Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Newsletter February 26, 2013

February 26, 2013 - Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

These weekly garden notes are written by Kim Willis, unless another author is noted, and the opinions expressed in these notes are her opinions and do not represent any other individual, group or organizations opinions.

Hi Gardeners
Spring will come! (Iris reticula)
Weather is again the news as we prepare for a winter storm tonight. Even though it’s above freezing and the sun is trying to shine, nature is sneaking up on us.  This one could be bad, beginning as rain and freezing rain in some areas and then progressing to heavy snow with 5-8 inches of accumulation.  Because of the ice and heavy wet snow there could be power outages, so make your emergency preparations and stay home tonight.  At least it gives the TV stations something to talk about besides the Oscars.

The full Snow moon was beautiful last night.  When I was younger I would often go out in the magic of such nights and just walk.  It’s amazing how different the environment seems at night and here in the country it’s so quiet and peaceful.  Now I just get up and look out the window, there were lots of rabbits out last night doing their mating dances.

Speaking of weather March 1 is Friday.  Supposedly whatever the weather is on that day is what determines how the weather will be at the end of the month, you know, in like a lion out like a lamb?  It’s supposed to be partly sunny, quiet and cold on Friday so March 31st should bring wild weather.   
I am so glad February is almost over; it’s my least favorite month or maybe tied with December.  Only 22 days to spring.  I don’t want the weather to get as warm as it did last year in March but it sure would be nice to get some sun and temps in the 40’s.   I do have those pretty daffodils still in bloom and a beautiful lavender ivy geranium is blooming its head off on my kitchen window sill so I have some signs of spring to look at.

I have a bit of a plant mystery.  I found an odd shaped lump that I suspected was a bulb of some kind, last fall when I was cleaning up some old pots.  I couldn’t identify it and didn’t even know for sure it was a bulb but I stuck it in a small pot with some soil and brought it on my porch.  I had forgotten about it pretty much; the pot was stuck down between my two large pots of rosemary.  When watering out on the porch yesterday I noticed the pot was sending up a fat shoot.  It must be something cold hardy but I’m not sure what yet.  That’s a fun mystery I hope to solve in a week or two.

I was also cleaning off the top of the refrigerator in preparation of painting the kitchen and found a cottage cheese carton with a bunch of poppy seed heads that had leaked about a cup of poppy seeds and some of those tiny dried peppers that look like little pumpkins inside.  I can’t remember how old they are, more than a year I know, but I think I will try to sprout some of the seeds as an experiment.  That shows you how bored and ready for gardening season I am.

Check those houseplants
I’ve noticed that my houseplants are starting to grow again and they need water about twice as often as they did earlier in the season.  Even though it’s not been terribly sunny this month the days are getting longer and the sun stronger and the plants sense it.  Combined with longer days of photosynthesis, growth and the dry air in our homes from the furnace houseplants will need to be watched carefully so they don’t dry out too much.  You can begin to fertilize them if you want to promote growth or blooming.

This is also the time to watch for pests on houseplants.  Scale insects in particular will become active and go into reproductive crawler stage as it gets warmer.  Spider mite problems also increase.  You may want to move some houseplants further from the window as March progresses so they don’t get leaf burn.

Things you can do outside now
If you are like me, you are getting anxious to get outside and garden again.  There are a few things you can do outside, weather permitting.  It is time to get those fruit trees pruned.  Examine trees for black knot and other cankers and prune them out.  You can prune oaks now and other trees and shrubs.  Just don’t prune anything that blooms in the spring if you want spring blooms.  Hold off on rose bushes, there may still be some winter kill of stems and dead wood on the plants helps protect still living wood further down the stem.  You can cut back your ornamental grasses if you are tired of looking at the bleached brown color and if you haven’t removed corn stalks, sunflower stems and other garden debris its fine to do so. 

It’s a good time to walk around the yard and do some planning and dreaming and maybe measuring.  And if you ever thought of tapping some maples for maple syrup get your supplies ready.  Anytime there’s a day that’s sunny and above freezing is a good time to tap maples for a while.  And you can always take the Christmas lights down.

Flowers and bees create electricity
 A fascinating study I read about this week was the discovery that at least some flowers produce a negative electrical charge and bees flying through the air build up a positive electrical charge.  When a bee lands on a flower he can sense something like static electricity.  Far from being upset by this the bee has learned that a stronger pulse means more of a pollen or nectar reward, because as each bee visits a flower the static electricity gets weaker.  No electric pulse and the bee might as well just take off instead of wasting its time with a plundered flower.  It’s amazing how plants communicate with and train their pollinators.

Bumblebees in the news

Bumblebee on catnip 
Honeybees do a dance to tell other members of a tribe where the food can be found.  Bumblebees don’t dance but they do spy on honeybees and they can interpret their dancing and find the hidden food.  When bumblebees do find food they want to let their hive members know about they bring back a scent on their bodies, and the other bees smell their way to the food, following a scent trail through the air.

And here’s what those research dollars are spent on.  Researchers built an artificial meadow with a variety of artificial flowers that held food rewards for bees.  Next they built tiny robotic spiders that mimicked flower spiders, those tiny spiders often found on garden flowers that have the ability to change their color to match the flower.  Flower spiders wait in flowers to catch bees, their preferred food.   The robot spiders had tiny arms that could catch a bee when it landed on a flower.  The robot spiders were put on some of the fake flowers, some were colored to match the flowers and others were not.  Real bumble bees were released into the artificial meadow to visit the artificial flowers.  When they landed on a flower with a robot spider the robot spiders would catch them and release them.

What were the scientists trying to find out?  Whether being caught by a spider and getting away taught the bee to be more cautious and whether a camouflaged spider was more successful than one that was not camouflaged.   (Who dreams up these studies?)  Guess what, bees do learn to be more cautious when they escape from a spider about approaching other flowers.  And camouflaged spiders were only slightly more successful catching bees.

What does this teach you and me?  All those stories about tiny government cameras watching you could be true.  When you see a flower spider on a flower this season is it for real or is it a government sending tiny robots in to watch you?  And are you in a real garden or one the government built to experiment with you?  Are the hummingbirds buzzing around your head real or tiny drones?  Something to think about, huh?

