Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March 31, 2020 out like a lamb



Well I guess its lamb weather, it’s cool and cloudy but not storming and there are no roaring winds today. March came in here on a sunny day, but the temperature was similar. Sunday we had the roaring winds, it was sunny and warm when I went out to do some yard work, but in a short time the wind came up and clouds moved in. When things started flying by my head and my little dog started climbing me to safety, I knew we should go in.

The crocus and iris reticulata are blooming beautifully when the sun is out. Snowdrops are still blooming and there are large buds on some of the daffodils. There are tiny green leaves on the honeysuckle and the willows are flushed with gold as the buds swell. I even saw a honeybee last week.

Inside the crazy holiday cacti are blooming again and the geraniums and hibiscus are blooming. My second amaryllis plant bloomed but the bud got broken off just before the blooms opened so I had to put them in a vase. The gerbera daisy is putting up another bloom too.

The birds are singing like crazy now and I can hear frogs all around on milder days. I put a new jelly feeder out for the orioles yesterday.  I haven’t seen any yet, but I think they will be here soon. I always slice an orange and put it out to attract them too. I noticed that last year the orioles had built a nest in the oak tree right over the spot where the jelly feeder was last year. Smart birds, didn’t have to fly far for food.

I hope everyone is doing well with the shelter in place orders around the country. Please stay home and safe. You can go outside to work in your gardens or take a walk just don’t get too close to the neighbors. Our neighbors have asked if we needed help, I think crisis’s do bring neighbors together. Just maintain that six-foot space when socializing with neighbors and you might want to eliminate sharing tools.

 
Oriole nest
Does cleaning up the garden in spring disturb helpful insects?

This week I have started removing layers of leaf mulch where spring bulbs are emerging and cutting back dead stems in my gardens. I am a gardener who is very aware that rotting leaves benefits the soil, so some leaves are always left among my plants except in some selected cases. A light layer that still feeds the soil but allows plants to emerge easily is often left behind.

In some areas a lot of leaves are going to be left and I know that after spring rains and warmer temperatures they are going to disappear from sight, eaten by microbes and worms and hidden by fast growing foliage. But I choose which areas of the garden receive this treatment. In some cases, I throw the leaf litter I want removed out on the lawn, where I mow it into little pieces to feed the lawn. In other cases, I carry debris to the compost pile.

When I am cleaning my gardens, I am not too concerned with any overwintering insects. That’s not because I am not concerned with preserving helpful insects. It’s because I know that for every helpful insect that might be saved by litter, and I empathize might, there are probably 2 harmful insects that might be removed or killed when I remove that litter.

There’s a meme going around on the internet, I’ve seen it on just about every garden site I know of, warning people not to clean up the garden too soon, because they will disturb all these helpful pollinators and other insects. Don’t rake out the dead leaves and cut off dead stems they warn, or you will harm all these wonderful bees and butterflies and other helpful insects. It’s true that waiting until late spring to clean out gardens has some benefits but there’s a fine line to be drawn between preserving helpful insects and enabling harmful ones.

I did some research and there are a few helpful insects that do overwinter in leaf litter. Most of them are not pretty butterflies or pollinating bees, however. They are spiders, ladybugs, centipedes, millipedes, some other predatory beetles and scavengers that break down leaves.

Bees don’t overwinter in leaf litter or debris. Bumblebees over winter in tunnels in the soil as do some other bees. Some bees overwinter in the crevices of tree bark or in holes in trees. A few species may over winter in hollow stalks of plants. Honeybee queens and some larvae overwinter in hives.

Some butterflies migrate to overwinter. Most butterflies and moths over winter as eggs on trees or other plants. Just a few overwinter as pupae or caterpillars in litter. The wooly bear caterpillar that turns into the Isabella Tiger moth overwinters in leaf litter. It feeds mostly on plants considered to be weeds like lamb’s quarters, violets, clovers, dandelions, nettles, burdock, yellow and curly docks. But they are also known to feed on lettuce, spinach, and other garden greens and herbs as well as sunflowers. Are they beneficial?

But the caterpillar pupae of sphinx moths also overwinter in leaf litter. Those caterpillars are some of the most destructive in the garden, becoming the giant hornworms that devour tomato plants among other things. The caterpillar pupae of the white cabbage moth and cabbage looper overwinter in leaf litter too.

Other harmful insects that overwinter in leaf litter include thrips, mites, bean leaf beetles, stink bugs, earwigs, grasshoppers, and cucumber beetles. Slugs and snails overwinter in garden debris. If you have a big problem with these in your garden, you should rake out all debris early in spring and allow the soil surface to dry out a bit.

Another very important pest that overwinters in leaf litter is the tick. Some ticks overwinter on hosts, but research has shown that others drop off and overwinter hidden in debris. Those gardeners who have ticks in their area will want to remove leaf litter early from the garden and remove all standing stems and grasses too.

Another consideration in leaving debris in gardens is that fungal and bacterial diseases can overwinter in debris. If you had problems with fungal disease in your garden last year, clean out all debris. This is very important in vegetable gardens. If the spring is really wet, removing leaf layers and debris may allow the soil to dry faster and dry soil is warmer than wet soil, encouraging plant growth and discouraging fungal disease.

If you are a gardener who has allergies to molds and fungus cleaning out leaf litter and debris may help keep your allergy symptoms in check. It will make gardening safer for you. If you can find one, wear a mask when cleaning out the debris if you have allergies.


A garden that needs a spring clean up 


If you are concerned that you might harm some beneficial insect when cleaning the garden simply pile the removed leaves and debris in some out of the way spot or on the compost pile. If you are trimming hollow stems or think the eggs of beneficial species are clinging to dead plant parts do the same- just pile them somewhere.

On the pruning note – don’t prune back winter damaged areas of plants too early as they protect the unfrozen parts of the stem. But by April those in garden zones 6 and above can generally remove winter killed areas. These are highly unlikely to have any beneficial insects or eggs on them. Be careful you don’t damage emerging shoots when removing dead stems. It’s better to cut rather than pull or break them off.

In short, if you want to clean your garden and the weather is right, just do it. If you can, do leave a light layer of leaves to enrich the soil. If you aren’t having pest problems and don’t mind the look you can leave more debris, just make sure emerging plants aren’t smothered or impeded by thick layers.

Don’t worry about harming beneficial insects. Simple things like moving what you cleaned up to another place can mitigate most of that. Composting that debris will keep the beneficial nutrients but get rid of some of the pests. The circulating meme is based on sentiment more than science. Your garden is not the same as a forest or wilderness area and the plants in it may require different conditions than forest understory plants. Gardeners manage their gardens with plant health and their health in mind, as well as considering the greater environmental picture.

