Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August 27, 2013 - Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

August 27, 2013 - Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter
From Kim Willis


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

I am sitting here hoping for rain.  Everything is dusty and dry and just begging for rain.  We have had only sprinkles so far and I hope the prediction for wider rain this evening pans out.   There may be severe storms too so keep an eye out.  At least I no longer have to worry about my corn blowing over.

Bee on marigold
My sweet corn harvest is over; I put lots in the freezer.  I am working on putting up tomatoes now.  The early apples are starting to fall, I noticed them all along the road when I went to town, the deer should be happy.  I have a tree that was once chewed by rabbits and grew back from the roots.  It was obviously on crabapple rootstock because I have hundreds of tiny yellow crabapples falling.  They taste good though, and there are no worms in them.  I may try to make applesauce or jelly if the heat lets up.

I noticed an abundance of silver lace vine blooming along the roads this year.  It’s funny how some plants are more prevalent one year than another.  I tried to get a silver lace vine to grow on my fence once but it died.  Yet I saw some in a field that had climbed 30 feet into a dead tree.   On the other hand my Sweet Autumn Clematis which generally tries to overpower everything in its bed is not very big this year and just starting to bloom.  The Allegany vine, which looks like white bleeding hearts on a ferny vine has bloomed heavily and it has climbed into a catalpa tree.  It’s close to the Sweet Autumn Clematis, maybe it inhibits it.

My fears for a low population of bees and frogs and toads have been eased by an abundance of those species this summer.  I have toads in my one remaining outside dog kennel; rather they are inside the indoor part of her kennel.  They hang around by the dog’s water dish and I can even scratch their sides.  I don’t know why they came inside to live. I sure am happy to see them though.  Mowing has been interesting with little frogs hopping everywhere.  And bees are everywhere at my place, I have to be careful not to get stung as I try to weed or harvest. 

Giant Swallowtail on Black Beauty lilies.
I am still not seeing many monarchs.  I have seen a lot of Giant Swallowtail butterflies though and other people are telling me they are seeing them too.  These butterflies are huge.  I am also seeing many tiger swallowtails and smaller butterflies like skippers.  The Giant Swallowtails are said to like thistle, Joe Pye weed, butterfly bush for nectar and prickly ash for egg laying but I see them most around my lilies.  The caterpillars are brown and white and resemble a large bird dropping for camouflage.

Tomato anthracnose – fruit rot

A common tomato problem is really prevalent this season. I have it in my own garden.   Tomato anthracnose is one of those nasty fungal diseases that are so hard to control.  This disease also affects the leaves, stems and roots of tomato plants but it’s the infection of the fruit that is most problematic. 
Tomato’s that are ripe or nearly ripe develop what is called “watersoaked” spots, sunken, kind of shiny areas that eventually develop a dark center and the fruit rots around and under the lesion.  When you cut the tomato you often see a black area inside below the outer spot. 

Tomatoes vary in how susceptible they are to “fruit rot”.  At any time you may have some tomatoes with the spots and some without, even on the same plant.  Your plants won’t die from the disease, although the disease often combines with other tomato fungal diseases to limit production and make the plants look horrible.  Plants without many leaves don’t have the sugars and other nutrients that make fruit tasty and you may notice the tomato’s flavor isn’t as good.

You can cut off small rotted areas and eat the fruit without problems but if you like to can tomatoes you may have a problem.  Tomatoes with anthracnose often cause bacterial problems in canned products resulting in spoilage.  Don’t use any fruit with rotted spots for canning.  It’s not wise to use them in frozen products such as tomato sauces either.  Ripe tomatoes without rotted spots, even if you know anthracnose is around, are safe to use.

Don’t allow your fruits to get over ripe on the vine.  Pick them while red and still firm if you suspect you have anthracnose in the garden.  Discard tomatoes with the rotted spots away from your garden, not in the compost pile either.  If you pick tomatoes and notice small rotted spots cut out the spot and use them at once or toss them as they will quickly rot. 

When storing tomatoes for a few days before use, try to put them in a single layer, not touching each other.  (I line mine up on a kitchen shelf.)  If one has anthracnose that you didn’t spot it is less likely to spread to the other fruit if they don’t touch.  And tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator!  It ruins the flavor and they will actually spoil faster.

Anthracnose can be prevented with fungicide sprays started as soon as there is fruit on the vine.  Like other fungal diseases mulching and keeping plants off the ground helps.  Some weeds harbor the disease so keep your garden weeded.  If you get it in the garden it’s very important to remove all tomato plant debris and rotted fruits to a separate, remote compost pile or to plastic trash bags and the landfill.  The fungus spores overwinter in tomato debris.  And rotate your crops!  This disease will live in the soil and infect your plants next year.

Tomatoes are not the only plants that get anthracnose.  Peppers, eggplant, potatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, some squash and pumpkins also get anthracnose.  Some of these strains of anthracnose can “crossover” especially in closely related species like tomatoes and peppers.

Why men should eat pizza

Researchers have found that oregano, a common pizza seasoning, can help prevent prostrate cancer. 
 Oregano has anti-bacterial as well as anti-inflammatory properties so use it generously on pizza and other foods. Carvacrol, a constituent of oregano, is actually being used to cure prostrate cancer.  All the antioxidants in tomato sauce and other herbs used for pizza seasoning also promote prostrate health.  So guys, if you need an excuse to order pizza, just say it’s good for your health!

Imprelis update

Remember imprellis, the weed killer applied to lawns that killed trees?  Three years later researchers are saying it’s generally safe to replant trees on soil treated with imprellis.  However woodchips or compost made from trees killed by imprellis may still be toxic.  The chemicals in imprellis can leach from them and kill plants. 

Be extremely careful when you purchase compost and wood chips.  There are many horror stories floating around about tainted compost and wood chips.  Even some manure has been found to be plant toxic because of chemicals in animal feed, which survive and are excreted in the manure. 