Monarchs headed north
As we sit in our homes waiting for a winter storm the monarch butterflies are waking from their winter hibernation in central Mexico, stretching their wings and mating.  Soon they will begin flying north, following the greening of the country from south to north, laying eggs along the way, and then dying. 
Monarch on milkweed.
Each fall a young group of monarchs leave the US and fly to the forested areas of central Mexico, most to a Mexican state called Michoacan.  There they hang in huge fluttery orange and black clumps in fir trees for much of the winter.  In February, they wake, eat and mate to begin the journey of some 2,000 miles north.   There will be 4-5 generations of summer monarchs, each only living a few weeks.  But the butterflies that fly south in the fall will live 4-5 months so that they can renew the species.

Every year thousands of people brave the area of drug cartel hideouts to see the beginning of the monarch migration.  A whole tourist industry revolves around it.  Former president Jimmy Carter and his wife made the journey this year to see the monarchs.  Nature has the ability to draw us to its wonders no matter what danger we might face.

Ypsilanti allows gardening on vacant lots, says no to hoop houses
The Ypsilanti, Michigan city council voted to allow gardening as a sole use of vacant land in residential areas.  (Before that you could have gardens as an axillary use, such as in your back yard.)  That means that residents can farm a whole vacant lot or more if they like.   The council wasn’t so sure that they should allow greenhouses or hoop houses on vacant land though.  They decided to say no to that part of the proposed zoning amendment.  The top size proposed for greenhouses and hoop houses was 720 square feet, that’s maybe 24 x 30 feet if I do the math right, but that scared some garden haters.

“We need to keep our residential areas for residents” said one protestor.  (Maybe he was afraid plants would crowd out humans? )  The new ordinances also stipulate that motorized equipment can only be used between 8 am and 8 pm on gardens and that gardeners must use IPM and “best practices” on their gardens.  That should be a hoot trying to enforce.

What makes city people so afraid of gardens or even farming?  I have seen some messy gardens but they haven’t hurt anyone.  An overgrown lot, which most vacant land in a city turns into, will attract just as many pests as a garden and it also attracts dumping and crime.  Even spreading manure on a garden doesn’t smell worse than a lot of dumpsters, factory emissions and the mingled smell of too many humans in too small of a space.  Ok- end of rant.

Try this plant this year
Saskatoon’s (Amelanchier alnifolia), have blue fruit that looks and tastes somewhat like blueberries, however they are less fussy about soil conditions.  They need well drained soil in full sun and should be mulched or kept weed free when young.
Saskatoons are very cold hardy and MSU is working to develop them as a market crop in Central Northern Michigan.  There is currently more demand than supply for the berries.  They are a favored berry in Canada and Native Americans used them for both food and medicine.  They are self- fertile so you only need one plant and a mature plant is very productive.  They form a 15-20 foot bush, have pretty white flowers in spring and the fruit ripens just ahead of blueberries in July.

Other names the plants are sold under are June berry, serviceberry, shadberry and prairie berry.  There are many species of Amelanchier, so look for ones called Saskatoons for fruit production.  Several varieties are offered commercially for fruit production.  I ordered mine from Gurney’s nursery but several nurseries now offer them.

Saskatoons  are very high in antioxidants and the health benefits are similar to blueberries.   They don’t taste exactly like blueberries but are sweet and flavorful.  They are cooked or eaten like blueberries and are said to make excellent jam.  Fancy, high end restaurants are featuring them in season on the menu so it could be a good cash crop too.

Garden at Suncrest-pond lilies 
Get out the good books and prepare to hunker down, its snow time.
Kim Willis

More Information
You may want to read my article on examiner this week because some of you will recognize the ponds from the pictures in the article.  It’s a new format that allows me to put several pictures with text-( so they can spread it over more pages) but the formatting is a bit tricky.  I gave it a try – see if you like it.
Water and greenery go together and there are few things more soothing than sitting in a beautiful garden with the sound of water bubbling in the background. Gardeners often long to add a water feature to their gardens but many are afraid to give it a try. Even the smallest patio garden can benefit from a tiny splashing fountain and with a little planning almost any garden can have the pleasure of a water feature.  Read more at:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 19, 2013 - Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Older shot of meteor from NASA
It’s mild but very icy outside.  I like how the snow we get is quickly melted away rain but I don’t like the ice that follows.  I’ll even take mud over ice.   I will definitely take ice over meteors exploding overhead though.  Did you know that similar, but not as large meteors exploded over the Bay off California, over Cuba and Florida in the last few days?  Since meteors generally occur in “showers” this is worrisome.  I got up yesterday and saw a bright light- I was worried for a minute then I realized it was a rare glimpse of the sun.

I have some daffodils blooming inside right now.  Last year I dug up a flowerbed that had been choked by daffodil bulbs and I literally removed hundreds while still replanting hundreds in that spot.  I went around planting the bulbs I removed everywhere in the yard, I should have daffodils everywhere this spring.  I gave lots of bulbs away.  And then I still had bulbs left in November so I planted a few large hanging baskets very thickly with smaller bulbs and stashed them in the herb bed to get a winter chill.

A couple weeks ago in one of the thaws I removed a basket of daffodil bulbs and brought it into the porch where it was a bit warmer than outside.  When they had sprouted a few inches I brought them inside to a south window.  The development after that was amazingly fast.  In about 3 days I noticed they were 8 inches high and tiny buds were forming.  I moved them closer to the window and overnight the buds plumped and were showing color.  Later in the day I noticed the buds had started to open.  By midday the following day they had fully opened.  Most of them are white- for some reason a lot of the daffodils I have are white.    It sure is nice to have a bit of spring to look at.  I’ll have to get the other pots inside soon if I want to have them before they bloom outside.

Today arguments start in the Supreme Court involving the case of the small farmer, Vernon Bowman against Ag giant Monsanto.  The case will have important consequences for both patent law and GMO groups, pro and con. In a simplified version, Bowman, who farms in Indiana and is now 74 years old, bought some Round-Up Ready Soybeans in 1999.  The next year he either saved seeds to re-plant or bought some contaminated seeds from a co-op to plant, depending on whose side you believe.  Anyway Monsanto sued him because he signed an agreement not to save seeds.  Monsanto patented the seeds and collects a fee each time they are sold.

