopness flowers are used to lower blood sugar. I believe a tea is made with them. Boiled tubers are used as a poultice on wounds. Eating the tubers is said to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides and is being studied for those purposes.

There are chemicals in the tubers that have anticarcinogenic properties and one compound, Genistein-7-O-gentiobioside, is being studied as a treatment for breast cancer. It may also be helpful in colon and prostate cancer.

Hopniss is an interesting native vine with pretty flowers and many edible parts. You may want to include it in your garden.

Sources for tubers


"We might think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it's our garden that is really nurturing us."
-Jenny Uglow


Kim Willis
All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.

And So On….

Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)

Newsletter/blog information

If you have a comment or opinion you’d like to share, send it to me or you can comment directly on the blog. Please state that you want to have the item published in my weekly blog if you email me. You must give your full name and what you say must be polite and not attack any individual. I am very open to ideas and opinions that don’t match mine, but I do reserve the right to publish what I want. Contact me at KimWillis151@gmail.com


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

July 21, 2020 garden going golden


Hi Gardeners

We got two rain events since I last wrote. One was almost an inch, a very good rain and the other, early Monday morning was about a half inch. We may get more tonight.  Plants love a good rain.  You can just see them perk up and shoot up. I hope all of you got rain if you needed it.


Getting good rains gives me more time to catch up on weeding and other garden chores since all my time isn’t devoted to watering. I still have to wait until the sun is going down because of the heat but I’m getting a little done.  I have been going around with the loppers and pruning snips and trying to get rid of the seedling walnuts and box elders popping up everywhere.

There was also a forest of giant ragweed plants growing in the back yard by the bird feeders, where the mower can’t get to them. Some of them were up to the eaves of the house, easily 8 feet and had stems 2 inches in diameter.  But they cut easily, and I got them before they bloomed. Yeah, the jungle is getting away from me.

Last week I talked about battling trumpet vine.  This week it’s been grape vines. We have an electric wire that runs from the house to the barn.  I noticed it was sagging then noticed the grape I had planted on the old dog kennel fence had scaled the 8-foot fence and started sprawling out on the wire above it.

I hated doing it because there were many clusters of little grapes hanging from that vine on the wire, but I had to cut it down. That many ripe clusters of grapes might have brought that old wire down. There are still a great many grapes on the vine if the Japanese beetles don’t ruin them all this year.

There’s also a wild grape I’m trying to cut out of the young oak tree and the old scotch pine next to it. Wild grape vines are everywhere this year it seems.  I’m cutting them out of flower beds and off poles and fences.

In the garden this week it’s turning golden. The large black-eyed Susan’s are beginning to bloom, the golden glow is blooming, I have lots of various colors of yellow and orange daylilies in bloom, the yellow martagon lilies are blooming, yellow canna’s are in bloom and the darn yellow quill mum is beginning to bloom already.

My oxycontin orchid, Epipactis helleborine, that exotic little invasive that some people would scream at me to pull immediately, is in bloom. I like it and have no intention of getting rid of it.  It popped up here 3 years ago in the shade of the oak tree. It’s up to 2 flower stalks now of tiny pinkish orchid like flowers. It has minute amounts of a chemical similar to oxycodone that intoxicates pollinators, but doesn’t harm them. If it does start spreading, I’ll pull or mow it. 
 
Epipactis helleborine,
Crocosmia is starting to bloom and the larger salvias. The oriental lily Casa Blanca is starting bloom. The pineapple lilies (Eucomis) are blooming.  Lots of hosta are blooming now, some hosta blooms are quite pretty. I have been picking cucumbers and I will pick my first tomato in a day or two.  Just waiting for that first BLT sandwich.

It’s supposed to storm on and off this week, and into the weekend. Across much of the US there’s a chance for severe weather this week.  Pay attention to your local weather and stay safe.

Weeds from birdseed

Do you feed the birds? If you do chances are good the seed has brought some weeds into your landscape. Even if you just feed black oil sunflower as I do some weed seeds will be present. In my case the oilers seem to be contaminated with giant ragweed.  It grows up around the feeders every year.

Birdseed is allowed to have a certain percentage of weed seeds in it. They are accidental contaminates for the most part, although certain seeds used in bird food are weedy in their own right.  Niger (thistle) for example and buckwheat, milo and wheat can also look weedy in the garden.

You can clean up spilled seed if you have no critters to do it for you. But even so, some seeds will manage to germinate. It’s probably best to move feeders away from ornamental gardens into the lawn, where sprouting weeds will be mown down.