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Chicory flower.
If you have eaten a FiberOne bar you have eaten chicory.  The roots of this lovely roadside weed with its daisy-like blue flowers yields an interesting food additive, inulin.  Inulin is a sugar molecule with a different makeup than other sugars, a sugar molecule that doesn’t cause a rise in blood sugar levels when consumed.  Inulin also imparts a smooth creamy mouth feel to foods that allows food makers to reduce fats and it adds dietary fiber in the form of indigestible carbs called fructans.  So much fiber in fact that if you eat FiberOne bars you may have experienced some of the gastrointestinal side effects, especially if you pigged out because they taste so good. (I read some of the comments on various sites talking about Fiberone bars and they were hilarious.  Explosive farting is common.)

The fructans in inulin also cause the digestive system to absorb more calcium and magnesium, and studies show they can help prevent osteoporosis.  They also stimulate the production of intestinal bifidobacteria, the good bacteria in our guts that help us digest food properly and ramp up our immune system.  Fructans are being added to some yogurts that promise to build good intestinal bacteria.  And if you start with small amounts of food with fructans or inulin you build up tolerance to the gastro effects and won’t blow everyone out of the room.

In other countries inulin powder is being widely used in dairy products like ice cream, baked goods, cereals and granola bars.  It reduces the need for sugar and fat and doesn’t cause the problems associated with other artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes in the cooking/preparation process and it doesn’t have an unpleasant taste.  It can be used exactly like sugar, although it isn’t quite as sweet.  It is an excellent substitute for high fructose corn syrup.

Inulin has been pushed as a good food additive for diabetics for many years.  Besides chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic and a few other foods also contain inulin. Agave is the newest inulin producer, being promoted in more tropical areas.  Most food grade inulin is being produced from chicory roots however and the largest factories producing it are in the Netherlands and France. 

There is a company in the US that is producing inulin for pet foods, but the US is slow to get behind this product, probably because we have so many sugar producing plants in the US that aren’t happy about a new rival. Idaho and Nebraska however have studies in place to see if chicory can become an economically important crop.

Inulin is produced much like sugar is produced from sugar beets and sugar beet factories could easily be converted to inulin production.  Harvesting equipment for chicory roots can be adapted from beet harvesting equipment.  But US farmers do not like perennial crops, and chicory is a perennial plant.  Still there is hope that this valuable plant could become another money making crop for US farmers.

Other Chicory uses

Chicory is being studied as a forage crop for livestock and is getting good reviews.  Chicory has as much protein as alfalfa, high amounts of vitamins and minerals and evens inhibits the growth of intestinal worms in livestock.  Livestock enjoy eating chicory and well managed fields produce as much forage as alfalfa and specially selected pasture grasses.  It also grows well in poor soil and under drought conditions.  (You can see that as chicory grows well along dusty road edges.)  In New Zealand chicory is widely used as a forage crop and named varieties have been developed.  West Virginia in the US is sponsoring several large forage trials of chicory.

People have been eating a type of chicory that forms loose heads of leaves, called wiltlof chicory for hundreds of years and it is still a specialty greens crop.  The dried and ground roots of chicory have long been used as a coffee substitute or additive.  Some people even prefer the chicory coffee over regular coffee.  Beer brewers sometimes add chicory root powder to beers, especially Belgian style ales. 

In Germany the chicory flower is much used in herbal medicine and is claimed to cure almost any ailment.  It is said that chicory can magically open locked doors.  Bruised chicory leaves have long been used as a poultice for wounds and bruises. The leaves of chicory are used to make a blue dye.

As a caution, in herbal remedies chicory has been used as an emmenagogue and abortifacient.  That means the herb was used to bring on a menstrual period or cause an abortion.  Anyone who is pregnant may want to avoid the use of chicory in herbal remedies or as a coffee drink although using products containing commercial inulin is perfectly safe.

About chicory

Chicory grows just about everywhere in the US but it’s not a native plant.  Like the dandelion it was brought over here by European settlers. Its origins are from central Europe.  In its first year it forms a rosette of leaves and a long straight tan taproot like a carrot.   The leaves are similar to dandelion leaves.  In the second and subsequent years it will put up long stems of blue flowers in late summer unless it is kept mowed or grazed.  Leaves and stems may leak a milky sap when broken.  It reproduces from seed.

Chicory flowers are blue and daisy like although the plant is rather straggly and not much to look at in the garden setting, the flowers can look quite pretty along the roads and meadows mixed with white Queen Anne’s lace and yellow goldenrod.  Occasionally chicory may have pink, purple or white flowers. Each flower opens and closes at the same time each day and chicory is sometimes used in floral clocks.  Common names include blue daisy, blue sailors, and coffeeweed.  The type of chicory used as greens is sometimes called Belgian endive, and a red form is called radicchio.

Watch out for storms tonight
Garden as though you will live forever. William Kent

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kim's Weekly Garden Newsletter August 20, 2013

August 20, 2013 - Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter
From Kim Willis

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

A days harvest, there's potatoes underneath.
The garden bounty is overflowing.  I can’t believe I’m saying this but I am actually growing a little tired of sweet corn.  But it still tastes wonderful when I get ambitious enough to cook it. Tomatoes can be fixed in a lot of ways so those are still interesting.  One of my favorite ways is to cut them in chunks, pour on some olive oil and salt or zesty Italian dressing and toss.  Then chill for an hour or so before serving.

Keep garden crops picked, even if you are tired of them.  Things like zucchini, other summer squash, green beans, cucumbers and so on will stop producing if you stop picking.  Donate extras to neighbors , food banks, maybe your church has a food program, or feed them to chickens or dump on the compost pile.  Of course there’s always canning and freezing to store the bounty.

My mums are really starting to bloom, maybe it’s the cool weather, but that may be coming to an end for a while.  I have a virtual wall of morning glories blooming this year along our back yard fence, which is about 6 feet high to keep the dogs inside.  They look nice now but I don’t like the dead stringy mess they leave in the winter.  These morning glories come back each year from seed.  The first seeds I planted were a wide variety of colors, and even some double flowered varieties.   After many years they have reverted back to purple-blue for the most part, I have one pink flowering one this year.