This case has worked its way through the courts for over ten years.  It is a case that has provoked much interest for a variety of reasons.  It’s also a case that illustrates how we have become a nation that sees only black and white and only notices gray when it comes in the form of a sexy book.
It’s hard not to take sides and since we are now bombarded by information both good and bad from so many sources today it is really difficult to remember that almost nothing is totally good or bad.  If we are open to new ideas our own ideas may – and should- evolve with new information.  I am interested in both plants and animals and many of you have heard my thoughts on a number of things.  But I find it fascinating that sometimes new information will give me a radically different insight into things and shake up my thinking.
I am reading two books right now, one on plants- What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz   and one on animals- Tempel Grandin’s Animals Make Us Human. Both are really making me re-think what I thought I knew and I recommend them to everyone.    New research I came upon this week is also changing my views on some things.  I will talk about the cat-songbird and methane gas research below.

Aloe vera makes a good tooth paste
Did you know that aloe vera gel is now manufactured as a tooth gel and it has been found to be as effective as any other toothpaste on the market for oral hygiene?   A report published in General Dentistry, May /June 2009 on research using aloe gel to kill bacteria in the mouth encouraged several companies to develop aloe tooth gels. 

Properly prepared aloe tooth gels contain anthraquinones, a compound in aloe gel that soothes inflammation and pain as well as having antimicrobial properties. The gels have no abrasive ingredients and are great for those with sensitive teeth or sore gums.  Aloe is used for a number of medicinal and cosmetic products but not all aloe products are manufactured equally well.  If the product is not handled correctly most of the healing properties will be lost.    The International Aloe Science Council tests and certifies aloe products and you should look for their seal of approval on any aloe gel products you buy.  You can go to their website at http://www.iasc.org/  and find a list of certified products and also see a video clip of how aloe is processed for medicinal and cosmetic use.

Back yard birds
The 2013 annual Great Backyard Bird Count ended yesterday.  The bird count is sponsored by the Audubon Society and Cornell University and encourages citizens across the US to count and record the birds they see over a 4 day weekend in February.  The data is entered into an on line site that allows people to access a lot of fascinating information about wild birds.  Yesterday as people entered data into the system you could watch a map that showed in real time where the data was coming from.  You can look for yourself at  http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.  People are still entering data as they have until March 1 to do so.

As of this morning 105,046 surveys had been entered with birds from 2,973 species and some 21,992,866 individual birds counted.  In 2012 the most numerous bird reported in the US was the snow goose, but that was thought to be somewhat of an anomaly due to an unusual migration pattern last year.  The Tree Swallow was the second most numerous bird, followed by Red Wing Blackbirds, Canada Goose, Common Grackle, Starlings, American Robin, American Goldfinch, American Coot, and the Mallard.   The Northern Cardinal was the bird that was reported by the most number of people.

In Michigan the most numerous bird species was the Canada goose, no surprise. Other top bird species were Black Capped Chickadees, Mourning Doves, and American Goldfinches.  Three Golden Eagles were sighted in Michigan last year as well as 374 Bald Eagles.  Only 30 Ring Neck Pheasants were counted and 6 Meadowlarks, which is sad because it shows we are rapidly losing some species which used to be common.  Of course the Ringneck is not a native bird.   For the second year in a row the bird count showed that Blue Jays were in serious decline across the US.  Interestingly even though it was winter and you would expect them to be further south, 703 Eastern Bluebirds were counted and 1,031 Robins were counted in Michigan. 

Recent bird counts have shown that the pattern of bird migrations are changing due to changing weather patterns, many birds are staying year round, leaving later or returning earlier than in earlier decades.  Also a new “exotic” species the Eurasian Collared Dove that was first seen in Florida in the 80’s is spreading rapidly north and west and has been spotted in the far South Western corner of Michigan.  Unfortunately bird counts have also revealed that most bird species are declining in number and some species are critically endangered.

If you are interested in wild birds you can enter the birds you see all year and see birds that other people are watching at www.eBird.org .  You can keep a private birding list there as well as participating in other bird activities. 

Because February is National Bird Feeding Month, wild bird research and news stories are frequent.  Somewhat related is the Kitty Cam research released by Georgia State University and the National Geographic Society.  Researchers put tiny cameras on housecats and watched as they prowled outside.  They recorded the cat’s activities and found many of the cats spent a lot of time hunting, which should have been no surprise.   Many reporters were putting out sensational stories about killer cats this month using that data.  However if you truly pay attention to the research and also read other research on cats, song bird predation and related issues as I did this week you’ll find much more ambiguous results. 
We are mighty killers.

I wrote an article on Examiner about this which you can read at   http://www.examiner.com/article/are-cats-killers-pets-or-both and I encourage you to go to the kittycam web site at  http://www.kittycams.uga.edu/ and watch the video that the researcher made to explain her research.

Mustard seed may control weeds
Another environmentally friendly weed control product has been discovered.  When mustard seed is squeezed to produce mustard oil, which is used in a variety of products from condiments to cosmetics, a paste or meal is left.  Researchers used mustard seed meal on the soil in container plants and found the meal quite effective in controlling the weeds that typically grow in containers, both grassy weeds and broad leaf weeds.  The mustard meal also contributed about 5 % nitrogen to the soil. More research is continuing on the mustard seed meal with the biggest factor in commercial use being the cost to transport the meal. 

Trees contribute to global warming
We love our trees and environmentalists have always told us that trees are important because they sequester, or store carbon, and help prevent some of the bad effects of greenhouse gases and global warming.  While trees still remain important in carbon storage, some rather surprising new research has found that trees also contribute to greenhouse gases which may offset some of their carbon sequestering qualities.

Methane gas is an important part of the noxious greenhouse gasses that warm the climate.  Methane is produced when organic matter is broken down in wet areas and we have long known that methane gasses are produced in wetland areas, and released as “swamp gas”.    However because the amount of methane released in wet areas has always been measured by capping areas of ground to capture the gas  it seems we may have seriously underestimated the amount of methane that wetland areas produce.