More reading




Choosing a Method of food gardening

Many people are scrambling this spring to plant their first garden and a great many of these involve growing food. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of some methods of gardening for those that are a little confused as to how to get started.

You must remember that all of these gardens must be in full sun to grow food in any substantial amount. They should also be close to a source of water for the best results. But the garden area should not be in a wet, poorly draining area if it’s a method that involves in ground planting.

In the ground

This is the traditional way of gardening for many people. You simply plant in rows in the ground. If you have plenty of property to use this may be the right method for you. The pro’s are it’s a simple method that can grow a lot of food. If you don’t want to garden next year just seed the garden area with grass and it will quickly revert.

The cons are that preparing the soil the first year can be a lot of work. I recommend taking any sod off with a spade, by sliding the spade under sections of turf and lifting them off. If you have loamy or sandy soil you may be able to lightly work the area up with a shovel or rake without tilling after removing the grass.  If you have heavier soil you may need to till once the first year. Yearly tilling or tilling numerous times is no longer recommended.

Also, it can be difficult to know what areas are planted and which are paths until everything gets growing. Make sure to mark the rows as you plant them. These types of gardens are more likely to flood in wet weather. Depending on your soil type it can take longer for in ground gardens to warm up in spring.  If pest animals are around like deer and rabbits, you’ll need to fence the area.

Mounds

Planting on mounds is a compromise between in ground gardens and raised beds. In this type of garden, you proceed with clearing an area as above. You really won’t need to till. After clearing the sod, you then rake and shovel the soil into mounds about 18” high in rows as long as you want. You are taking soil from the area that will be paths between the rows and mounding it where crops will grow. The plant roots will have loose soil to start growing in.

The pro’s are it’s cheap while giving you some advantages of raised beds. It can help where drainage isn’t ideal. It’s also easy to revert this style of garden back to lawn or change the position of beds the following year. You are able to incorporate soil amendments, fertilizers and water just in the planting areas, which can save money and time. Mounded garden areas warm up faster than in ground garden areas. It’s easy to see where things are planted.

The cons are that mounds are a bit more work then just planting in the ground and they may not look as nice as even rows in the ground or raised beds. And in areas with heavy rains the soil mounds may be washed away, especially early in the season.

Onions on mounds


Raised beds

In my definition raised beds are “boxes” which sit on the ground with an open bottom. They have a frame of some sort to hold soil. The frame can be made of a number of materials from wood to plastic to cement block. The beds should be no more than 4 feet wide, if they can be reached from both sides, but as long as you desire.  If they can be accessed from only one side don’t make them wider than 2 feet.

Raised beds should be at least a foot deep but they can be deep enough that you could sit on the edge comfortably. Remove sod from where the boxes will be placed but you don’t need to till. Don’t put cardboard, layers of newspaper or weed barrier cloth down on the existing soil before filling the beds. This impedes drainage, root growth and the movement of important soil microbes.

Raised beds are one of the best methods of gardening. They provide a good, controlled environment for plant root growth, won’t need tilling or digging and usually look nice. If food gardens are frowned upon in your neighborhood a nice, neat raised bed garden with mulched paths might allow you to garden without a fight.

Raised beds are great for those with limited mobility especially if they are deep enough that a lot of bending isn’t necessary to tend the garden. Paths can be made of a hard surface to accommodate wheelchairs or other mobility aids.

In a raised bed once again, you can concentrate soil amendments, fertilizer and water to just where the plants are growing. If you have really poor soil the raised beds can be filled with a better soil mixture.  Raised beds warm up fast in the spring and if drainage is a problem on your property a raised bed can allow you to garden.

The cons are that good raised beds can be expensive if the frame material has to be purchased. If you need to purchase soil or compost to fill the beds that’s expensive too.  It’s a lot of work the first year to build and fill the beds, although for many years to come that prep work will save you time and effort.


Containers

Containers are a lot like raised beds except containers don’t have an open bottom in contact with the ground, they have a bottom. They must have good drainage. You can use all kinds of things for containers, purchased or recycled. You can even use “grow” bags. For things like tomatoes and potatoes containers should be a minimum of 5 gallons, larger is better.

Containers allow you to grow food crops where you don’t have access to ground, such as on a balcony or paved area. You can even grow crops in containers inside, under grow lights. It’s sometimes easier to protect plants in containers from animal pests or theft. And most containers can be moved if needed.

The con’s of containers are that food production will be limited. While many plant varieties have been developed for those who grow in containers there are still some crops that just don’t do well in containers. Corn, beans, vining crops like pumpkins and squash may have a few container varieties but you won’t get much of a harvest from them. If you can put food crops in the ground or a raised bed, choose that over containers.

Crops in containers can dry out quickly or get waterlogged. It’s always good to raise the containers off the flooring a little to facilitate good drainage. They may become too hot sitting on pavement or metal flooring and scorch. It can be as much work to care for a few plants in containers as a small raised bed garden that will be much more productive.

Some would call this a raised bed, but since it has a bottom, it's a container garden


Hydroponic

Hydroponic gardening is done in water in special pots without soil, they use another substance to anchor roots. The roots are either flushed with water and nutrients several times a day or sit in special solutions. Hydroponic gardening can be useful when crops must be grown indoors but it is not a simple or inexpensive project.

Don’t jump into hydroponic gardening unless it’s on a very small scale. You need to study intensively and start gradually. There’s a lot of expense involved and a lot of tinkering and maintenance. For some people it’s a great hobby and when you have the protected space for growing and capital to get into it you can grow a lot of food (or medicine) this way.

Straw bale gardening

This is a “fad” in gardening. It’s not a good way to grow food and should be used only in special circumstances. In this “style” of gardening straw bales are soaked in a nutrient solution and plants are stuck in them to grow. Sometimes they actually grow and produce a little food, but they are messy, ugly and inefficient. 
For more about straw bale gardening read this article.


Hugelkultur

This is another fad in gardening. The method may have served some northern cultures dealing with permafrost fairly well but for most gardeners it’s just not the best method to obtain good food production. Hugelkultur is basically a raised bed in which the base is rotting wood piled up, usually cut brush and junk wood. The wood is covered with soil and then planted. Sometimes there’s a frame around the rotting junk, other times it’s just a mound.

The method does raise the garden off the ground and that makes the soil drain better and warm faster. It can hide an undesirable brush pile. But gradually as the wood decomposes the whole area will sink. A 4 feet high pile of wood and soil will in a few years be a 2 feet high pile and in a few more years a slight mound.

The rotting junk wood has spaces where animals like rats, snakes and chipmunks can make fine homes. That may be good for them, not so good for food production (unless the snakes eat the rodents). While rotting wood will provide some nutrients to plants and eventually disintegrates into a compost material it’s not the ideal way to feed plants.