It’s time to do a fertilization of annuals and potted plants if you want color to continue well into fall, especially if you relied on potting mixes with fertilizer mixed in.  (Don’t fertilize houseplants now though.)   Fertilize on a cooler day and actually water the plants a few hours or the day before with plain water before adding water soluble fertilizers.  It’s better to use water soluble fertilizers now rather than slow release granulars.  This prevents root burn in potted plants with mature root balls.

The USDA has announced a new bug ID site.  It’s pretty easy to use but it doesn’t cover all types of bugs.  Instead they have compiled other sites bug keys that focus on certain species.  But it is helpful to ID the species covered, like ants.  Here’s the address http://www.idtools.org/  

I have been amazed at the size of my Jewelweed this year and with all the concern over bees I must say that this plant is a bee and hummingbird magnet.  Here’s an article I wrote on Examiner you can read :

At the Farmers market

Fall raspberries and some plums are being added to the list of good things to eat at the Farmers Market.  If you want blueberries better get them while you can as the crop is going fast.  Canning tomatoes are being offered in quantity now.  Some Michigan muskmelons are at markets now.  It’s still early for most apple varieties, although some early types are being sold, and for pears and grapes.

Time to start thinking about spring bulbs

The bulb catalogs are starting to arrive and if you are thinking of buying spring flowering bulbs to plant this fall you may want to order now while the selection is good, especially if you want heirloom bulbs.  Look over your flower beds while they are full of mature plants and try to remember where there were bare spots in the spring.  Pictures taken of your beds last spring can help.

The temptation is to place spring flowering bulbs in the front of the bed, because it’s easier to plant them there in the fall.  But remember the bulb foliage has to die down naturally if you want blooms the next spring and the drying foliage can look messy in the front of the bed.  Instead plant them in the middle or back of the bed, where summer foliage will quickly hide them as they dry.

Don’t bother to buy bonemeal to use when you plant bulbs.  Studies have shown it actually attracts animal pests to the places you plant bulbs, where they often eat or dig up the bulbs.


One of the plants that is doing very well in the garden this year are the groundnuts.  Groundnut, Apios Americana, is a native plant, at least to the Eastern States, I’m not sure if it was native in Michigan.  If you ever wanted a plant with truly chocolate colored flowers the groundnut will fill the bill.  It’s a vine or sprawler if it doesn’t have something to climb.  This year mine have covered a good deal of fence, competing with morning glories.  The leaves are compound, reminding me somewhat of wisteria leaves. 

Groundnut flowers.
Groundnut flowers are intriguing.  The plants produce clusters of “curly” milk chocolate colored flowers, with a flared “hood’ consisting of two fused petals, two tiny petals near the bottom and a curious curved tube in the center that protects the pistil and stamens.  The end of the tube appears to be buried at the top of the hood but if you so much as touch the curved tube it will coil away from the hood wall and the tip will slowly split, first the pistil and then the stamens will poke out.  You can watch it slowly happen.  I imagine that an insect landing on the hood area or the curved tube would also provoke the reaction.  It may make the pistil actually touch the stamens for self- fertilization too.

After the flowers curved part has been activated the hood folds around the curved tube.  References say that a bean pod will develop from the flowers.  However I have yet to see any seed pods on the plant, maybe a certain type of insect is required to pollinate them.  It may also be too far north for the seedpods to develop here.  I will look again this year and if they form I’ll share the seed.

Groundnuts get their name from the swollen tubers that develop along the roots.  They range from the size of peanuts to egg sized, sometimes larger, and have firm flesh similar to a potato.  It is said that Native Americans dug them for food, and that they kept early European colonists alive through several starving seasons.  They are often a signal to archeologists that an Amerindian site is nearby, so maybe my yard is located on one.  An Indian name for them is hopniss.  Henry Thoreau is said to have eaten them when his potato crop failed.  They are said to have a nutty taste and they are very high in protein.  There has been research done in Louisiana to improve the groundnut to make it a viable commercial crop.

One problem is that some people are said to develop an allergy to the groundnut protein on the second or third time they eat them.  Not much research has been done on this though, it may be folklore.  If you are looking groundnuts up be aware that this is also a common name for the peanut, especially in other countries.

My groundnut plants are a legacy from the previous owners of the property (or the Indians).  They aren’t in the best spot, right where our trash box sits.  I have tried to dig out tubers and move some but without much success.  In some years like this they climb 8 feet and are loaded with flowers, other years they are spindly and have few flowers.  In the wild the plants prefer sunny, moist areas at the edges of woods and fields.  

Hosta seed

Most hostas flower, even though most people today grow them for their foliage.  After the flowers may come seed pods, although some people trim the flower stems off right after flowering and won’t see any seed pods.  Some hostas also do not produce seed pods, being sterile.  

If you want a hosta plant exactly like the plant with the seed pods, planting the seeds probably won’t get you what you want.  Hosta rarely come true from seeds.  But if you like experimenting you can plant hosta seeds and see what you come up with.  Who knows?  It could be something great.  You can even distribute pollen from one plant to another with a small paint brush if you want to cross certain plants. Here’s the way to grow hosta from seed.

Wait until the seed pods are dark brown and dry.  Don’t wait too long or the pods will split and the tiny seeds will scatter.   Collect the pods and shake in a bag to split the pods and release the seed. When the pods are almost dry you can cut off the flower stem and put it in a brown paper bag to finish drying and to collect any spilled seeds.  Be ready to plant the seeds soon after they fall.  Hosta seed has a lower germination rate than most plants and fresh seed germinates better than stored seed.

Use only sterile seed starting medium in clean pots or flats to start the seed.  Moisten the medium and fill the containers.  Sprinkle the tiny hosta seeds over the moist medium and press lightly into the soil.  You can spread the seed thickly because of the low germination rate.   Mist the medium and seeds and cover flats and pots with a plastic bag or top.