A research team was studying wetlands and methane production in South America when they linked the difference in the structure of trees that grow in wet areas with how methane gas escapes the soil.  Trees that grow in wet areas have to have larger “veins” in their roots to get enough oxygen and they also have larger pores in trunks and leaves to vent moisture and gases.  It seems that these larger pores and conductive vessels are also a great way for methane gas to escape the soil.  When the team set up ways to capture methane from trunks and canopies of wetland trees they were amazed at how much methane was escaping this way.    Now studies are underway to capture methane from other places around the world in this new manner and to re-evaluate how much methane gas is excreted into the atmosphere through trees.

But wait- there is more methane news.  New research done by the Yale School of Forest and Environmental Studies found that certain fungi that hollow out the inside of trees also produce massive amounts of methane gas that is vented out through the tree.   On the outside these trees may look healthy until they fall in a storm and the hollow core is found.  You can often identify when these fungi are destroying a tree because they produce large shelf like fungal growths on tree trunks.  These are the reproductive organ of the fungi working inside.

These tree hollowing fungi are found throughout the world.  Researchers are now estimating that as much as 18 % of the methane gas found in “greenhouse” gas is produced by these tree fungi.  With these two new sources of methane emissions identified maybe the burping cows will catch a break.

Keep your eye on the sky; either meteors or falling trees may get ya.

More Information
Managing Your Property to attract Wildlife
The natural landscape of Michigan consists of a number of types of habitat. Each type of habitat attracts different species of animals from birds to deer. If left alone nature is constantly maturing her habitats in the process called succession. Both land and water habitats go through succession over time, with the plant and animal species changing.  Read more by going to the article below.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

February 12 garden news

 The sun is getting stronger- when it shines.  Our wild weather ups and downs continue but so far winter hasn’t  been too bad.  As I walked through the six inches of snow to my barn Saturday I was reflecting that in my childhood days we would hardly have blinked at that amount.  School would have gone on as usual and I would have been walking there through it – a mile to Junior high, two miles to Senior high. (Oh yah, it was uphill all the way.)    How we think about the weather has certainly changed.

On some of the milder days it’s time to prune those fruit trees.  I forgot last week to mention that it’s National Cherry Month, why its cherry month in February is hard to figure.  But you may want to get out that pile of garden catalogs and order a cherry tree or two.  Cherries have all kinds of health benefits and if you can beat the birds to them, they make some great pies, desserts and jellies.  Cherries also make wonderful spring flowering landscape trees.

This week’s musings reflect on the fact that Valentine’s Day is Thursday.

A rose is a rose

Roses are one of the favored gift offerings on Valentine’s Day.  Red roses are said to be a symbol of romantic love, but a bouquet of red and white roses is said to be a symbol of pure and true love- a combination of romantic and spiritual love.  If you want to be just friends send yellow roses.   Friends with benefits should send orange roses.  Pink and lavender roses are for innocent love, first love, roses conveying love to a child.

I have been writing about heirloom plants and if you have been around as long as I have you may remember some of the old rose names from your younger days.  In the 1950’s the breeding of roses entered a revival period and many backyard gardeners slaved over a collection of tea roses.  I say slaved because these roses, while beautiful, were subject to many disease and insect problems and required lots of attention.

My maternal grandfather was a rose collector.  My grandmother favored irises, which she liked to cross to create new varieties.  I loved to help her with this, carefully bagging certain iris after pollinizing them, with the names of the parents on a little tag.  But grandma’s irises were regulated to the side yard and grandpa’s roses took center stage.  In the front of the yard, where they could be seen from the street, his rose garden was framed by bricks painted white.  I could look down on the rose garden from my second floor bedroom next door.  In the summer the smell of DDT, malathion and various other chemicals would waft up to me whenever grandpa sprayed his roses.

My grandfather had a set of metal dies with letters on them.  These were hammered into strips of aluminum to make the names of his roses and those tags tied onto the plants.   He added several new tea roses or polyantha’s each year.  The border of our yards was marked by a prickly row of “Fairy” shrub roses, I remember they were mostly the pink of the true Fairy but here and there was a white small flowered rose.   Grandfather said they were there to keep us kids out of his real rose garden.

Chrysler Imperial’ was one of the red tea roses I remember, it was introduced the year of my birth and remains on the market today.  The rose ‘Peace’, a yellow-peach blend, debuted in the 50’s and was a must have for most gardeners.  My grandparents also had ‘Chicago Peace’, another pink.  Another rose introduced in 1960 was ‘Tropicana’, the first orange hybrid tea and I remember my grandfather showing it off to his garden club members.  Other roses from the time were ‘Blaze’, the re-blooming red climber,  ‘Blue Moon’, one of the first lavender blues, Mister Lincoln, a red tea, ‘Careless Love’ a pink, ‘Fragrant Cloud’ an orange- red that is still a favorite of mine, and ‘Kings Ransom’ a yellow.

One of the last roses in my grandfather’s garden, shortly before a stroke brought an end to his gardening days was ‘ John F Kennedy’ a white rose.  My grandfather was head of the Democratic party in our area and had actually met President Kennedy.  One of the roses I remember most vividly though, was an unnamed yellow climber that was on the front fence and which is the backdrop for all of our family graduation pictures.  I have a piece of that rose in my garden today.

Other interesting facts about roses:  roses appeared in written literature early in history, Greek scientist and writer Theophrastus was scientifically cataloging roses about 300 B.C.  There are written records of officials chiding other officials in early Rome for allowing so many rose gardens as to interfere with the planting of food crops.  The first American nursery was opened by Robert Prince in Flushing, Long Island, in 1737. In 1746 he advertised 1,600 varieties of roses (as well as other plants) and counted as his customers many prominent Americans including Thomas Jefferson

Slater’s Crimson China rose was probably the first true red rose in Europe, introduced in the early 1800’s.  Until then what was known as a red rose in Europe was actually a deep rose pink color. It took many more years before a red tea rose type rose existed.   Bright, true yellow roses did not exist until a mutation was found in a field in 1900. (There were pale, cream yellow roses earlier.)  Orange color did not exist until the floribunda 'Independence', was introduced in 1951.  A true blue rose has yet to be introduced although there have been lavender and purple shades in roses for a long time.