Hugelkultur is often touted by people interested in the environment and permaculture. It’s more of an experimental way of composting than a good food producing idea.

Square foot gardening

Square foot gardening is an old idea, it can be done with any method of gardening but is often done with raised beds. It’s simply eliminating rows and planting crops quite closely, with the idea that this will shade out weeds and give you more food per square foot.

With some crops like lettuce this method works quite well, other crops like the vining crops, corn and larger root vegetables don’t like the crowding.  Every plant needs a minimum amount of space around it. You don’t have to plant in straight rows you can stagger plants in an area but do look up the minimum space requirements for each type of plant and don’t crowd them.

Three sisters garden

This is a kind of Indian legend type of thing that’s more modern myth than a factual ancient practice. Three sister’s gardens were supposedly planted by Native Americans and consist of a round mound planted with beans, corn and squash. Sometimes sunflowers are substituted for corn. In this idea the corn or sunflowers provide support for the beans which fix nitrogen for the corn and the squash shades the ground to cool it and the prickly squash leaves deter pests.

Sounds good but if you ever tried the method you know it doesn’t work that well. Frankly it’s a mess, one crop usually takes over and it’s hard to weed and harvest. Believe me, I’ve used this method to interest kids in gardening and it usually doesn’t work well, but in most cases the kids have moved on to something else by harvest time. They do have fun planting such gardens.

And if you ever did any research into indigenous agriculture you will find little evidence that crops were grown this way. There might have been some limited mixed crops in woodland culture agriculture, especially in areas new to agriculture, and many native cultures planted crops on mounds.

But most Native Americans planted crops just like Europeans did, in fields of one crop. They even knew to separate varieties of corn and beans so they wouldn’t crossbreed. Squash was often planted at the edge of fields and may have acted as an animal deterrent to some extent.

You can try the 3 sister’s method if you like but for good production in food crops plant each of the mentioned crops in its own space. You can intercrop some food plants among others to save space but generally corn isn’t a good fit for that.  Sunflowers may actually inhibit the growth of some plants near them. For example, you could have an early harvested crop like lettuce or scallions near some squash plants when they are first planted and by the time the squash plants are overtaking that space the other crops would be gone.

GOT CHICKENS? WANT CHICKENS?

Thinking about adding meat and eggs to your home-grown food supply? Then you need to buy this book, the best book for raining chickens in the backyard ever. It covers both egg and meat production in a way easy for beginners to understand but there’s still valuable information for more experienced chicken owners.





Tips for Choosing Fruit Trees

In the spring gardeners are often looking at gardening catalogs or stalking the aisles of nurseries looking for fruit trees. The selection is often vast- especially in catalogs, so how do you choose the fruit trees right for your landscape? There are many decisions to be made so here’s a quick guide to help you choose. This article is not about citrus or tropical fruits.

First before buying any fruit trees make sure you have a suitable spot for them.  All fruit trees require a full sun position in well-drained soil. You can amend soil that is low in nutrients, but fruit trees will not grow where the soil stays wet for long periods of time.

Second decide on how much room you can devote to fruit trees. You can grow fruit in the front yard or close to the house but there is some mess involved with fruit production, and fruit trees pruned for good production are not as ornamental as other trees. But it’s a good idea not to have the trees too far from the house in rural and suburban areas, where deer and other animals are a problem. You will be better able to protect the trees and their crops if they are away from the edges of woods and close to your home.

Each standard sized fruit tree will need 25 feet between it and the next tree in all directions. Each semi-dwarf tree will need 10-15 feet of space in all directions, depending on variety and species. True dwarf trees can be espaliered against a fence or planted as closely as 5-8 feet apart. Some dwarf fruit trees can be grown in tubs but in northern areas these can pose a problem in winters. To keep the roots from being killed the tubs may need to be buried in the winter or moved to another location where temperatures are cool enough to satisfy dormancy requirements (about 40 F) but not cold enough to kill the root system in an above ground pot.

Next you need to decide what species of fruit you can grow in your planting zone.  Most apples and many pears and cherries will grow in planting zones 4-7.  Peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums are a little less hardy. Some will grow in planting zones 5, a few even in 4, but most do best in zones 6-8. Of course, northern gardeners (zones lower than 8) will not be able to grow citrus in the ground.

And those in planting zones 8 and above have to search for apples and other fruits that have a low dormancy or chilling requirement. Some fruit varieties will not set fruit if the winter temperatures are too warm. Once you have become interested in a certain fruit variety make sure to check the zone hardiness which should be given in the catalog description or plant tag.

Pollination requirements are another factor you need to consider when choosing fruit trees. Apples, pears, sweet cherries, and some plums and one or two varieties of peaches or apricots need two trees of different varieties nearby to make fruit. Sour or pie cherries, and most peaches, nectarines and apricots will self- pollinate- you don’t need two trees.

This pollination requirement may figure in when you have limited space to grow fruit trees. Nearby usually means within 500 feet. If a neighbor has a similar fruit tree you may not need another for pollination. For apple pollination some ornamental crabapples or wild trees growing along roadsides can provide pollination. (The fruit will not be affected by this cross pollination.) 

Two trees of the same variety of apples, sweet cherries, and plums or even closely related varieties will not pollinate each other.  That means you should not plant two McIntosh apples if there are no other apple tree varieties nearby. Read catalog descriptions to get an idea of what tree varieties will pollinate each other.  As a tip, Golden Delicious apples are good pollinators for almost all apple varieties.  Gala and Red Delicious pollinate each other, Red Delicious and McIntosh are also compatible, HoneyCrisp and CandyCrisp can be pollinated by Jonathan or Gala apples.

Bartlett pears are good pollinators for most other pears.  Any two different pears will generally pollinate each other.  European type plums like Damson and prune plums do not need another pollinator but Japanese type plums do. Pie type cherries are generally self- pollinating and one variety of sweet cherry called Stella is also self- pollinating. Sweet cherries can also be pollinated by tart cherries; you may want one of each. Pawpaws need two varieties to set fruit.  Persimmons are self-pollinating.

You don’t need two trees of the same mature size for pollination- if you don’t have room for 2 semi-dwarf apple trees for instance- you could plant a dwarf variety and a semi-dwarf of another variety.  Or for apples, maybe you could plant a small ornamental crabapple in another location in the landscape. 

Should you buy your fruit tree potted or bare root?  Potted trees are generally found at local nurseries.  These may be large and attractive looking if they have been well cared for, but the selection of varieties will be small. Buying bare root fruit trees by mail or online will allow you to choose from a wide selection of trees, including heirloom types. 