Hosta germinate best with warm soil and cool air conditions, rather like fall conditions.  Placing flats on the warm ground in a semi-shady spot outside can work as well as sitting the containers on a seed starting heat matt in a cool room.  The trick is to get the plants up and growing before winter weather and then getting them to over winter successfully.  If the plants have a good set of leaves started and can be planted outside before a hard frost to develop a good root system in the ground , they can be covered with mulch and will probably over winter well. 

If the plants aren’t very developed before a hard frost it may be better to keep them in containers and over winter them somewhere just above freezing, such as an unheated garage or porch.  They’ll need at least some light and careful watering so they don’t get too wet or dry out.  Don’t try to grow them on a window sill in a warm room although a cool greenhouse can work.

Green hosta and green variegated hosta usually produce 100% green plants.  Blue and gold hosta and crosses of such may produce a small percentage of blue or gold plants.  Crossing white variegated hosta may produce hosta with all white leaves, which will die shortly, as they can’t produce food.  But all new hosta varieties have to come from somewhere so keep plugging away.  Discard the plants you don’t like or give them away and keep those you do.

Most hosta are propagated from dividing the plants, or by tissue culture.  Hosta rarely grow from cuttings, although a piece of the plant with a bit of the basal area of the crown may grow under ideal conditions.

All genetic modification isn’t bad (Today’s rant)

For thousands of years our ancestors have been genetically modifying food crops by selection and by looking for mutant varieties and breeding them. In selection some genes are favored and some are basically discarded, altering gene expression in the crop.  When an interesting mutant plant is found those genes are often bred into plants artificially by preventing plants from breeding with normal plants.  Over thousands of years humans have changed most food crops so that they are vastly different from their ancestors.

Until about 2 hundred years ago carrots were white or purplish. Then a seed company found a mutant orange carrot and decided to select for it because orange was the color the royal family used on their coat of arms. Now we actually prefer mutant orange carrots and that modification made carrots a good source of Vitamin A.    

Humans have found new and advanced ways to genetically modify plants just as we have found new and better ways to communicate, travel, and protect ourselves from disease.  Some of those new ways do involve some risk.  For example those handy cell phones might be causing brain cancer and electricity can kill as well as light homes and power machinery.  But we embrace most of those advancements.  Why then can’t we embrace new technology that can bring us better food?

We do have to be cautious of course, all genetic modification carries some risk.  Genetic modification that endangers other species requires some special considerations and weighing of value against risk.  Some genetic modification such as Monsanto’s roundup ready products are basically profit motivated and are known safety hazards to several species we share the planet with.  The producing of glow in the dark bunnies and fish is genetic manipulation with no known benefits and is not good science.

But there is good science at work in some places that involves genetic modification.  The Golden Rice Project took the genes from naturally occurring soil bacteria and yellow “color” genes from corn to produce a golden color rice that had Beta –carotene, which in the human body is converted to Vitamin A,  a crucial nutrient for humans.  Lack of Vitamin A can cause blindness, reproductive problems and lowers the immune system response to disease.  The deficiency of Vitamin A causes misery and death for millions of people each year in the world, 1.7 million people in the Philippines alone, mostly under the age of 6, suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. 

A non-profit coalition of scientists have worked together to produce a golden color rice that would help alleviate Vitamin A deficiency.   Rice is a staple, affordable crop that most poor people consume in countries with this deficiency and that the farmers there know how to grow.  Golden rice tastes like other rice, cooks like other rice, has the nutrients of other rice with the added benefit of making poor people healthier by adding Vitamin A to the diet. 

Scientists and the companies involved in producing the golden rice seed have pledged to take no royalties, the seed will be comparable in cost to other rice seed, and there are no restrictions on farmers saving seed for planting the next year. 

Over many years, safety and nutrition tests have been done in many countries, including the US.   It was found that about a cup of golden rice would provide half of the adult daily requirement of Vitamin A (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009), and that modest amount would translate to about 100% of a young child’s need.  Since the inserted genes are harmless to humans it was a pretty good bet that the modified golden rice would also be harmless and many safety tests have proved that. 

This year several test fields of golden rice were planted in the Philippines. They were to be evaluated by that countries Plant Health Division for safety and nutritional value.  One of the fields was near harvest when on August 8, it was destroyed by ignorant Philippines activist groups, stirred up by equally ignorant US groups.  The motivation seems to be that some of the companies who worked to help produce the golden rice also produced genetically modified crops that the groups oppose.  The knowledgeable people don’t want the companies to get any credit for doing good deeds, because they feel it may soften people’s resistance to genetically modified crops, so they stir up resentment and fear among less knowledgeable folk by suggesting that they are being harmed in some way.

I do oppose some genetically modified crops, and I deplore the hold on agriculture that some big companies such as Monsanto have with their patents on crops. I think the people who produce glowing animals for our amusement should be banned and the people who buy such animals shunned.  But not all advancement in crop improvement even by modern genetic modification is bad; some of it has the potential to make the world a better place without damaging other species that live on the planet with us.   Our country seems to have the idea that rewarding someone for good behavior is more desirable than punishment when we want to change a behavior.  So why aren’t the activists groups applauding golden rice?

It’s time to use common sense and reasoning when we evaluate genetic modification and modern science instead of making everything a witch hunt.  There is going to have to be change if we are to feed a future world and some of that change will be by methods we didn’t know about a hundred years ago. 

Cilantro recall

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 16, 2013 – August 17, 2013, Willard, OH – Buurma Farms, Inc. is voluntarily recalling 465 boxes of Cilantro Lot #02D312A4. Buurma Farms recalled this product due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.  Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Buurma Farms, Inc. has not received any case of reported illness related to this product to date.
The Cilantro was sold to distributors in Michigan on August 3, 2013. The product was also shipped to retail stores in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. The Cilantro, which was distributed through Meijer and Ben B Schwartz and Sons in Michigan the week of August 5-9, could be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.  The Cilantro has a Buurma Farms twist-tie on it.

Product affected by the recall is:
Heritage glad "Atom"
Cilantro, fresh, UPC #4889, Lot #02D312A4, GTIN: 0 33383 80104  Product is sold in ~4 oz. bunches with a Product of USA Buurma Farms #4889 labeled twist tie, Consumers who may have purchased this product should return or dispose of the product.