Love is in the garden-or the spice rack

Valentine’s Day is this week and you may be wondering what kind of gift you could bring someone to make him or her love you more in many senses of the word.  Jewelry and flowers may evoke warm feelings but some people are looking for something more, let’s say, efficient.

Some of the earliest written herbals contain references to plants that have aphrodisiac properties and potions that are said to bring true love.  Many think that chocolate is a popular Valentines treat because it enhances sexual desire but modern science has proven that chocolate doesn’t have an effect on actual sexual performance.  It does however affect the pleasure areas of the brain and causes people to feel happier.  And since desire is largely produced in the brain bringing someone a box of chocolate isn’t a waste of time, not only does it show you care but it makes the recipient happy.  Interestingly in Japan women send chocolate to men on Valentine’s Day.  Just don’t mention to your love that Aztec prostitutes were paid in cacao beans.

However there are some common plants, (herbs) that you may have in the house or yard that do enhance desire and sexual performance. The scientific community has been exploring plant pharmaceuticals intensively lately and there is great interest in finding a substitute for the “little blue pill” which has so many deadly side effects.  So if you want your Valentine to love you more in every way you may want to try some of these plants that recent science has confirmed could enhance your love life.

Nutmeg,( Myristica fragrans) has long been used in magic love potions and since a chemical found in nutmeg, myristicin, is used to produce the illegal street drug ecstasy it was no wonder that animal tests found that it enhanced male sexual performance.  Studies on females have not been done but folklore and common practice suggest that is also effective on females.  Mace is another spice from the same plant and is said to have similar effects.    In the amounts you would use in foods or teas nutmeg would not be harmful or have bad side effects; however you can overdose on the street drug and I don’t recommend it.

Both garlic and garlic chives were found in animal studies to have aphrodisiac effects.  If you can find a way to slip them into a Valentine meal you could improve your love life and your health since garlic has many other health benefits.

Saffron, a spice made from the sexual organs of a type of crocus (Crocus sativus) has also been found to enhance sexual performance in animal studies.  These studies typically use male animals and an aqueous extract of saffron but herbal lore suggests use of the spice in cooking is also helpful.
Lamb's Quarter leaves

Lamb's Quarters flowering.
Two common garden weeds have recently been evaluated for their love enhancing abilities.  Lambsquarters, (Chenopodium album) and Beggers ticks, Stick tights or Tickweed (Bidens frondosa) have both been shown to have significant aphrodisiac abilities in recent scientific studies.  In animal studies extracts of the herbs were used.  The seeds of lambsquarters are used in herbal remedies and were dried and ground into flour by Native Americans.  The young greens are also eaten as a spinach substitute.  The bark of the stems of Sticktight ( Bidens)  was the part used in studies.  It could possibly be made into a tea.

Goji berry or Wolfberry is being touted as the next wonder food and among its good properties is apparently the ability to increase sexual hormones.  Several garden catalogs are offering Goji berry plants for sale and they are said to grow as far north as Zone 5.  If you are in a hurry to obtain the benefits of Goji there are many juices and other products on the market, probably in your local store.

Common tea (Camellia sinensis) had a marked aphrodisiac effect on rats.  Perhaps that’s why the English preferred tea as a drink.  Tea has been used as a drink for many centuries and it seems that if people were getting a love boost from it that effect would be well known.  Maybe a little tea spiced with nutmeg would be an improvement.

Damiana is an herb you can grow although it may be hard to find locally.  It has proven aphrodisiac qualities.  Dried leaves of damiana are smoked or made into a tea.  Read my article about it here.

Other common plants that have some scientific validity as aphrodisiacs include Maypops or Passionfruit, (Passiflora incarnate),  panax ginsing, yohimbe, velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens), and African basil (Ocimum gratissimum).

If a stimulating massage oil is desired Ylang-ylang and rosewood ( not rose) essential oil mixed with coconut oil is said to be very exciting to women.  Just smelling Ylang ylang is said to increase sexual desire in women.  Maybe you guys out there might want to dab it behind your ears.   (This hasn’t been proven scientifically, it’s just folklore.)

If you decide to experiment with a love potion this Valentine’s Day use a little caution as people can have an allergic reaction to anything. It’s a good idea to tell a person what they are being fed.  Many of these herbs would probably take days of treatment to work and most studies used concentrated extracts that are hard to duplicate at home.  Still a little imagination may work wonders as after all, love and desire are strongly seated in the brain.

A sweet and nostalgic Valentine’s Day to you

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Michigan Garden Classes and Events Spring 2013

New DOW GARDENS KNOW & GROW SEMINAR, Saturday, February 23,  8:15 to 3:30 pm at Bullock Creek High School, 1420 Badour Road, Midland.  The speakers are: Suzy Bales author of "The Down to Earth Gardener"), Dan Hinkley author of "The Forgotten Elements of Good Design" and "New and Exciting Perennials, Shrubs and Trees for American Gardens"  and Chuck Martin author of  "Favorite Ferns, Funkia (Hosta) and other Foliage Flora" The early registration fee is $60.00. Registration after February 8, 2013 is $75.00. More information at
You can register by phone at 1-800-362-4874.
New Michigan Wildflower Conference, Sunday and Monday, March 3 & 4, MSU Kellogg Center, East Lansing, MI.  Class topics include: Mushroom Cultivation; Wildflowers in a Michigan Garden: Transforming an Urban Lot into a Native Oasis; Educating Tomorrow’s Naturalists; Monarch Watch & Monarch Tagging; Milkweeds: Diversity, Ecology, Threats and Solutions. For more information call 517-881-3431 or go to http://www.wildflowersmich.org/index.php?page=41
New- MICHIGAN HERB ASSOCIATES CONFERENCE and BANQUET, Friday and Saturday, March 8 & 9th, MSU Business College, which is on the corner of Bogue and Shaw Lanes, MSU, East Lansing Mi.  The theme is “Passing Along the Joy of Herbs”.  There are 4 classes each day, book and plant sales, silent auction and other things to see and do.  Box lunches available and there is a banquet in the evening with an additional speaker. 
Cost for non-members is $100 for both days and $70 for a single day.  Lunch and the Friday banquet are additional.  You can get a list of classes, more information and register at  http://miherb.org/?path=registration