Bare root trees will catch up quickly to potted trees if they are planted soon after they arrive and are well cared for. They may even be healthier than potted trees that have sat around for a while. Even larger sized trees can be sent bare root while dormant by mail.

The size of the tree and the age of the tree will determine how soon you get fruit. Size means both whether the tree is dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard in height when it is mature and what size it is when you buy it. Most people will find semi-dwarf trees are the easiest to care for and they bear quicker than standard size trees. 

Some types of semi-dwarf fruit trees will get 20 feet high, but they can be pruned to remain lower. Standard trees may get 40 feet in height in old age. Peaches, nectarines and apricots tend to be smaller trees even if standard size is selected. Dwarf trees usually remain below 10 feet in height. Except in very restrained space conditions it’s generally better to select semi-dwarf trees. Dwarf trees bear small crops and they often have trouble supporting those crops. They tend to break under wind and snow loads more easily.

If you want fruit quickly, buy the largest (most mature) size fruit trees you can. Some places sell trees by trunk diameter, others by their height. But larger size generally means the tree is older and will start bearing fruit earlier. Larger sized and older trees cost a little more, but since fruit trees take from 3-5 years to even begin bearing fruit, sometimes longer for standard trees, buying trees that are 2-3 years old or more will get production going faster. Some places sell “selected” fruit trees. These are usually large and well branched for their age. They may make your wait for fruit shorter if you can afford them.

Beware of people advertising seeds or seedling fruit trees. Fruit trees are almost always propagated from cuttings grafted on to root stock. Seeds of most fruit trees do not come true and will not bear the same type of fruit the parents had. It’s impossible to tell what kind of fruit a seedling will have until it starts producing and by then a lot of time has gone by. 

Don’t go to the store and buy apples (or other fruits) and save the seed to plant. You’ll get trees but the type of fruit you get will vary considerably and probably won’t be very good. Don’t buy seeds or seedlings unless you don’t mind a long wait for fruit and enjoy surprises.

If you want to grow your fruit trees with minimal spraying of pesticides look for varieties that say they are disease resistant.  Most of these are newer varieties and there are more apple varieties in this category than other fruits. Keep in mind that they are disease resistant, not disease free.  Almost all fruit trees can be managed organically but how the fruit looks and how big your harvest is can vary by your management techniques. It helps to start with disease resistant trees.

The variety or “flavor” of a fruit type is a personal choice based on your taste and needs as long as it’s suitable for your space and climate.  Read up on what uses the variety is good for, like fresh eating or canning. You may want to purchase different types of fruit at the market and do a taste test, keeping in mind that fresh off the tree the fruit will probably taste better. You may want to ask other gardeners what they like and what grows well in your area. This may be the hardest decision you’ll make because there are hundreds of varieties of common fruits.


Another activity for kids- the pantry

Are the kids bored, you need an educational activity for them to do and you have a full pantry right now?  Here’s an idea.

Have the kids inventory the pantry.  Let them take everything out, count it and write down what it is. They can sort and organize it too if it’s needed. For older kids take it a little further. Ask them to add up the pounds or ounces or gallons of the various foods you have. They can check the serving size, and either using the box label or charts you can look up on online or find in some cookbooks, figure out how many meals for the family the pantry contains. Have them convert ounces to cups. Or pints and quarts to gallons.  (Reading, math, reasoning,)

If the food item needs additional items to make a dish, such as eggs for a cake mix, milk for scalloped potatoes, and so on, ask them to calculate how much of those items will need to be on hand to use the foods. Have them check the expiration dates on food and see what should be used first and if the item is likely to be used up before it expires at the rate in which your family consumes it.  (Reading and Math)

You can also extend the lesson by asking them to read food labels and identify which foods seem the healthiest. Which have more added sugar or salt?  They can look up the terms on the box or bag and define them. They can look up chemical additives on the package and then research what they are used for and what their safety risks might be, if any.  (Reading, research, science, writing)

To go further you can ask them to research how a certain food is grown and/or produced. For example, what crops produce sugar and how are they grown and turned into sugar? How is cocoa powder made? Canola oil? Spam? You could ask them to write about how things like toilet paper are made or aluminum foil.
(research, reading, science, writing, maybe some history)

You’ll know more about your pantry and your kids will know more about their food and how it’s produced plus they may learn some food science and nutrition.

Cinnamon Rolls or Bread plus dinner roll variation

This cinnamon roll or bread recipe takes a little time and you must pay attention to details but it’s well worth the effort. This sweeter dough also makes good dinner rolls and the variation for making them will be given. 

Until you get familiar with the recipe and have made it a few times use a candy or meat thermometer to test the temperature of the water and milk in the recipe. If they are too hot or too cold the bread won’t rise correctly.  

To knead dough, sprinkle a little flour on your hands and use a folding motion and pulling motion to work the dough. Add just a tiny bit of flour if it is really sticky. The dough should rise in a moderately warm place out of drafts covered with a paper towel. If your house is cold and drafty turn your oven to 200 degrees and let it heat for 5 minutes while you make the dough.  Turn off the oven after 5 minutes and let it sit 10 minutes or so while you finish the recipe then put the bowl of dough in the oven to rise.

Yield 3-4 dozen rolls depending on size or 2 loaves

Cinnamon rolls- Ingredients

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/4 cup of warm water (105-115 degrees)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup of evaporated milk warmed to 105-115 degrees
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) melted and cooled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3½ to 4 cups flour

Filling

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup soft butter or margarine
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)


Directions

Put the warm water in a small bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Set this aside for about 10 minutes, until the yeast begins to look foamy.

In a large bowl put the warm milk, the rest of the sugar, butter, oil and salt.  Beat this until smooth with an electric mixer.

Gradually beat in one cup of flour.

Add the yeast mixture to the large bowl and mix well.  Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes.

Blend in 2 cups of flour, one at a time. The dough will start to get stiff.  Mix in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. (You’ll need about a 1/2 cup more flour.) If you are using a hand mixer you may need to finish the dough by mixing flour in with your hands. 

Let the dough sit 10 minutes in the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.  If it is still sticky work in a little more flour. Knead dough for about 3 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic feeling.

Make the dough into a ball and place it in a large clean bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Lightly spray the top of the ball with cooking spray and cover the bowl with a paper towel.

Let the dough rise in a warm spot for about an hour until it is doubled in size.  Push the dough down and let it sit 10 minutes.

While you are waiting make the filling by blending together the sugar, butter and cinnamon in a small bowl. It should become a soft paste.

Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface. Pat or roll it out to a rectangle about 8 inches long by 12 inches wide, dough should be about an inch thick.

Spread the filling evenly over the surface of the dough to about a 1/2 inch from the edges. Sprinkle on the chopped nuts.

Roll the dough up, starting from one of the long sides. 