Using just black oil sunflower and thistle will also be helpful. There is less waste with these seeds. Cracked corn can’t germinate, although it can mold and smell. The cheaper the birdseed the more likely it is to have weed seeds and seeds birds don’t like that well, like milo.  Buy the best birdseed you can afford, and you’ll have fewer weeds.

Potato Growing Tips

Lots of new gardeners are growing potatoes this year.  They are a crop that can really produce a lot of food in a relatively small space, and the crop can be stored without much preparation.  However, there are some differences in growing potatoes and other garden crops.  Here’s some potato observations/tips.

Potatoes are a crop that likes lots of moisture and cooler temperatures.  The hot, dry summer many places are having this summer is hard on them.  If it’s dry in your area, you’ll have a better crop if you water the plants deeply at least once a week.

Growing potatoes in containers is just for those who have no other place to grow them or for a novelty exhibition. You’ll get a much better crop if they are grown in the ground.  Containers should be quite large, 5 gallons at least if you grow potatoes in them.

If you are growing potatoes to get the maximum food production use large tuber, commercial type varieties like russets and red Norlands.  Heritage varieties have wonderful tastes but often aren’t as productive.

Potatoes have flowers similar to tomatoes, but they are purple or white. You’ll get potato tubers even if the flowers aren’t pollinated but if they do get pollinated, they may develop small fruits that look like green tomatoes. This is normal but the fruits are poisonous and should never be eaten.  The fruits have seeds, and the seeds could be planted, but it’s much easier and faster to use small potatoes or pieces of potato tuber to start new plants.

Potato flowers


A few weeks after you see the plants flower you may dig down and find some small potatoes. If you carefully remove some you can eat these as new potatoes and let the rest mature into larger tubers.  Try not to damage the roots too much as you do this.

After blooming the potatoes will start to yellow and die back. This is normal and when most of the vines have died and dried up you can harvest your crop. You can however, harvest potato tubers anytime after they start growing.  The tubers will also hold in the ground a long time before they need to be harvested without harm.  Animals may find them however, voles and mice like potatoes.  They must be harvested before a freeze.

To learn more about growing potatoes you can read this article



Japanese beetle traps

I talked a little about Japanese Beetles last week.  Many people are buying Japanese beetle traps hoping to protect their plants but there’s something you should think about when you buy those beetle traps. Unless you have a large piece of property and can put the traps far away from plants you want to protect, these traps can actually make your problem worse.

Far away means 100 feet or more. Most subdivision lots won’t give you that room. The beetle traps lure Japanese beetles from a wide area.  Not all of them will go in the trap, many will pause to eat on your garden. As the traps fill up, they still lure beetles but it’s easier for the beetles to get out of the traps and continue feeding. 

And after feeding those beetles will be mating and laying eggs on your lawn areas. The eggs hatch into tiny grubs, that will overwinter in the soil and begin feeding on grass roots in the spring, emerging as beetles later in the summer.

Plants that attract Japanese beetles

Japanese beetles will eat over 300 species of plants, but they are attracted to some plants more than others. Here’s a list of plants that Japanese beetles really like;

Apple, crabapple, Malus spp
Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis
Japanese beetle on yellow dahlia
Cardinal flower, Labelia cardinalis
Clematis, Clematis spp.
Clethra, Summer-sweet, Clethra spp.
Dahlia, Dahlia spp.,
Evening-primrose, Oenothera biennis
Gladiolus, Gladiolus spp.
Golden Glow, Rudbeckia lanciniata Hortensia
Grape, Vitis spp.
Hibiscus, Hibiscus moscheutos, 
Hollyhock, Alcea rosea,
Japanese maple, Acer palmatum
Mallow, Malva rotundiflora,
Morning-glory, Ipomoea purpurea

Red raspberry, Rubus idaeus
Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbum
Rose, Rosa spp.
Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
Sweet corn, Zea mays
Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Zinnia, Zinnia spp.

Japanese beetles are also attracted to almost any yellow flowers and foliage. They prefer plants in sunny locations too.