What’s on your dinner plate tonight?  Anything you grew?
Garden as though you will live forever. William Kent

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August 13, 2013 - Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter
From Kim Willis

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

Is it August or October?  It is really chilly today, especially with the wind and a light mist.  We didn’t get any rain this time around but that’s ok, the ground is still moist from last week.  Someone was telling me that there is a prediction that we will have snow in September- I sure hope not with the late spring we had. 
My garden is doing great this year though.  The sweet corn has been outstanding, I just froze 20 ears.  I am trying the new in the husk method.  We’ll see if it tastes better that corn that’s blanched and frozen.  It always has an off taste to me. The tomatoes are ripening well now.  We are really excited over the size of our musk melons- they are basketball size.

I have apples that are starting to turn red.  And I drove into Lapeer Monday and noticed several maples and some sumac starting to turn red.  That seems early, and we can’t blame it on drought stress this year.  The goldenrod is starting to bloom, and my jewelweed has finally burst into bloom to the delight of the hummingbirds.  I’m glad I didn’t pull it all out.  There is a patch outside my office window and I can see the hummers working over the tiny flowers.  The hibiscus are just starting to bloom as are the Jerusalem Artichokes.

Tomato diseases

Late blight on both tomatoes and potatoes has been found in several places in Michigan.  Late blight on potatoes was found in Macomb County this weekend.  Cool wet weather is very favorable for late blight.  Tomato diseases of all types are very common this year, I am having some problems with Septoria leaf spot but I am still harvesting nice tomatoes.  Most tomato diseases do not affect green fruit, and disorders of ripe fruit are usually caused by conditions other than disease, such as uneven watering, low soil calcium and other things.  Wilting, blackened leaves and rapid rotting of green fruit suggest late blight. 

I don’t know what to tell you about getting a diagnose on a home garden for late blight.  You can of course send a sample to MSU Plant Diagnostics but the sample has to be packaged just right and you of course will be charged. The home gardener is at a great disadvantage in getting prompt diagnoses now. You can try this, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

When late blight hits there is really nothing you can do in the home garden situation.  Even most commercial growers throw in the towel when a field is heavily affected.   Late blight will kill your plants very quickly, often in just a few days.  Most other fungal tomato diseases cause dying branches but new growth continues and while the plants are not as productive they can be helped by spraying fungicides to protect new growth.  Remove all dead and dying foliage and keep the plants watered if it gets dry.

At the farm market

It’s a great time to find a variety of tomatoes and peppers.  Summer squash and cucumbers are abundant, as is sweet corn and potatoes.  A few Michigan muskmelons are coming on the market.  There are even some early apples.  Peaches and blueberries are on the market. Some markets have plums available.  Michigan grapes and pears are not available yet.

A World Without Bees?

That’s the title of the cover article on Time Magazine this month.  It’s an interesting read if you get the chance.  However my world is certainly not without bees this year.  I have been stung twice, once last night on the cheek as I gathered sweet corn of all things.  It’s too close to the beebalm I guess.  My beebalm is very nice this season and the bees and hummingbirds are enjoying it.  I have two colors, red and wine- purple and both colors are loved by nectar seekers.

Our pasture turned meadow.
I have always had a thing about grassy areas not being used.  I used to see someone’s acre of lawn and think it was awful nothing was grazing there or no gardens were planted there.  I was having conflicted feelings after we sold the horses and our pasture reverted to meadow this year.  But now I realize I am providing bee and butterfly habitat galore.  Out behind the pond the old pasture is full of sweet white clover, spotted knapweed, chicory, and escaped crown vetch to name a few plants. 

It’s also full of bees.  My husband mows me a path all around the pond and I now have to stay on it or risk the wrath of hundreds of bees of every type.  The field literally buzzes.  I am surprised at how much bees like the spotted knapweed, it’s the purple tufted, wiry plant that’s such an aggressive spreader.  Obviously nature makes good use of “weeds”.  There’s lots of milkweed in the pasture too, and that’s where I saw  Monarch butterflies this week, a rare sighting this year.

I also saw a number of frogs and toads on my last walk through the old pasture, which eases my worry over the vanishing hoppers a bit.  Katydids, those triangular, green grasshopper-like bugs are also in abundance in the field, maybe that’s why there’s so many frogs.

Missing Monarchs

I have had several people ask me if I had seen any monarch butterflies this year and yes, I have actually seen a few.  But monarchs are going to be fewer in number this year than they have been in a long, long time.  Naturalists and other butterfly watchers say that only about 10% of the normal population of monarchs is making it to the northern edge of their range this year.  As summer ends you may see a few more but don’t expect a large population this year.

Monarchs are extremely interesting butterflies as each fall the monarchs that are in the northern US and southern Canada head south to a few small areas in Mexico.  There they cluster in mountainous forest areas and wait out the winter.  It’s actually quite cool there but it stays just above freezing. They need just the right amount of time at the proper cooler temperature in their winter resort to trigger a response to fly north.  Then in April they fly to Texas and Oklahoma to breed and begin the first generation of the new year, with the older adults dying off.

The second generation is hatched in the corn belt states and the monarchs spread out to northern states and Canada from there.  The third generation hatches in the far northern edges of the monarch reign and those butterflies will be the ones to return to Mexico.  Monarchs generally begin showing up in Ontario in mid-July but this year few have been seen by mid-August.  Fewer Monarchs have been seen in all of the northern states too.

There has been a steady decline in the Monarch population over the last decade due to habitat loss in Mexico and loss of milkweed in the US.  While adult Monarchs will sip nectar from many flowers they will only lay eggs on milkweed and the Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed.  Crop farming removes a lot of the land that used to grow milkweed and insecticides used on crops also kill Monarch caterpillars eating milkweed at field edges.