Spray baking pans with cooking spray.   If you want cinnamon rolls slice the dough roll into rounds about 1½ inch thick.  Arrange rolls in pans about an inch apart. For cinnamon bread cut the dough in half.  Place each loaf in the pan with the seam down. Lightly spray the top of the loaf with cooking spray. 

Let the dough rise about an hour, until it has nearly doubled in size again.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Rolls need about 15 minutes to bake. Bake bread for about 30 minutes. The bread or rolls will look slightly browned and pull away from the pan sides when done. You can stick a meat thermometer inside the loaf- 180 degrees means it’s done.

Remove the bread or rolls from the pan within a few minutes and let it cool on a rack or plate. Let bread or rolls cool before cutting or frosting. See frosting recipe below. Make sure bread or rolls are completely cool before wrapping for storage.


Cream Cheese Frosting (optional)

1- 3 oz pkg. cream cheese softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
small amount of milk- 1-2 teaspoons

Blend the cream cheese and butter in a bowl with electric mixer, gradually beating in the powdered sugar. If the mixture is too stiff to spread add a tiny bit of milk at a time and blend well.

Dinner rolls variation

If you like a slightly sweet dinner roll this recipe will work for you. Simply make the bread dough using the recipe above.  You will not need the filling ingredients. The recipe will make 3-4 dozen rolls depending on size.

After the dough has risen the first time, push it down, let it rest 10 minutes then divide it into small balls. For large rolls make about a 2 inch ball, make a smaller ball for smaller rolls. Set the dough balls about 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets. Spray tops of dough balls with cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Allow rolls to rise until doubled, about an hour. 

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake the rolls for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.

This yeast bread recipe sounds complicated but once you master the steps you’ll be able to put it together quickly, while you do other things around the house. Plan on about 4 hours total from start to finish.

Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of his instruments, not the composer.     
Geoffrey Charlesworth


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, March 24, 2020

March 24th, 2020 Spring is here


On one hand it feels like the month has flown by and on the other it seems like time has slowed to a halt. So much is happening in such a short time. The weather doesn’t help, flipping from spring to winter to spring in less than a day’s time. I woke up to 2 inches of snow on the ground yesterday, but it was gone by the end of the day and today it’s partly sunny and supposed to get into the upper forties.

My roses have little red leaf buds and the honeysuckle has green tips on the buds. I actually heard frogs outside today.  I think I will get my jelly feeder out for the orioles in a few days. I haven’t seen any but I suspect they will be here soon.

I am going to begin the big garden clean up this week. Things are popping up all over. I’ve got some bulbs I ordered arriving this week too. I’ll be potting up my dahlias and some other bulbs to get them growing. I intend to make the most of any nice days this week to be outside and away from news updates and other depressing information. Sunshine, birds singing, and the smell of soil help lift depression and calm the soul.

I keep reminding my gardening friends to remain optimistic. If you have been ordered to remain home as we in Michigan have been, it’s the perfect time to get garden work done. There is no reason not to be outside as long as you keep 6 feet away from people not in your household. That’s not a problem for me and shouldn’t be a problem for most of you with gardens.

How is the Covid19 Virus going to affect spring planting?

It’s shaping up to be an interesting spring garden season. If you are in a state like Michigan, you won’t be visiting your local greenhouse any time soon. Michigan and several other states have shelter in place rules in effect and non-essential businesses are closed. It’s early here for the garden season and maybe they will be allowed to open later in spring.

I called a few greenhouses here in Michigan and they are all closed as of today. In other states things vary. California, New York, Louisiana, Delaware, Illinois, and Ohio are states other than Michigan that as of today, now have shelter in place orders. In those states garden centers are probably closed. In the south where the garden season is in full swing, shelter in place orders and even just the thought of the virus is impacting the greenhouse business in a big way.

There’s always mail order- or is there? It looks like some mail order companies are closing too, at least temporarily. If the business is in a state where there is a shelter in place order, they may not be shipping plants or seeds. Bakers Creek, for example is closed temporarily. Some others I contacted are open and shipping seeds and plants. It might be good to get any orders you need to make done, before all states go into lockdown. Some companies may have staff that get sick or don’t show up so things may slow down considerably.

I am hoping that there may be some kind of deal worked out locally such as maybe pre-order and then do a drive through pick up. One greenhouse I called is thinking about doing that. I’d order my annual flat of pansies that way. But there are some things you would just like to pick out yourself, things you don’t know you need until you see them. And the greenhouses would need to have online lists and pictures of what they had, which might be a huge task in a short time frame.

Maybe there could be appointments made for the greenhouse shopping trip, with limited numbers of people in the greenhouse at the same time. I know I don’t want to shop in a crowded greenhouse right now even though I will miss my plant fix. And people please don’t defy your states orders and shop or open your shop if the state is prohibiting it. We must all do our part; however sad it makes us.

One of the grocery stores in our area has a greenhouse in the spring. Since people are allowed to go out to the grocery maybe I can get some things from that greenhouse. Meijer and Walmart stores usually sell plants too. The selection isn’t as good as some of the nurseries and I imagine the care of the plants will be even worse this year due to staff shortages and all the panic buying going on. Perhaps some of the local greenhouses may want to partner with a local grocery store.

Farmers will be able to carry on business as usual and in many places farm markets will still be operating. The food supply grown in this country should not be affected. There may be shortages of some things like strawberries if it becomes hard to get workers to pick and process them. But basic foods like grains, beans, meat, dairy and so on shouldn’t be affected.

It could be a banner year for greenhouse/nurseries who can get product to the customer. People are home with time to garden. And if stimulus checks get sent out what better way to spend some of that money than on plants? But it could be a bad year for those businesses if their product sits there and outgrows the flats and pots and must be discarded. I guess only time will tell.


Can hybrid seeds be organic?

The Covid virus is making many people think about having food gardens this year, although I don’t think getting food is going to be a problem once people stop panic buying. New gardeners often have many questions about seeds and gardening methods. They want to grow organically- but just what does that mean? Some are afraid to plant hybrid seeds because they think they can’t be considered organic.

One of the problems with the organic growing movement is how people define organic. If you take the word organic for what it means in the agricultural sense - growing things without synthetic chemicals, then certainly hybrid seeds can be grown organically. Recently some people have begun to assert that the label organic should also mean food that was produced by plants or animals that were not “genetically modified” as well as being grown without synthetic chemicals.  

The term genetically modified should be applied to plants or animals whose genes are altered in some way that can’t happen naturally such as when we  put bacterial genes- (Bt) into plants or insert genes from plant species that can’t cross naturally into each other. These genes will then carry into future generations if similar plants are bred together and could be carried to other similar plants in a natural cross. That contamination of plants by stray pollen from genetically modified plants can happen to all varieties of plants, not just hybrids.