Plants Japanese beetles don’t like very well.
Ageratum, Ageratum spp.
Begonia, Begonia spp.
Burning-bush, Euonymus spp.
California poppy, Eschscholzia californica
Columbine, Aquilegia spp.
Coral-bells, Heuchera sanguinea
Coreopsis, Coreopsis spp.
Dusty-miller, Centaurea cineraria,
Forsythia, Forsythia spp.
Foxglove, Digitalis spp.
Hosta, Hosta spp.
Impatiens, Impatiens spp.
Lantana, Lantana camara.
Larkspur, Delphinium spp.
Lilac, Syringa spp.
Lily-of-the-valley, Convallaria majalis
Lychnis coronaria
Pachysandra, Pachysandra spp.
Poppy, Papaver spp.
Moss-rose Portulaca grandiflora
Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus
Redbud, Cercis spp
Sedum, Sedum spp.
Violet, pansy Viola spp.

In addition, Japanese beetles rarely feed on evergreens like pines, spruce, junipers and arborvitae.

Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks are popular this year and I am glad to see an old favorite being used in gardens again. However, there are some things to keep in mind about hollyhocks.

Most hollyhocks are bi-annual. The first year they grow only vegetation, the second year they flower and then die. Many hollyhocks you buy in garden stores, especially if they are blooming, are not going to return next year.  There are some varieties that tend to be more perennial than others, coming back for several years but they are not long-lived perennials by any means.

The good news is that most hollyhocks will reseed if you let them and once you have hollyhocks blooming, you’ll probably have them for many years. If you collect hollyhock seeds plant them soon after collecting them, don’t wait for the next spring. New plants may start growing and you’ll have a good chance of them blooming next year. If you wait until spring to plant seeds the plants that come up probably won’t bloom that year.

A few new varieties of hollyhocks will bloom the first year from seed if you start them early inside. But be aware they probably won’t return the following year.

If you would like to know more about growing hollyhocks here’s an article I wrote about them.





How to can green beans

If you have an abundance of green beans right now you can either freeze or can them.  You can also buy them at the farmer’s market to store for winter.  To can them safely you’ll need to use a pressure canner.

Choose young tender beans for canning, the baby bumps in them should still be small. Go through them before using, discard any with bug holes, or that look discolored or moldy.

Purple beans usually turn green when cooked but using some yellow pod beans mixed with the green beans makes for pretty jars.

Wash the beans well then remove strings if they have them, use your fingernails to pull the “string” off the pod. Newer varieties of beans are stringless.  Cut off both tips of the beans.  You can leave beans whole or break or snap them in half.  If you like French style green beans use scissors to cut the bean pod down its length or use a special “frenching” tool. In pint jars the beans probably should be in smaller pieces.

Wash pint canning jars in hot soapy water.  Rinse well and leave them in a pot of hot water. You need a pint jar for every pound of beans you intend to can.

Now place the beans in a large pot of water and bring to a boil, boil for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

Take your hot jars out of the hot water, drain, and place a ½ teaspoon of salt in the bottom of each jar.  You can leave out the salt or use less if you want.

Pack the hot beans loosely in the jars. There is some swelling during the canning process so don’t pack them tightly.  There should be 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jars.

Pour hot cooking water from the beans over the beans in the jar. The beans must be completely covered but leave the inch of headspace at the top.  You can boil extra water to use if you need to. 

Run a knife or bubble stick through the jars to remove bubbles. Wipe the jar rims.  Add lids to jars and tighten.  Place in pressure canner as your canner instructions direct.

For 0-2000 feet in altitude set dial gauges at 11 pounds, for 2001-4000 feet set at 12 pounds, 4001 to 6000, set at 13 pounds, above 6000 set at 14 pounds. For weight gauges use 10 pounds to 1,000 feet and 15 pounds above that.  Follow instructions for adjusting pressure on other pressure canners.

Process pint jars in a pressure canner for 20 minutes. Turn off heat.

Let pressure release, following your canner directions. Remove jars, wipe, and let cool. Check seals, label and store.

I used pint jars here because for a small family that’s the average size needed for a meal. Quart jars need 25 minutes processing time.  If you use other size jars you’ll need to look up canning times and pressures for them.



"Those who in July do wed,
Must labor for their daily bread. . .
Married in July with flowers ablaze,
Bitter-sweet memories in after days."
New Zealand Proverb

Kim Willis
All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.

And So On….

Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)

Newsletter/blog information

If you have a comment or opinion you’d like to share, send it to me or you can comment directly on the blog. Please state that you want to have the item published in my weekly blog if you email me. You must give your full name and what you say must be polite and not attack any individual. I am very open to ideas and opinions that don’t match mine, but I do reserve the right to publish what I want. Contact me at KimWillis151@gmail.com