March 31, 2015 Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter © Kim Willis
Well I must say I was disappointed this morning when I woke up to see 4-5 inches of heavy wet snow. Its melting fast and I guess we did need the moisture but still… I heard frogs singing yesterday, slow and sleepy but singing. I hope the poor things don’t freeze before it warms up again. After being outside yesterday doing barn and yard cleanup having to wear boots to get to the barn this morning wasn’t fun.
I spent Sunday potting up some plants I got from Logee’s, tender perennials like Jasmine, Brugmansia, tropical hibiscus and others. They were beautifully packed and very healthy plants, but a little large for the 2 ½ and 4 inch pots they were in. Then I spent an hour or so shuffling things around to find window space for them until the porch is warm enough and the squirrels are gone. I still have some dahlia and begonia bulbs to get potted this week. I put in a big seed order too, and now I need to get some decent weather so I can get my raised beds ready for planting. We are supposed to get some 60 degree weather soon so maybe I can get that done.
The tulips and daffodils are a couple inches above ground and just maybe the crocus will bloom in a few days. I am actually seeing less winter burn on the arborvitae this spring than last year. I noticed the forsythia had large buds but whether they are leaves or flowers is hard to say.
While this was one of the driest Marches in history here it looks like we are in for a lot of wet days in the first week of April. I noticed our pond was lower than last year so maybe we will catch up a bit. We are predicted to have thunderstorms this Thursday. It’s time to check the weather radio to make sure it’s working properly because the severe weather season is just around the corner.
How to make salads healthier; add eggs and red lettuce
It’s been known for a while that you need to eat fat with your salad to get all of the healthy carotenes, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals from those greens and veggies. Now research from Purdue University has shown that adding cooked eggs to your salad (or vegetables to your eggs) is the best way to maximize absorption of vitamins, minerals, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. The cooked eggs also provide protein, healthy fats and additional amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin as well as choline, all essential for a healthy body.
And while you are choosing the greens for that salad make sure to include both dark green and red lettuces,(or other greens). Research done at the University of Pisa in Italy on the antioxidant qualities of lettuce found that red leaved varieties provided the body with a fast release of antioxidants while dark green leaved lettuces provided a slower, more sustained release of antioxidants. Combining red or purple leaved varieties of greens with dark green colored greens provided the best nutrition. Iceberg type lettuces with their pale green or yellow colors have little nutritional benefit.
So the healthiest salad would be that with red and dark green lettuce, lots of colorful raw vegetables, whole cooked eggs, and maybe some nuts, seeds, or fruit along with a high fat dressing- preferably not one made from soy oil. The calories in this higher fat salad are more than offset by its greater nutritional value and we now know that healthy fats from eggs and good oils do not transform into body fat.
Making chocolate healthier
At the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society researchers from the University of Ghana described some new techniques they found in processing cacao beans into chocolate that help the chocolate retain more healthy antioxidants and make the chocolate sweeter and deeper in flavor. The antioxidants in chocolate have been proven to boost heart health.
Normally cacao beans are fermented shortly after picking. Research shows that allowing the beans to age for 7 days before fermenting increased the polyphenols (antioxidants) in the resulting chocolate and made it taste sweeter and more “mellow”. Also roasting the cacao beans at a slightly lower temperature for a slightly longer time than is traditionally done retained the healthy properties and produced higher quality chocolate. The research got funding from the Belgian government so look for that Belgian chocolate.
Do urban farm markets actually offer healthier foods?
|Farmers Market in Lapeer Michigan|
While farm markets are certainly great for finding local foods and introducing them into what are known as urban food deserts, researchers are beginning to question just how much better food at a farm market is for buyers than at a conventional store. In urban areas, those that seem to need farm markets the most, farmers markets may not be the healthiest option for food purchases.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center studied the 26 farm markets scattered around the Bronx in New York and analyzed the food that could be purchased there over a season. They found that the farm markets contained a lot of unhealthy foods. At least a third of the foods offered at stands were sugary, highly processed foods like bread, muffins, fruit juices, and candy. Other items were obviously not grown locally, bananas, oranges, and so on and were more expensive than the same items at conventional stores. Food offered as organic often tested positive for agricultural pesticides.
In general they found that the produce offered at urban farm markets was of no better quality than similar foods at conventional markets and almost always more expensive. And despite the myth of produce being unavailable in these urban areas researchers found that there was a conventional store selling produce within a few blocks of each farmers market, although organic produce and the variety of items offered may not have been as available.