There are many field crops on the market that have been genetically modified, wheat, corn, soybeans and such.  But very, very few garden plants have been altered in this manner. Your hybrid sweet corn, tomatoes, cabbage, marigolds and so on, generally are the result of good old-fashioned plant sex. The very few genetically modified garden crops are expensive and generally available only to large commercial growers.  


So, what is a hybrid?

A hybrid seed is the result of crossing two purebred varieties of plants. This usually happens in the old-fashioned way, by insects or wind carrying pollen from one type of plant to another. Plant sex. Hybrids happen between plants all the time. It can happen without man interfering at all. If you plant a row of Blue Lake beans next to a row of Straight Arrow beans and bees carry pollen from one to another, the beans produced on those plants are hybrids. The purebred parents and the resulting seeds can be grown without synthetic chemicals so yes, hybrid seeds can be organic.

When man discovers two purebred varieties of plants that when crossed produced something good, he may set out to deliberately re-create it by hand pollinating the plants or by removing the anthers, (pollen producing parts) from one variety so it can only cross with the other. He can discover which plants combine well by experimenting with hand crosses and carefully keeping records of the results. Then when he finds combinations or hybrids he likes; he can re-create the cross.

When we mate purebred animals or plants to one of the same breed for generation after generation we start concentrating certain genes. Genetic variability, the thing that lets plants or animals adapt to changing conditions, is lost. Over time a purebred strain tends to become less able to reproduce successfully, loses vigor and is more susceptible to disease.


Purebred varieties of plants are often called open pollinated. The only advantage open pollinated seeds have over hybrid seeds is that you can save the seeds (if you have carefully isolated that variety of plant from other varieties) and the seeds you plant next year will produce plants like the parents. Open pollinated plants don’t always taste better than hybrids nor are they more nutritious.

Hybrids usually have something known as hybrid vigor. The offspring of that first cross of 2 purebred parents is generally more vigorous and healthy than the offspring of pure bred parents. Hybrid seeds usually have more disease resistance and are generally more productive than “purebred” seeds. The plants, seeds, and fruit grown from hybrid seeds can be every bit as tasty, if not more so, than that grown from open pollinated seeds.

It’s a great thing to save old breeds of open pollinated plants. We need the purebred lines to produce new and better varieties of plants and preserve genetic diversity. Some organic purists, and people who want to be certified as growing organically, insist that the parent plants that produce the seeds they are going to grow were also grown without any synthetic chemicals.

But if you are just a gardener trying to grow good, safe food you don’t need to worry about whether your seeds are open pollinated or hybrid. If you don’t use synthetic chemicals in your garden then you are growing organically, regardless of what seeds you planted. Most pesticides used on parent plants would not affect the seeds when they become new plants in your garden. Remember that garden seeds are not genetically modified. A few pesticides leave very small amounts of the product in seeds. But plants grown from those seeds would have so little of the product that it couldn’t be detected, and it would be harmless.

The parents of hybrid seeds can also be grown organically so the word hybrid should not determine the organic status of any seed. Also, the term “heirloom” does not mean the seed is organic or even that it’s open pollinated. Many hybrid plant varieties are so old they can be called heirlooms too.

You may want to make sure that your seeds are not treated with some chemicals to help store them, because some of those chemicals do remain in plants grown from treated seeds in minute amounts. Fungicide treated seeds are not very harmful, but seeds treated with insecticides pose slightly more of a risk. Seeds treated with clay, called pelleted seed, so that they are easier to handle do not pose risks to your health.

So, choose the hybrid seeds that appeal to you and don’t worry that you are violating some great organic principal. If you look, you can find hybrid seed that was grown organically if that’s important to you. Expect to pay more than for hybrid seeds grown conventionally. But if you follow good organic garden practices the food you grow from any type of garden seed will be safe and for all practical purposes, organic.

The final answer is yes, hybrid seed can be organic.

Gardening Things to do with the kids

So many of you now have kids at home with nothing to do. You may be trying to homeschool or just keep them occupied. You can do both with a little gardening thrown in. Here are some ideas to help kids learn- and not just about plants.

Garden planning- (skills- reading, math, gardening)

When I was working with at risk children in an afterschool program, I found an activity that many of them loved. I brought in a bunch of seed catalogs and some graph paper and had them plan gardens. I told them to look through the catalogs and find things they might like to grow. They then read the description and wrote down how much space each plant needed between them. If there was a space between rows number, then they wrote that down too. Then they should decide how many of that plant they want to grow.

Tip: If you don’t have graph paper use lined writing paper and with a ruler draw equally spaced bisecting lines down the paper.

Show the children the graph paper and explain that each square represents a certain amount of space. Making each square equal a foot is probably the best method. Then ask the children to make a garden plan using the graph paper by marking off space and writing the plants on it. They have to give each plant the space it needs. They may have to use multiplication and division to find how many plants fit in a foot. They can assign a color to each kind of plant and color in the space also.

If your children are savvy with computer drawing, they may be able to do their drawing on the computer. That will have them practicing another skill set. But plain old drawing and planning on paper is also fun.

Older children can be given more gardening skills to work into the plan, such as grouping taller plants in back or separating plants that need sun from shade lovers. You could make them go outside and observe an actual space where a garden could go or an existing garden space. Have them measure that space and fit their desired plants into it. Keep it simple for younger kids.

It helps if you have a sample plan to show them. (You may learn some skills making it.) Try to find seed catalogs that have good descriptions of planting needs. If you don’t have garden catalogs there are plenty online. Kids could also go online to find the space requirements of different plants or look them up in a book you have.

Dandelion hunting

Here’s a real easy and helpful physical activity. Show the kids a dandelion, make them take a good look at the leaves and flowers. Then give them a tool like a narrow trowel, butter knife or screwdriver and send them out into the yard to dig up dandelions. You could award prizes for the most dandelions dug out.

You could then use the dandelions for something like a salad, feeding to pet bunnies, making dandelion wine or just compost them. And because we know bees like dandelions, we might want to save a few on the edge of the lawn. Ask the kids to pick out a dandelion sanctuary. If you don’t have dandelions or want to keep all of them you may want to choose another weed to dig.



Plant flash cards

Here’s where old garden catalogs can come in handy too. Cut out pictures of plants and paste them on cards. (This could be a kid’s activity.)  Put the name on the back. For older children you could also include the Latin name.  Use them like flash cards. The kids could simply name them out loud or better, write down the name on a piece of paper as you show the card. (Spelling, writing, memory)

If you include vegetable pictures you can ask “What part of the plant do we use?” when you hold up a card. You could also ask questions like, when does this bloom? Is this an annual or a perennial? Does this plant like sun or shade? Is this plant good for pollinators? and any other questions you can think of and want to teach kids.