Factor in drought and wildfires that plagued the southern states late last summer removing a lot of milkweed and a slow, colder than normal spring across the mid-west and you have the loss of most of the first and second generation of butterflies this year.  Populations are slowly building as the Monarchs get further north and there is hope that the third generation will be a bit more substantial.

The best case scenario for Monarchs will be a long, mild fall with good rainfall to keep the milkweed growing here in the north and mild conditions and lots of nectar flowers for the long migration north.  Monarchs need to feed steadily and gain weight before they get to their winter area. You can help by allowing all milkweeds to grow and because monarchs need fuel to head south, by allowing late summer bloomers like goldenrod to continue blooming.  Leave fields and road edges un-mowed until after a hard frost.

Gardeners can help monarchs in the long range by planting milkweeds in the garden; there are many pretty ornamental species.  But not all milkweeds are equal, out of the 100 some species only about 25 are really monarch friendly.  Here are those species: Asclepias amplexicaulis, Asclepias arenaria, Asclepias asperula, Asclepias californica, Asclepias curassavica*, Asclepias cryptoceras, Asclepias engelmanniana, Asclepias eriocarpa, Asclepias erosa, Asclepias fascicularis, Asclepias glaucescens, Asclepias hirtella, Asclepias incarnate*, Asclepias latifolia, Asclepias linaria, Asclepias oenotheroides, Asclepias ovalifolia, Asclepias pumila, Asclepias purpurascens*, Asclepias quadrifolia, Asclepias speciosa*, Asclepias stenophylla, Asclepias subulata, Asclepias subverticillata,Asclepias sullivantii, Asclepias syriaca*, Asclepias tuberosa*, Asclepias variegate, Asclepias verticillata, Asclepias viridiflora, Asclepias vestita , Asclepias viridis.   Not all of these are winter hardy in the north and many are hard to find commercially.  The starred * varieties are either common here in the wild or available as garden plants.

Goldenrod is one of the best late summer bloomers for supplying food to adult butterflies so planting goldenrod or allowing it to grow in the yard is also beneficial. Other late blooming nectar plants are buddleia, any mints such as catnip and anise hyssop, asters, tickseed, Jerusalem Artichoke and native sunflowers, marigolds, Joe Pye weed, boneset, zinnias, tithonia.  Allow wild asters and clovers to bloom if you can.

Mushrooms and your health

If you like mushrooms and eat them frequently you may be protecting your health.  A study done by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has found that button mushrooms boost the human immune system. They found that white button mushrooms enhanced the maturity of immune system cells called "dendritic cells," that are found in bone marrow.  White button mushrooms are the most commonly eaten mushroom in the US. 

Another study done on button mushrooms found that button mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light  and turned into mushroom powder were as effective as commercial Vitamin D supplements in maintaining or raising the Vitamin D levels in blood.  Low levels of Vitamin D are common in the US now and can affect the body in numerous ways.  Many doctors now test adults to see that they get sufficient Vitamin D and recommend supplements.  Eating mushrooms is a good way to boost your Vitamin D level. 

Button mushroom extracts are also being used in clinical trials on breast cancer prevention because they are known to lower estrogen levels.  Other research is using a button mushroom extract to boost the immune system response in small cell lung cancer patients.

Mushrooms are low in calories, high in fiber and a good source of protein, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron, Zinc and Manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin D, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Selenium. 

Just be sure that the mushrooms you eat are safe ones.  Don’t eat mushrooms from the “wild” unless you are absolutely sure they are safe species.  One mistake could kill you.


Bee on catnip.
Want a bee and butterfly friendly plant that’s also a helpful herb?  Bees love catnip flowers and it can be used to attract bees and butterflies to any garden.  You may already have catnip growing around your home as it is a common weed in many areas.

Catnip is an easy herb to grow.  If you have trouble growing catnip you truly have a brown thumb.  Catnip grows just about anywhere, in any type of soil, in full sun and partial shade.  It grows in dry or wet areas.  For herbal use plant it in full sun and keep it on the dry side, to concentrate the medicinal oils.  Most people will buy plants if they can’t find a place to pull up a seedling.   Don’t fertilize it.  It doesn’t need it and the medicinal qualities may suffer.

The common catnip, Nepeta cataria is native to the Mediterranean area of Europe, but has spread throughout Europe and North America and many other places, where it grows freely as a weed.  The genus Nepeta has many species, some of which are called catmints and are grown as ornamental plants. The names are often used interchangeably but catnip and catmint are all members of the mint family.  The weedy medicinal type plant is generally referred to as catnip and ornamental varieties and other Nepeta species are called catmints. 

Like most mints, catnip, has a square stem.  The catnip stem is covered with fine hairs and grows woody near the base as it ages.  The leaves of common catnip are heart-shaped, gray green and have a scalloped edge.  They are covered with soft hairs and appear downy.    

The catnip flowers are small spikes of white flowers with tiny purple dots on the throat, and not very showy.  In good conditions catnip can grow to 5 foot high and 3 foot wide. The plant is tough and spreads rapidly by seed through the garden, popping up everywhere.  

Catnip is a perennial that dies down to the roots each winter and then returns quite vigorously in the spring.  It is hardy to at least zone 4 and probably further.

Using Catnip Medicinally

Long before true tea found its way to Europe people were brewing catnip tea.  It was used medicinally and just as a soothing warm drink.  It was often given to children to calm them and help them sleep.  Catnip tea is used to calm the digestive system and relieve gas pains and soothed the colic pains that were keeping crabby children awake.  It still makes a safe and soothing tea.

Catnip induces perspiration and is used as a fever remedy and as a headache remedy.   Warm bruised leaves are also used as a poultice on wounds and boils.  Catnip has also been used in strong concentrations to bring on menstruation. Catnip oil is being tested as a mosquito repellent.

The active chemical ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone.  The flower buds have the highest concentration of this chemical but leaves are also used to make tea.  Never bring catnip leaves and buds to a boil as this destroys the medicinal action. Instead gently steep it as one does green tea.  Fresh leaves and buds can be used for tea or you can use dried leaves.   About a half cup of bruised leaves and buds or a couple teaspoons of dried herb are used to a cup of water. 