New- GROWING GREAT GARDENS, Saturday, March 16, in Taylor, MI, 8am to 4pm, at Wayne County Community College. The cost of the conference is only $20 and includes two keynote presentations, two additional classes, a box lunch, and a chance to win many garden-related door prizes. It is expected to sell out very quickly, so registration is required and advanced registration is highly recommended. Walk-ins will be accepted on a space-available basis.
Registration forms are available online at www.taylorconservatory.org and www.taylorgardenclub.org; at D & L Garden Center, the Taylor Community Library and the City of Taylor Department of Golf, Parks and Recreation; and by calling Patti Kehr at (313) 292-8316.
New- HURON COUNTY SPRING INTO GARDENING CONFERENCE: Saturday, March 23, 8-4pm NEW LOCATION -  Knights of Columbus Hall, 1038 S Van Dyke (M-53), Bad Axe, MI.   Choose from a selection of four classes and listen to a keynote speaker.   The cost is $50 if you register before March 1, which includes a goodie bag, catered lunch, and door prizes.  Master Gardeners get 5 education credits.  For more information, call Marie at 989-859-1294
Spring Design Program - Saturday - April 27, 2013 - 8 am- 4:15 pm at the Plant and Soil Science Building, 1066 Bogue Street, MSU, East Lansing, Michigan.  This event is not part of the Master Gardener Program, it’s being offered by the MSU Horticulture department.  There will be four speakers, Janet Macunovich, Art Cameron, Bob Schutzki, and Norm Lownds.  Perennial garden design and garden creativity are the themes of this garden conference.   There will be a large garden marketplace at the event also.
Cost of the event is $79 if you register before April 17th and $89. after that.  Lunch is included.  For class descriptions and registration visit http://hrt.msu.rdu/sd-register or you can call Jennifer Sweet at 517-355-5191 ext. 1339
Healing Herbs and Whole Foods- Saturday March 9, 10 am - 1 pm at Heavenly Scent Herb Farm, 13730 White Lake Road, Fenton, Michigan.  Certified CNHP Susan Palmeri will discuss whole foods, probiotics, and herbs that promote good health.  Learn about herbal teas, poultices, infused oils, bath herbs and other items.  There will be lots of handouts and samples.  Cost is $58.75.  Call 810-629-9208  for reservations/registration- class size is limited.
*A Master Gardener class is going to be offered for those who are not already MG’s and are interested in the class.  Registration is open from now until February 15 with the class beginning Monday, February 25 and running through June 3.   The classes are from 5-9 pm each Monday and are held at the Capac Lions Club, 315 West Meier Avenue, Capac.   Cost of the class is $300.  Classes cover a wide range of gardening topics.  A volunteer commitment of 40 hours is required to be certified.
You can register for the class at http://events.anr.msu.edu/w2013capacmgp  Call Lisa Sharrow at 810-329-3722 for more information or help registering.
*Here are some free gardening classes that some of you may want to attend to help keep your certification up.  Our friend Jenny Burrows teaches some of them.   The Mt. Morris Beautification Group will host a free gardening program at the Mt. Morris Library.
Class dates are, Feb. 7, 14 and 21 from 7 to 9 p.m.  You don’t have to live in MT. Morris to attend the classes.    A variety of subjects will be covered, including indoor and outdoor plants, soil conditioning, pests and landscape design.  For more information, call Beautification President Waneita Bovan at 810-686-4950.

*Photography Workshop: Using Natural Light and Composition in Nature Photography with Dale Vronch Saturdays, February 23 & March 2- Seven Ponds Nature Center, Dryden - 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

During this workshop participants will examine five types of natural light in conjunction with basic composition principles that may be used when photographing nature. Discussion will center around the influence that natural light and composition techniques have on the subject of your photograph and methods that can be employed to fashion that influence and achieve the desired image. This workshop will have classroom instruction and shooting times at the center, weather permitting. Open to beginners, intermediate, and advanced photographers but familiarity with your camera is a prerequisite. There will be a group critique to be decided at a later date for all the participants to showcase their photography. Dale Vronch works out of his Lone Willow Studio in Lapeer. He is a retired teacher who conducts photography classes and workshops throughout the year and enjoys working with photographers of all levels.
Pre-registration is required. Fee: $110.00 per person. Limit 10 participants.

*A Gardener’s Essentials: Flora, Food & Frivolity” – a symposium, Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Master Gardeners of St. Clair County invite you to attend a symposium on Saturday, March 16, 2013 from 9 am to 4 pm. A Gardener's Essentials:  Flora, Food & Frivolity will be held at Cornerstone Church, 4025 North Rd, Clyde, MI 48049. Speakers include Adrian Bloom, Pat Stone & Jennifer Bartley.  Early bird registration is $80 and after 2/23/13 the fee is $90 (all in US funds.) The registration form, which contains all the details, can be found online at the MSUE St. Clair County website http://msue.stclaircounty.org/ . You can also call Registrar Alicia Cannon at (810) 367-6966 or email her at alican@comcast.net. Be sure to register without delay, as this event always sells out quickly.  

Conservation Stewards Program February 23-April 29- Oakland County MSU Extension
This program is designed for anyone interested in current conservation issues, outdoor recreation, nature study, natural area management, and a variety of other topics such as lake/stream monitoring and habitat restoration.  Through participation in this program you will learn essential strategies to help restore and conserve ecosystems in Oakland County and throughout Michigan.

There are 9 evening classes and 3 Saturday classes.  The series, led by experts in various fields of conservation and natural resources, will include lectures, interactive learning and field experiences.  Cost is $275.  Click here for an application packet. http://www.oakgov.com/msu/Documents/2013_csp_application.pdf

*Transforming Urban Spaces to Native LandscapesWednesday, Feb 6, 7:30  to 9 pm
Presented by Cheryl English Cheryl is an Advanced Master Gardener and owner of Black Cat Pottery. Her abiding interest in things natural and indigenous is reflected in her whimsical creations. (Doors open @ 7:00pm) Clarkston St. Daniel Church Cushing Center 7010 Valley Park Drive (NW corner of Miller and Holcomb) Clarkston, MI Questions? Contact Laura Gruzwalski at: 248-535-3338. Email Anne Bushroe to register: annebushroe@hotmail.com

*All About Food: From Farm to Fork Thursday, February 14, 9 am - 4pm
A one day conference for people who grow, produce, process, market, distribute, prepare or EAT food (this means you). $15 if you pre-register by January 31, 2013. $20 at the door. Includes lunch.  Held at the Macomb County ISD, 44001 Garfield Clinton Twp., MI 48038.  To register go to www.macombfood.org

*Cooking for Crowds- Tuesdays, Feb. 19 and 26- 7-9 pm, Lapeer MSU Extension, 1800 Imlay City Road, Lapeer.