In suburban and rural areas farmers markets may offer slightly lower prices and more produce that is truly grown organically and locally, although that premise is still being tested. Junk food, like pies and breads, may be even more prevalent. But one other research study is pointing out that there still may health concerns with farmers markets that consumers should be aware of.
Researchers at Chapman University's Food Science Program and University of Washington conducted tests for bacterial contamination of foods at farmers markets in California and Washington State. They found a high percentage of produce was contaminated with E.coli and some produce also tested positive for salmonella.
Home producers of fruits and vegetables and things like baked goods do not have to follow the rigorous rules of wholesalers selling to conventional stores nor are their products tested for contaminants. They may transport items for sale in dirty vehicles and containers and the produce is often unwashed. They may use manure inappropriately on organically grown crops. In addition items displayed in the open air may be handled by people with unclean hands or even have contaminants carried to them by wind.
Shopping at farmers markets is a great way to support the local economy and get locally grown produce. But shoppers should also be mindful to choose from clean, neat looking stands, to ask questions about the organic status and where the produce was grown and to make sure the produce is fresh and displayed properly. Never eat things from the stands without washing them thoroughly, even if you are told they are organic. It does no good to buy organic produce if you are going to come down with a nasty case of diarrhea from E.coli contamination.
Rhodiola rosea may cure depression as well as prescription drugs
Rhodiola rosea, commonly known as roseroot, has been used in Chinese and Russian medicine for a long time. It’s a sedum relative that grows in cold mountainous regions of North America, Asia and Europe. It has several short stalks with fleshy leaves and in summer it blooms with tiny yellow 4- petal flowers in clusters at the top of the stalks. Roseroot has separate male and female plants. The thick, stubby root is the part used in herbal medicine and the ground dried root smells like roses, leading to the common name.
In herbal medicine roseroot is used to increase stamina, relieve fatigue and help alleviate altitude sickness. It was also used to cure sexual and reproductive problems in men and women. It was thought to regulate the thyroid. The dried root is usually used in tinctures.
Recently research done at the Perelman School of Medicine of University of Pennsylvania and published in the journal Phytomedicine found that patients with mild to moderate depression had as much improvement taking a roseroot extract as those taking a prescription anti-depressant called sertraline with far fewer side effects. The improvement in depression was measured by several clinical tests.
Roseroot seeds are available for herbalists to try and grow but they are tricky to germinate. Plants can also be grown from cuttings. The plant likes coarse, gravely soil and full sun. Rosewood could be grown in a rock garden. It does not do too well in warmer climates however and must have very good drainage.
Are non-native garden plant species really bad?
The fad is still raging for native plants and many gardeners are a little confused – both about what plants they should grow and whether they are harming the environment if they plant non-natives. A growing amount of research is suggesting that most non-native plants that “ go wild” aren’t really that bad for the environment in the long run and that some are actually beneficial. Of course there are some bad players- plants that poison livestock for example- but in the long run research is saying that most of the worry over non- native plants pushing out natives is much to do about nothing. Gardeners should stop feeling guilty about causing environmental destruction if they choose to plant
exotic plant species in the garden.
Pollinators are one of the concerns of the native plant crowd. But honey bees, one of the preferred pollinators, aren’t native to North America. It stands to reason that they adapted to new plants and that native pollinators adapt to exotic plants too. In fact a bee would rather find a good source of nectar and pollen in a non-native plant then spend a lot of time visiting poor sources of those foods from native plants. Some non-native plants that provide food for bees in the early spring are the dandelion, crocus, and various fruit trees that are not native plants. Without them bumble bees and other native bees would have a harder time finding good early food sources.
The worry that non-native invasive plants will crowd out native species is also somewhat dramatized, according to the newest research. When you look at a field over taken by Autumn Olive, for example, you think it’s a terrible thing. But the truth is that that abandoned field would have become covered with some other brushy plant if the Autumn Olive hadn’t shown up. That’s what fields do- if left alone first shrubs grow and then trees. It’s called succession.
And a native brushy plant may not have been better than Autumn Olive. (This is just one example.) Autumn Olive provides lots of nectar for bees, it is nitrogen fixing and actually improves the soil and it provides berries for birds and other wildlife. Trees grow faster among Autumn Olives than among many native shrubs. Eventually those trees will replace the Autumn Olive. Yes, the habitat for wildlife changes in the transition from meadow to brush land but it was going to change anyway.