Catnip tea is available in most stores now but it is easy to dry your own leaves.  Cut the tender top of the stems with young leaves and preferably some flower buds in the early morning after the dew has dried.  
Hang upside down in small bunches to dry in a warm dark place or use a dehydrator.  You can also enclose the cut stems in a brown paper bag and place it in your car in the sun for a few days.  Beware that drying catnip isn’t the most pleasant car deodorizer.  When catnip is crumbly dry store it in clean containers with tight lids.

Catnip is fairly safe as far as dosage is concerned.  You would have to drink large quantities before it became toxic and you would vomit long before that.   If you are taking prescription medications check with your doctor before taking herbal remedies.

Cats and Catnip

Not all cats are affected by catnip.  About 15% of cats lack a gene that makes them respond to catnip.  Cats must be sexually mature to be interested also.   The smell of catnip affects them like a hormone.  Some eat it, some roll on it, some go crazy and wild on it, and others are barely affected.  It does not hurt them but it can hurt your house if the cat goes on a drugged rampage.   

Some wild cat species are attracted to catnip and some are not.  Bobcats and cougars appear to be interested but tigers and possibly lions are not.  A catnip “trip” will last about 15 minutes and after that it will take a while before the cat will react again.  Cats may pass right by catnip plants in the garden but will go nuts for it when a plant is bruised or pulled. 

Have a cup of catnip tea or hot chocolate and keep warm.  (Can you believe I’m saying this in August?)
Garden as though you will live forever. William Kent

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Kim's weekly garden newsletter August 6, 2013

August 6, 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
Well August started out pretty wet, very unlike last August if I remember right.  I got a total of 2 ¼ inches of rain in total last week.  It’s nice not to have to water the garden but it’s hard to keep up with the mowing- which normally slacks off this time of year.  It does look like it will be fairly decent weather for the fair this week. 

Darn nice sweet corn
We have been eating sweet corn from the garden since Friday and it’s some of the best sweet corn I have ever grown, worth all the work.  The variety we are eating is called Sugar Pearl, an early white and it just melts in your mouth. Miracle and Ambrosia are next; they are a yellow and a bi-color.  We are still sampling potatoes and we are getting a few tomatoes, the main crop is just around the corner. 

I actually have mums beginning to bloom, that seems a bit early.  The daylilies are still blooming although it won’t be long before they are gone.  My large oriental lilies are gorgeous this year.  I planted a sunflower mixture and they are starting to bloom with some interesting shapes and colors.  I made a mistake there though.  I planted them in the back of the new veggie garden along the fence but I had planted some zinnia seed there too, that I didn’t think was coming up but eventually did.  Now the pretty zinnias are being over grown by huge sunflowers.

Our pumpkins are threatening to take over the yard.  You can almost see them growing before your eyes a week ago we had a softball sized pumpkin this week it will easily weigh 20 pounds and is at least as big as a beach ball.  The vines are loaded with pumpkins.  We also have the largest melons we have ever had. They love this weather I guess.

 Another thing that has gotten really large this year is the jewel weed.  I always leave some growing in the front for the hummingbirds, which love its tiny dangling flowers but this year the jewel weed is threatening to take over the front bed.  Last year the plants were maybe 3 feet tall with lots of flowers.  This year they are more like 5 feet tall and the flowers are smaller and fewer.  They are very sturdy looking with stems almost as large as my wrist.  I have thinned them out twice and I am thinking about just yanking them all out.  They overpower everything else. The hummingbirds can have the Firecracker plant.

Firecracker plant

I bought a small Firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea ) this spring and planted it in an old cinder block with large openings.  It sits in full sun and really loves the heat and moisture it is getting and it has turned into a beautiful plant.  Firecracker plants, also called Cigar plants, are named because their red flowers are a long tube with a white lip and two tiny purple petals at the tip which suggests to some a lit firecracker or cigar.  The hummingbirds aren’t afraid of them however; they are quite fond of them.

The Firecracker plant is native to Mexico and the West Indies, where it is considered a broad leaved evergreen.  Here in the North it is grown as an annual although it can be overwintered inside in a sunny window.  It gets about 30 inches tall and the narrow, dark green leaves and bushy shape makes it attractive even when not in bloom.    

Firecracker plant.
There are orange varieties of Firecracker plant and there are some other Cuphea species on the market.  Firecracker plant makes a good container plant, especially if it is put in a spot where you can watch the hummingbirds visit it.  It is said to tolerate partial shade, although it won’t bloom quite as well.  In the garden or in a container outside they need to be kept well watered, inside in the winter it is best to let them dry out a bit and go somewhat dormant.   Just don’t let them get too dry and keep the humidity around them moderately high.

In Florida and even in some parts of zone 7b or higher Firecracker plants will overwinter in the ground and may even reseed themselves. Firecracker plants are said to be easy to start from seed or tip cuttings and I intend to try and start some cuttings soon.  You can see a picture of my Firecracker plant on my blog site where I also post this newsletter. http://gardeninggrannysgardenpages.blogspot.com/

Dividing iris

August is a good month to divide your bearded iris.  As Iris grow they make huge clumps of plants and as they get crowded your blooms will get less.  Iris should be divided every 3-5 years to improve blooming and keep the spot from getting too crowded. You may also want to divide iris to give some to friends or make another garden bed.  If you need to move iris to another location in the garden August is also a good time to do it. It’s pretty easy to divide iris and any gardener should feel competent to do it.  You’ll need a good sharp knife to help divide rhizomes, some scissors to cut the iris leaves and something to put your divided rhizomes in.  You may also want some common household bleach for disinfesting rhizomes.

Start by deciding what you will do with the divided plants.  If you need to prepare a new site you should get that done.  Iris will “hold” outside of the soil for a few weeks but it’s best to get them planted as quickly as possible.  Next dig the whole clump of iris up.  Irises have shallow roots and this is easy to do.  If the clumps are packed together in a bed you may cut through some with your spade as you lift them but you will generally have plenty of good rhizomes left.