This class is for anyone who cooks for crowds, especially at fundraisers and other volunteer functions.  You’ll learn all about food safety as well as planning the menu and preparing it.  Cost of the class is only $10 which includes a 115 page manual.

You must pre-register on line at www.events.anr.msu.edu.  If you can’t register on line call 810-667-0341.

Garden Newsletter February 5, 2013

Don’t despair, by the weekend this cloudy, cold, snowy weather will have warmed up again.  This isn’t exactly a traditional winter so far, we have had a lot of ups and downs in the weather.  I would just like more sun!  But hey, the groundhog didn’t see his shadow which means spring is supposed to come early.  I think no matter what happens with the groundhog we will have 6 more weeks of winter- but hey – I could be wrong.

While last winter’s mild weather was nice, I do want some apples this year and lilacs.  Scientists say that our plants are already about 2 weeks ahead in blooming time than they were ten years ago as our weather has gotten warmer.  Spring two or three weeks early is fine but 80 degree weather in March as we had last year is a recipe for disaster.

I can still see patches of green grass where the snow is thin but I noticed the plants that looked green in the last warm spell are looking a little less perky, especially the buddleia, which probably now has a good deal of die-back.

If you plant onions or parsley from seed, February is a good month to start the seeds indoors to have transplants for the garden.   The garden classes and events are starting to be advertised.  Take a look at the list below to see if there are any you’d like to attend.  If you enjoy gladioli pop over to my examiner garden column to see the beautiful Chartreuse and Lilac glad picture that Scott Knunst from Old House Gardens lent me.  It’s a gorgeous heritage variety.  There’s a link below under more information.

February almanac

In addition to being the shortest month of the year February is probably the most boring month for gardeners.   I know I can’t wait until its over- March seems like the beginning of spring to me.  In February this year we have the beginning of Lent, one of the earliest starts, with Ash Wednesday on the 14th. You’ll want to get your paczki on Fat Tuesday the 13th.  February is named after the Roman month Februalia which was a month of atonement and purification so it seems fitting that this year the beginning of lent is in the month.
Of course Valentine’s Day is February 14 and Presidents day is February 18.  George Washington’s real birthday is the 11th.  The 12th is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.  Chinese New Year or the lunar new year starts February 10th.  It’s Black History Month, National Heart Association month, Chocolate Lovers month, and National Bird Feeding month.

The moon is new on Feb. 10, in first quarter on Feb.17th   and full on Feb. 25th.  This full moon is called the Full Snow moon or Bone moon by Native Americans.  Good Days to plant above ground crops are 11,12,20,21 and below ground crops should be planted on 2,3,26.  By the end of the month we will have gained an hour and about 12 minutes of daylight and by the end of the month we start gaining a few minutes a day.

Ember Days fall this month on the 20th, 22nd and 23rd.  Ember days are one of those juxtapositions of religious and pagan beliefs.  They are three days in each quarter- or season of the year.  They are supposed to be days of fasting and introspection but it is also said that the weather on each of the days predicts the weather for a month following, the weather on the 20th will predict March weather, the 22nd, Aprils weather and the 23rd, Mays weather.  (Then in May there are three more Ember days.)  So we will hope that the weather on the Ember Days this month is mild and calm.

Ember days are also said to be the best days for cutting down or destroying unwanted plants or trees.  So if you need to remove a tree this winter those are your days.

New data about West Nile Virus

An extensive review of data collected on West Nile Virus has produced some new insights into the disease.  Instances of infection and the mortality rate climbed last year after declining for several years and researchers wanted more information to help them predict the course of the disease over the next few years. 

After reviewing collected data from across the US on human, horse and bird cases of WNV as well as mosquito sampling, researchers found that WNV cases were higher in areas where there were orchards and vineyards nearby.  They also found that high numbers of robins and English sparrows in an area were linked to higher incidences of human and horse WNV cases.  They speculate that male mosquitoes which eat nectar,  prefer orchard and vineyard areas, and the females like to feed on robins and sparrows, which have a lot of resistance to the virus and remain carriers longer than other birds.

Separate research also found that the spread of WNV from the East coast to the west coast happened not from birds carrying the virus on migration routes as previously assumed but from the mosquitoes themselves moving gradually across the country.  It seems that some mosquitoes capable of transmitting WNV fly much farther from their birthplace than previously thought.

Do plants care about each other?

Altruistic behavior is behavior which leads an individual to sacrifice its own needs for that of another.  Humans may practice altruistic behavior out of empathy and social conditioning as well as through deeply buried “survival of the species over the individual” instincts. Some animals also practice altruistic behavior.  Now researchers say that plants do too.

Each seed that forms on a plant is actually two egg cells fertilized by two different sperm.  One egg cell forms the baby plant and the other forms the endosperm, the starchy food source for the seedling to use as food when it sprouts, before it has developed leaves to produce its own food. Nature has built in altruistic behavior to ensure a seedling can grow.  Endosperms are extremely important to humans as they form the basis for most of our food supply.  We eat the endosperm before the baby plant has a chance to do so.

Now research has discovered that plants may actually control how altruistic they want to be.  In seeds where the two egg cells were fertilized with sperm from the same father the endosperm allows the embryonic plant to totally consume it.  In seeds where the cells were fertilized by different fathers- (which can happen readily with pollen from all kinds of males floating in the air or being carried by bees to the pistils of female plants) the endosperm “choose” not to give the embryo as much resources.   Seeds where the endosperm and embryo were fathered by the same male have the advantage. 

Researchers used corn for the experiments because if you use corn varieties with different colored kernels and allow the sperm to mingle before fertilization, a seed with two fathers will have a different colored embryo from the endosperm.