There are cases when non- native plants may need to be severely controlled as when an endangered native plant species may be further endangered by plants that can utilize that environment more efficiently. (And a competing native plant can also endanger a species whose environment has been altered.) But remember that the non-native species is almost always not the cause of the native plants original decline. It declined because its environment disappeared or became altered. That allowed a non-native who could utilize that altered environment to occupy it. When native plants have the right environment they are generally better able to survive than invading exotics.
For one thing our climate is changing and plant species will need to change with it. Since man has been on earth we have been responsible for altering the plant species around us, both by changing the environment and by introducing new species through our travels, both deliberately and accidently. In the vast majority of cases the new plant species have a neutral effect on the natural ecology of an area. Yes, things change, but the change is the way nature sustains life.
The time spent pulling Dames Rocket, a rather pretty plant that’s considered invasive, and some other exotics, is probably wasted. They have been around for decades if not centuries and in the broad view of things have changed the environment very little. They may seem overwhelming in some areas- along roadsides and around human dwellings for example- but the roadsides aren’t really natural environments anyway. They have not caused the extinction of any native species.
Research has found that non-natives may take over certain areas but those areas are generally patchy and already becoming unsuitable for the native plants displaced. The journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science” have recently published research studies that conclude most non-native plants do little damage to natural environments. If suitable unspoiled native environments exist they are for the most part occupied by native plants adapted to them. There are sometimes “bursts” of non-native plants in an area until insects, wildlife, and diseases adapt to utilizing them and control them so that they become part of the environment and not the domineering species. But over time these bursts and pockets of non- natives do little harm to the environment.
Gardeners should be more concerned about exotic plants overpowering their landscapes than worrying about them “escaping”. Some plants like Japanese Knot weed and comfrey can make your life as a gardener very hard. But so can some native plants like Virginia Creeper and Black Walnuts. Of course you must respect state laws that prohibit certain plants and you shouldn’t deliberately plant non-native plants in wild areas. But don’t think you are doing something terribly wrong if you decide to grow plants in your garden that aren’t native. Native plants may or may not be easier to grow in your garden. Some non-native trees, shrubs and garden plants may actually grow better in your human altered environment and be less invasive than natives. The best gardens contain a mixture of native and non-native plants.
Facts about dandelions
Did you know that the dandelion is not a native plant? They were brought here by early European colonists as an herbal plant and escaped to live happily ever after. Lawns lit up with gold splashes are so pretty after a long winter how could people hate them? Its likely more people would tolerate dandelions “naturalized” in the lawn if they didn’t turn into those white fluff balls of seed.
The bees appreciate dandelions too. They are an important source of nectar and pollen in early spring, and get bee colonies off to a good start. Birds like the seeds of dandelions even though they are small. Some farm animals don’t care for dandelion foliage as it’s rather bitter and the plants are often left to flower in pastures to the delight of the bees. The only place that dandelions should really be removed from is orchards. Bees will often bypass fruit tree flowers for dandelion flowers and that isn’t a good thing if you want fruit.
|Dandelions mean spring.|
Dandelions are interesting plants. The leaves are grooved and arranged to funnel water to the roots and the root itself is a long sturdy taproot capable of storing water so the plant survives drought well. The dandelion begins flowering when the day length is slightly below 12 hours, stops flowering when the day gets to its longest point and then begins flowering again in autumn when the day length is about 12 hours again.
Dandelion flowers are actually masses of small flowers bundled together and these flowers do not need pollination to set seed, although they appreciate and reward bees for helping with pollination. Dandelion flowers close at night and when rain is coming. The dandelion seed floats away on a tuff of fluff to start new colonies. Dandelions are perennial and if you dig down beneath the snow you can find the leaves still green in winter.
All parts of the dandelion are used in herbal remedies or for food. Young dandelion leaves are used for salads and are grown commercially for that purpose to include in “green mixes.” The buds of dandelions and even open flowers can be used in salads also. The young greens are cooked like spinach, although they are best mixed with other greens as they are bitter when cooked.
Dried dandelion leaves are used as a tea to aid digestion. Dried dandelion leaves, dried nettles and yellow dock are turned into an herbal beer once popular in Canada. The leaves are high in calcium, boron, and silicone and modern herbals suggest them to aid in treating osteoporosis.
Dandelion flowers are used to make dandelion wine. Fresh flowers are picked and fermented with sugar and yeast, usually flavored with a little lemon and orange to make a wine that is said to taste good and provide you with lots of vitamins and minerals. Dandelion flowers contain high levels of lecithin and choline, two substances modern herbalists use for treating Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders.