Heck this game is also a good game to use with adults who like gardening. In my Master Gardener classes, as an ice breaker, I handed out cards with a picture and common name on one card and a Latin name on another and asked people to find the person with the matching card. They could use their MG book. When they found their match, they interviewed each other and then introduced the other person to the rest of the class.

Cooking

Most children enjoy cooking and cooking can help with math skills as well as reading skills. Choose one that has at least a little bit of measuring needed. Or let children who are older pick a recipe from books or online that they might be interested in trying. Make children read a recipe. Then ask them to double or half it for math skills.

Let the children learn how to use measuring cups and spoons as you make the recipe. Good recipes right now may be making biscuits, a cake mix, or cookies. Or make it more exotic, creating herbal vinegars, herbal teas or remedies. One fun thing to do might be combining spices and herbs into special “blends” for cooking, like a barbecue spice rub or chicken seasoning or a basic baking mix. Maybe you could make a lemon and honey cough medicine, or decongestant rub.

Of course, you will supervise kids around stoves and hot liquids and won’t use any herbs that are dangerous.

Science classes

Hold a science class by teaching plant propagation. Talk about the parts of a plant, showing kids where a node is and explaining how if we take a stem cutting with nodes, we can grow a new plant. Let them root some cuttings. Talk about the miracle of seeds and let the kids start some seeds.

You might let kids do experiments with plants. Talk about photosynthesis and then let kids put some plants in the sun and some in a dark closet and see which grows. Let them think of their own experiments, such as fertilizing one plant and not fertilizing another and measuring the growth.

Crafts

The options are endless here of course. Crafts can teach skills like reading and math too. Kids need to read directions and use math to measure things. You may be able to use science or even history lessons too. I am going to suggest some garden related crafts.

Slit seed packets carefully at the top and remove seeds. Then fill the packets with cotton to which a drop or two of essential oil has been added. Or fill packets with crushed lavender flowers or other aromatic herbs. Glue the top shut. Use packets as sachets in drawers or put stick on magnets on them and put on the frig. Ribbons glued on them could make hangers.

Paint rocks or small clay flowerpots and use them as plant labels.  Print/paint “carrots” or “beebalm” on them. Rocks or patio stones could be painted with garden sayings or whatever saying kids like. Acrylic paints will actually last a long time outside on rocks and cement blocks.

Take old black nursery pots and have the kids turn them into fancy containers by painting them, gluing fabric on them, or putting feet and faces on them. You might also challenge them into recycling junk around the house by turning it into planters.

Children could also make bird houses, toad houses, bee shelters or bat houses. You can buy kits or find plans online. You can also have them paint pre-built bird houses. If kids are using tools make sure they are supervised. For those adults who are bored building birdhouses can be a fun project.



Terrariums and dish gardens

Let the kids make a terrarium or dish garden. Any large glass jar, an old aquarium or for a dish garden an old pan or bowl will work. Children love making terrariums or dish gardens that portray a scene. Have children search outside for things they might want to include in the terrarium such as moss, tiny plants, stones, bark chunks, tree branches, driftwood, shells, and so on.

Kids can also search their rooms and the house for small figurines, like toy soldiers, plastic frogs or snakes, doll house furniture, small mirrors for ponds, anything that will look somewhat in scale with the terrarium or planter. Aquarium d├ęcor can be used if you have some stored somewhere.  The searches will be as fun as making the terrarium.

Garden stores carry tons of stuff for “fairy” gardens now and you can buy these things online. But right now, stores may not be open and ordering online usually involves a wait.  So, using things found around home may be the best solution.

You may want to consider what the children have found before you decide on the container the items will be placed in. Larger items will need larger containers, if using a jar make sure the opening will allow tiny hands and the chosen items to fit inside.

Put some good potting soil in the jar or container. Add some plants- you can take cuttings of tropical plants you have or mail order small starter plants. You could also use plants from outside such as various sedums, thyme, seedling trees, even pretty weeds like ground ivy. Let the kids use their imagination arranging their finds and the plants.

If all else fails, there’s always planting and yard work.  Put those kids to work with you. Learning to grow things could be an occupational education opportunity.

Growing crocus

The cheerful crocus is one of the first flowers we see in our gardens each spring, sometimes blooming through a late snow. The smart gardener plants crocus where they get an early start, near a building or among rocks for early spring warmth. They are best planted where they can be easily seen as the flowers are small and close to the earth. 

Hardy and easy to grow, crocus will multiply each year if they are happy in their spot. While most garden crocus bloom in the spring there are crocus that are fall blooming.

Crocus are native to the Mediterranean region and are one of the earliest cultivated plants. The island of Crete is the first documented place where they were grown domestically. They were grown for medicinal use in the times of the Greeks and Romans and made their way to the Netherlands in the 1500’s, where they quickly became a profitable crop.  In the Netherlands several species of crocus were crossed to develop the larger flowered crocus we commonly call the Dutch crocus. And in the Netherlands the crocus came to be appreciated for its ornamental beauty as well as its medicinal qualities.

The crocus has narrow grass like leaves, usually with a thin white stripe down the center of the leaves. The flowers are cup shaped, and come in white, yellow, and shades of lavender and mauve-pink. Some flowers have stripes or other markings. The flower petals and leaves are covered with a wax like coating to help protect them from the cold. In the center of the flower are three prominent stamens, (male flower parts) which are generally a contrasting color.

Species and varieties

While some 30 species are known to gardeners almost all domestic types of spring blooming crocus are derived from these species: C. vernus, C. chrysanthus, C. flavus, C. sieberi and C. tommasinianus. Some catalogs carry the species bulbs but many crocus in catalogs are hybrids.
You’ll see spring flowering crocus offered as ‘Dutch’ (hybrids selected for large flowers), or ‘Snow crocus’, usually a selection of small early flowering crocus.  Some named varities are;‘Negro Boy’, a rare dark purple crocus which was named before political correctness, ‘Tommies’, a selection of C. tommasinianus which is lavender, self-sows and spreads quickly, ‘Miss Vain’ is white and fragrant, ‘Gypsy Girl ’ is  yellow with maroon stripes, ‘Cloth of Gold ‘ is a rich orange-gold small flowered crocus, ‘Queen of the Blues’, is a large flowered true blue, and ‘Cream Beauty ‘is pale yellow with orange stamens. 

There are also several varieties of Autumn flowering crocus.  Many of these bloom before the leaves appear. The Autumn bloomers are less well known than their spring counterparts, probably because their small blooms tend to be lost in the more well-developed fall garden.