Put the clump of iris on a tarp, a board, or on cement and gently wash all the soil off the rhizomes with a garden hose so you can see what you have.  Cut the iris leaves back to about 3-4 inches; it doesn’t matter if they are cut on a slant or straight across.  Rhizomes are actually underground stems and you will see joints or nodes along the rhizome with leaves (or fans in iris terms), popping up along each node. Rhizomes are tan, knotty looking and can branch off in unusual ways.  There should be roots on the bottom of younger rhizomes.

After a rhizome section blooms it will never bloom again.  To determine which rhizomes sections are old you can look for the flower stem.  Old rhizomes may also be devoid of roots and have tiny holes on the underside where the roots fell off.  In a clump old rhizomes are generally in the center.  Examine the clump you lifted carefully.  You’ll want to divide iris between joints, leaving each section with one or two sets of leaves and a healthy section of rhizome consisting of 2 or more joints.  You can start new plants from a single node or section, but they will be smaller and may not bloom for 2 years.  Sometimes you can snap the joints apart with your fingers but cutting is more precise.

If the old rhizomes have new sections of rhizomes with no leaves or very small leaves on them you can save the old rhizome and replant it with the young daughter plants. It will provide food for them until they grow more leaves.  Otherwise discard old rhizomes that have bloomed.  Examine the rhizomes you are keeping looking for mushy areas or large holes in the top side of the rhizome.  Large holes may indicate iris borers and there may be a large pink worm inside the hole.  Those pieces should be discarded in the trash, not the compost pile.  Soft, mushy areas indicate bacterial rot and should also be discarded.

Next add one cup of common household bleach, without scent added, to a gallon of water and soak the good rhizomes for 10 minutes.  Remove and allow them to dry in a sunny place for a few hours.  This removes disease organisms.   You can re-use the bleach solution for several batches on the same day. If you know the name or color of the iris you are dividing you can write that on the leaves of the divided pieces with a marker or add a label held on with a rubber band to the piece.

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

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

Losing the scent

If you think that the flowers smelled better in “older days” you may be right and not just because we have bred the scent out from some flowers.  Research has shown that pollution in the air destroys flower scent molecules by breaking them apart, and changes the smell of flowers or diminishes it.  Bees find many flowers through scent so diminishing floral scents may also decrease efficient pollination.

Jose Fuentes, Ph.D., atmospheric scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. found that in heavily polluted areas flower scents traveled about one third of the distance that they travel in less polluted areas.  And research done at the University of Arizona in Tucson found that moths identify specific chemicals within complex floral scents in order to find flowers and pollinate them.  The moths that pollinate datura flowers hone in on 9 specific chemicals in the 60 some chemicals the datura scent is composed of and all of those 9 chemicals have to be there for the moth to find the flower and seek nectar from it.  So if some of the chemicals waft away or are destroyed the moths won’t find the flowers.

Jeffrey A. Riffell and his team of researchers at the University of Arizona believe humans detect smell by recognizing key chemical molecules in a scent also, although we are not as good at recognizing the individual chemicals in a scent as insects and other animals are.  So as pollution affects our atmosphere we may not smell flowers the way we used to – or the way our parents or grandparents did.   

Happy gardeners

Are you happy when you garden?  Even when you are grumbling about pulling weeds, crying over flattened corn, or sweating in the sun deep inside you are you still happy that you garden?  Researchers divide happiness into two “sides” eudaimonic and hedonic.  Eudaimonic happiness comes from doing good deeds, having a sense of purpose in life, finding meaning and inner peace in your life, basically happiness that anyone can have, rich or poor.  Hedonic happiness comes from power, popularity, being able to buy what you want or obtain everything you desire.   

Most people who enjoy gardening are experiencing eudaimonic  happiness.  Maybe a little bit of hedonic happiness sneaks in there every so often when you get to buy a plant you really want but generally gardening fulfills a deeper happiness.  You garden to make something beautiful, to grow healthy food, to get out your frustrations and anxiety by chopping weeds and purposeful digging.  Most of you do not garden for profit, or to make yourself famous.   You get dirty and wear old comfortable clothes when you garden, you are not thinking of “self”.   Some of you garden so that others can experience something beautiful.

Morning Glories
Keep on gardening because even your genes respond to eudaimonic happiness according to Barbara L. Fredrickson, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  We all carry many genes that can be turned “on” or expressed by what our bodies and minds are experiencing.  We still don’t know how exactly the brain or body triggers gene expression but we can now measure gene expressions that influence health and mental wellbeing. People who are eudaimonically happy have low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes. 

While people that are famous and powerful and that can buy anything they want may say they feel happy, their genes don’t feel it.  They usually have higher levels of inflammation and lower immune system responses than the person who feels happy because they have peace and purpose in life and get to do something they love.  That doesn’t mean happy gardeners can’t get sick, but being a happy gardener can give you an advantage over the rich person that hires someone to garden for them. And by the way, August is National Admit Your Happy month so tell someone how happy gardening makes you. You could change a life.

August almanac

Native Americans called the August full moon the sturgeon moon or green corn moon.  Tonight we have a new moon and the full moon in August occurs on the 20th .   The Perseid meteor showers occur on the nights of the 11th and 12th .  There should be good viewing conditions after midnight if skies are clear.

Lapeer Farmers Market
It’s National Peach month and also National Catfish month.  Think of a meal with fried catfish and peach cobbler, pure August eating. The birthstone for August is the peridot, the flower is poppies or gladiolus. (I don’t understand poppies, where do they bloom in August?)  There are no US holidays in August; maybe we need to dream up one.  In Europe August is the traditional holiday month, with most workers getting time off in the month.

August starts on a day of the week that no other month starts on, unless its leap year (Thursday this year).  In leap year February will start on the same week day as August.   Every year August will end on the same week day as November.  This week, August 4-10  is Farmers Market week- it’s a great time to stop and get local produce. 

I hope to see some happy gardeners at the Eastern Michigan State Fair.
Garden as though you will live forever. William Kent