Dandelion roots are dried and ground and used in a number of medicinal ways. They are a mild diuretic and laxative and are said to help the liver. The dried roots are also used as a coffee substitute. The chopped, boiled and mashed roots are an old remedy for sore breasts and mastitis.
When you pick a dandelion flower the stem leaks a milky sap. That sap is an old remedy for warts and other skin conditions. And that sap can be turned into rubber too. In Germany a manufacturing facility began large scale production of rubber from dandelions in October of 2013. They hope to have dandelion rubber tires on the commercial market within five years. Besides tires the rubber will be used in many other applications that traditional rubber and latex are used for, such as latex gloves.
As you can see a lawn full of dandelions is like a giant herb and vegetable garden rolled into one! Of course when you pick dandelion parts for eating and herbal use pick them from areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Why would anyone want to pollute their lawn with weed killers to get rid of this valuable plant? Don’t hate this valuable and useful plant-think of it kindly and let some live.
Gardener’s health tips
Gardening season begins soon! In fact you may already be out cleaning and pruning the garden. Gardening is healthy, both for the body and mind but there are some health considerations gardeners should be aware of.
Don’t overdo it the first few days, especially if you have been house bound all winter. It’s so nice to be out in the sun, working in the soil that time passes quickly and before you know it you have spent hours working. The next day however you may not feel like working at all because you are so sore. Alternate activities, do some pruning for an hour, then some raking, then some hauling of mulch. This will keep you from getting too sore. Stay off your knees as much as possible and watch the heavy lifting. Don’t forget to do some sitting and daydreaming too.
All gardeners should have a tetanus booster at least every ten years. Tetanus is a soil borne disease and gardeners have lots of contact with soil. Wear mosquito repellant when working in the garden. Mosquitoes carry the West Nile Virus and every year many people in the United States die of West Nile Virus. If you are handling peat or vermiculite while potting plants wear a dust mask. These dusty products can harm your lungs.
Wear sunscreen or protect yourself with a hat, long sleeves and pants. Even if you are not concerned with skin cancer, heavy tanning makes your skin wrinkle and look older much faster than people who keep tanning to a minimum. Check any prescription medicine you are taking to see if your exposure to sun could cause a reaction also. Protect your eyes from glare by wearing a hat with a brim or a visor even if you wear sunglasses or color changing lenses. The glare coming over the top of the frame can damage your eyes.
Don’t get fooled tomorrow.
“He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero
Events, classes and other offerings
Please let me know if there is any event or class that you would like to share with other gardeners. These events are primarily in Michigan but if you are a reader from outside of Michigan and want to post an event I’ll be glad to do it.
Master Gardeners if you belong to an association that approves your hours please check with that association before assuming a class or work day will count as credit.
Do you have plants or seeds you would like to swap or share? Post them here by emailing me. Kimwillis151@gmail.com
Gardening and All That Jazz – Innovation and Sustainability For Your Garden, Saturday, April 25, 2015 – 7 am – 4:15 pm, Oakland Schools Conference Center 2111 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford
Sessions include: Will Allen – Growing Power and the Good Food Revolution: A visual story of how Growing Power came to be and of Will Allen’s personal journey, the lives he has touched, and a grassroots movement that is changing the way our nation eats., Will Allen – How To Put “Growing Power” in Your Backyard: How to make your own compost bin, outdoor and indoor worm bins and raised beds. Matthew Benson – Growing Beautiful Food: Cultivating the Incredible, Edible Garden - Kerry Ann Mendez – Gardening Simplified for Changing Lifestyle: Exceptional Plants and Design Solutions for Aging and Time-pressed Gardeners
If you would like to pass along a notice about an educational event or a volunteer opportunity please send me an email before Tuesday of each week and I will print it. Also if you have a comment or opinion you’d like to share, send it to me. Please state that you want to have the item published in my weekly notes. You must give your full name and what you say must be polite and not attack any individual. I am very open to ideas and opinions that don’t match mine but I do reserve the right to publish what I want.
Once again the opinions in this newsletter are mine and I do not represent any organization or business. I do not make any income from this newsletter. I write this because I love to share with other gardeners some of the things I come across in my research each week. It keeps me engaged with local people and horticulture. It’s a hobby, basically. I hope you enjoy it. If at any time you don’t wish to receive these emails just let me know. If you know anyone who would like to receive these emails have them send their email address to me. KimWillis151@gmail.com