One variety, the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus,  is the source of the spice saffron. It has purple flowers and bright red stamens. It can be grown in gardens from zone 6 and higher, although it does need a cold period to develop flowers and can be a bit tricky to grow.  However, the Pennsylvania Dutch have been growing saffron since they settled in the US in their herb gardens. They use the spice to flavor chicken and potato dishes.

Saffron is an important commercial crop in other areas of the world; Spain, Italy and Iran are some of the top producers. From ancient times until today saffron has always been one of the most expensive spices, the dried stamens are often worth even more than gold per pound. Saffron also produces a lovely golden dye and has been used medicinally for centuries. Modern medicine is studying it for its medicinal qualities, there is interest in it for cancer suppression and immune system enhancement and antioxidant properties.

Growing tips for crocus

Crocus corms (bulbs) are generally planted in the fall for our spring enjoyment. They can be planted anytime the ground is unfrozen in the fall.  Autumn blooming species can be planted in the fall or spring.  If planted in the spring they may put out leaves, then die back until fall, when the flower will appear.
Plant crocus bulbs about an inch deep in clay soil and 2 inches deep in sandy soil. There is a slightly pointed area at the top of the bulb, which should be placed up in the hole. The bottom of the bulb has a raised ring where the roots used to be.  Plant crocus in groups of 10 or so about a bulb width apart for the most natural look. They need a well-drained area; they won’t do well where water stands in the spring. Crocus will bloom in part shade or full sun.  Because they bloom in early spring before most trees leaf out, they can be planted under deciduous trees.

Because crocus are shallowly planted they are easy to disturb when planting other things in the fall or spring and easy for animals to find and eat. Mark new plantings so you remember where the crocus are planted. If animals are a problem, lay a piece of ½ inch hardware cloth or other wire over the planted area. Remove it in the early spring, as soon as the ground thaws so the crocus growth won’t be impeded. 

Mulch over newly planted crocus so they won’t be heaved out of the ground by freezing and thawing in the winter. Crocus will grow up through quite a heavy layer of mulch, but it will delay bloom and they won’t be quite as pretty looking. In early spring as the ground thaws, remove some mulch over crocus plantings, especially matted leaves. You can leave a small amount of mulch, an inch or so.

Crocus need to have their leaves left after they quit blooming so that the bulb can store energy to produce a flower next year. If you plant crocus in a lawn you shouldn’t mow the lawn until the crocus leaves have died down naturally if you want good flowering and bulb multiplication next year. It’s best to leave naturalization to the edges of lawns or in small secluded locations where not mowing for a few weeks won’t be a problem.

You can fertilize crocus plantings with a slow release, granular fertilizer as they start to grow in the spring, but it really isn’t necessary in most soil.  Crocus have few problems or cultural needs other than to let the foliage yellow and die naturally. They will also multiply each year if they are happy in the spot and your crocus patch will grow larger. Crocus reproduce by seed and by bulbs growing bulblets.

Every garden, no matter how small, needs to have crocus to usher in spring.  Do you have crocus?

What crocus seedpods look like


Biscuit recipes

Last week I wrote about bread baking, for all of you that may have more time on your hands or who can’t find bread at the grocery. (I can’t believe that people actually can’t find at the grocery now). But biscuits are just as good as bread for many of us and a bit easier to make.

Here’s how to make biscuits from scratch and from baking mixes. These recipes will give you a feel for the various styles of making biscuits and you can then develop your own recipes.

Beer Biscuits

These biscuits, made with beer, have a yeasty flavor like good homemade bread. They can become your signature side dish. They are quick and easy to make. Serve them with jam or honey or add some sausage gravy for a yummy breakfast. They freeze well so make a batch or two on the weekends for breakfast during the week. The recipe will make about 18 medium biscuits.

Ingredients
 
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons sugar
1 cup beer, any kind

Grease a cookie sheet.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients together, kneading with floured hands right in the pan until the dough feels smooth.

Pick out a small ball of dough and flatten it on the greased pan. The size can be any biscuit size that appeals to you. 

Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown.

Cream biscuits

I found this cream biscuit recipe and I love it.  It’s a small batch recipe and makes 6-9 biscuits depending on how you cut them. This recipe has only 3 ingredients, although you can embellish it. 

The recipe uses self-rising flour, not all-purpose flour. You can find self-rising flour next to regular flour in the store. You could also sub a baking mix like Bisquick but the taste is slightly different. Use whipping cream, not milk, the fat content is important to the biscuits texture.

Ingredients

2 cups self-rising flour
1 and 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream (Sub whole milk with 2 tablespoons melted butter for a slightly different taste)
1-3 teaspoons of sugar depending on your taste

Directions

Mix together the flour and sugar and then add the cream a little at a time mixing well until you have a stiff dough.

Pat the dough evenly into a greased 6x6 inch pan.

Bake at 450 degrees for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Variations: brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle on finely chopped rosemary, or add 1 cup of finely shredded cheddar cheese and about a ½ teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste) to dough. Or make the biscuits sweet ones by brushing on melted butter then sprinkling them with cinnamon sugar or adding orange zest and a teaspoon of orange juice to the dough, then brushing the tops with orange marmalade

March Maple Biscuits

A good cook knows how to make good biscuits. These are very rich and satisfying. Make this a treat; don’t sub “healthy” ingredients.  That said if you can’t find real maple syrup use the grocery store “flavored” kind.

Ingredients
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons of cold butter, cut into tiny pieces
¾ cup cream
¼ cup real maple syrup

Glaze
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
Melt these together and set aside.

Biscuit directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Put the flour, salt and baking powder in the blender (or bowl)

Add the butter pieces, pulse blend until the mix resembles coarse cornmeal (or use a fork to cut in the flour)

Pour the cream and maple syrup into the blender, blend just a few seconds until a dough forms.  (Or blend the ingredients in a bowl)

Place the dough on a floured surface and knead several times.

Roll the dough out into a ¾ inch thick rectangle.

Using a biscuit cutter or glass cut out biscuits and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. (About 12 biscuits)

Brush each biscuit with the reserved butter and maple syrup mixture.

Bake about 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.  Serve warm with butter or maple syrup.


Cheddar and onion biscuits from baking mix

These are a more traditional biscuit with a flavor kick. Use chopped frozen onion for the best results. These are a great dinner biscuit and will be gobbled right up. Just right for serving with steak, baked chicken or fish.  Makes 12-18 biscuits.

2 cups Bisquick or other baking mix
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine

Directions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Mix all ingredients together except butter.  Dough will be sticky. 
Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.
Remove from oven and brush with melted butter.  Serve warm.


"Spring will come and so will happiness. Hold on. Life will get warmer." - Anita Krizzan

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