Researchers say this mirrors altruistic behavior in animals, which is more likely to occur between closely related individuals and tends to ensure certain genetic lines have an advantage. I don’t know why this is so fascinating to researchers except that it may be a way to control the food qualities of an endosperm. But it does make for some fascinating reading and speculation.  Just how does a endosperm keep its embryo brother from eating it?

Elderberries- Herb of the Year

Elderberries are used for food, herbal remedies and as an ornamental plant. Folklore is filled with references to elders, depending on the culture and the century they were either the witche’s friend or her mortal enemy. There are native species of elderberries in Europe, North America and Asia.

Wild Elderberries
There is a lot of confusion about the classification of elderberries.  While the European elder is classified as Sambuccus nigra, North American black elderberries are said to be a sub-species by some botanists Sambuccus nigra ( S. nigra ssp Canadensis); and by others as a separate species Sambuccus canadensis. 

While the leaves, flowers and berries are very similar the plants have different growth characteristics.  American elders are more bush-like than European elders and sucker readily.  European elders look more like a small tree and rarely sucker.  There is a lot of variation even in North American wild plants however, as you can see by driving around the countryside and observing roadside elderberries.

Black elderberries, as the two species above are informally called, are the elderberries that we eat and make into herbal remedies.  Other species of elderberry exist and some of those have been turned into the many forms of ornamental elderberries that are available for the garden.

Elderberries have compound leaves with 5-7 leaflets with serrated edges.  In North America native elderberries are a multi-stemmed bush that can get to 20 feet in height.  The plants leaf out very early in the spring.  In June they are covered with flat lacy umbels of white flowers with a lemony scent and are loved by bees and butterflies.  The flowers turn into blue-black berries, also loved by birds.

Berries, flowers, leaves and roots are all used for herbal remedies but it is the berries that probably get the most use.  The plants are part of traditional medicines for both Europeans and Native Americans. In Europe berries and flowers are turned into wine, and jellies and pies are made from the berries.  It is important to know that raw elderberries are poisonous.  Chemicals in them are converted to cyanide in the human body and can make someone very ill or even cause death.  Cooked well however, they are safe to eat and delicious as well as very nutritious. Elderberry flowers are sometimes dipped in batter and fried.

Recently elderberries have been extensively studied as alternative medicinal plants and a lot of data is supporting claims of medicinal value.  Of course we are all aware now of the value of anthocyanins, those pigments in plants which have antioxidant qualities and support healthy immune systems as well as eliminating free radicals that cause cell death.  Elderberries are also sources of vitamins A and C and a good source of calcium, iron and vitamin B6. They also contain sterols, tannins, and essential oils.

Elderberry plant parts have stimulatory effects on the respiratory and circulatory system, diuretic properties and when used topically have anti-inflammatory actions.  They are used in digestive complaints for both diarrhea and constipation.  Currently they are being sold as a remedy for the symptoms of colds and flu.  (They do not cure colds or flu, they make you more comfortable).  Elderberry extract, teas, or lozenges are used to ease sinus congestion, sore throat and other cold and flu symptoms and the medical community supports this use.

Research is ongoing to see if chemicals derived from elderberries can lower cholesterol and inhibit tumor formation as well as help in several other medical conditions. 

If you want to grow elderberries for the berries several cultivars have been developed that have superior fruit production.  You can find them in many garden catalogs.  ‘York’, ‘Adams’, ‘Kent’, ‘Johns’ and ‘Nova’ are some varieties.  Like many fruits elderberries will produce much better if two different varieties are planted fairly close together for proper pollination.

Elderberries are being developed for beautiful ornamental plants both by selection and by crossing several species of elderberries.  When sold for ornamental use they are usually referred to as Sambuccus.  The varieties ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Black Lace’ have delicate divided leaves of a dark maroon black as well as pink flowers.  They are often used as a substitute for Japanese Maple as they are hardier and will grow well in the sun.  There is a variegated green and white leaved Sambuccus known as  ‘Pulverulenta' but it’s often just sold as ‘variegated’.

‘Madonna’ and Aureomarginata' are Sambuccus with golden variegation of the leaves. 'Maxima' has very large flower heads of white with rosy-purple stalks that remain after the flowers drop. ‘Goldbeere’ has light green foliage and golden berries.   Selections of Red-berried elder, Sambucus racemosa, have produced the beautiful golden foliaged plants  'Sutherland Gold' and ‘Golden Locks’ which have red berries.

Sambucus caerulea- blue elder- has white flowers and powder blue berries and is hardy to zone 5.  There are some dwarf varieties on the market 'Tenuifolia' is one with fine fern-like leaves and a mounding habit.  It is important to remember that while some ornamental Sambuccus have edible fruit (if cooked) some do not.  Most varieties which have black fruit are edible, ‘Goldbeere’ fruit is said to be edible also, but pay attention to the description of the plant which should state whether the fruit is edible. 

Elderberries will grow in a sunny location in almost any soil, although they prefer a rich soil with a slightly acidic pH.   They will also do well in part shade or dappled shade.  While they need good moisture, especially in the first year of establishment, elderberries do not thrive in poorly drained areas.   They have shallow roots and you need to be careful weeding and working around them not to destroy roots.   The plants need some selective pruning to remove the oldest wood and keep the shape and size of the plant in bounds. They have few pests or diseases. Fertilizing with some 10-10-10 formula fertilizer each spring as they green up, about ½ pound to a mature plant, will increase plant vigor and berry production.

Even “wild” elderberries are attractive if you have room for a large bush and are very good at drawing bees, butterflies and birds to your property.  Elderberries are easy to start from hardwood cuttings so you may want to take a winter walk before they break dormancy and collect some cuttings to start your own elderberry patch.  

Be altruistic in true human fashion- give your sibling a hug today.


More Information

How to Grow Gorgeous Gladioli

Gladioli are another flower that modern gardeners seem to forget. Fifty years ago most gardeners grew glads because they were excellent cut flowers and provided color in the summer garden. Every farmers market had people selling large bouquets of colorful glads. Gladioli are still grown in mass quantities for the floral trade and used in professional arrangements but the average gardener has all but forgotten the gladiolus and that’s a shame.