October 27, 2015, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter © Kim Willis
I always thought that May was the busiest month but this October has been a hectic month for me. It has flown by and I still have bulbs to plant and chicken coops to winterize. We embarked upon some home improvement projects that involved much more time than planned. We decided to paint the house while my plants were at the least vulnerable stage to being trampled by ladders and feet. One Saturday we worked through snow showers as we scraped off old paint. But I can now say the house is painted, some new storm windows installed and a lot of fixing up is done. For those of you you may have wondered I did not post a newsletter last week because of the big home improvement project.
I did manage to plant 15 new lily bulbs and two new hardy hibiscus between painting jobs. I have a hundred tulip bulbs sitting in a box under the table waiting to be planted and another hundred or so bulbs of various sorts on the way to me. Yes I like bulbs. I love the way they pop up in spring and start the garden season. I am always seeing something new I just have to have. In fact I usually see way more things I want than I can afford or have time to plant. But hey, plants are my hobby and my addiction.
Amazingly some plants continue to bloom outside. The landscape roses Knock out and Sunny Knock out for example, the calibrachoa,(although not as pretty as earlier) an Osteospermum, regular mums, calendula, even the woodland nicotiania. The heavy frost and even freezes we have had off and on aren’t doing them in just yet. I am still harvesting carrots and onions.
I have been seed gathering all season and as soon as I have time to sit down and sort through what I have I’ll post a list of what I can share. If you like swapping seeds and plants you may want to join the face book page Michigan Seed and Plant Swap.
It’s a heavy Mast year
Acorns and walnuts are raining down like tiny bombs all over my yard. Mast is a term for nuts and acorns collectively. While nut and oak trees do alternate light production years with heavier ones, in some years the production of these seeds is very high. Some people think that it means that winter will be hard but the heavy production actually is the result of stress from the hard winter last year. If our winter weather goes as the weather service is predicting this winter will be milder than last year.
Heavy mast years are great for wildlife and mean more will survive the winter and they will produce more and stronger offspring next spring. Many things besides squirrels eat acorns and nuts. Blue jays, crows and a number of other birds including grouse eat acorns and nuts. The Blue Jays hide some nuts and acorns in crevices of trees and holes in other things. They will fly down and get an acorn and then crack it against a branch in a tree. The crows in my neighborhood gather in the early morning to eat the walnuts that have been cracked by cars on the road.
Deer eat acorns, as do woodchucks and many other animals. These animals don’t seem to be bothered by acorns tannin content. However cattle, sheep, goats and horses can become quite sick and even die from consuming too many acorns. Acorns can cause birth defects in cattle. Pigs don’t seem to be bothered. Chickens and rabbits generally don’t eat acorns or walnuts unless someone has cracked them for them, but if you do this it and feed it to them it can make them sick too. If you have livestock you may want to remove them from pastures where there are a lot of acorns and from pastures with black walnuts, which can also be toxic. Keep oak and black walnut leaves cleaned out of water tanks too.
I was reading through the posts on a facebook group page I belong to and saw a woman asking something like – “I saw a tree down the road with a lot of acorns under it. How can I eat them”. It amazes me that “How can I eat it?” is the first thing some people think about when coming upon either a new plant or an abundance of some plant part like seeds or berries. Most people in the US aren’t in survival mode, although I do admit it’s shameful how many go hungry here. ( And the ones on a facebook plant group page aren’t likely to be starving.) There are many foods you can eat when you need to survive and nothing else is available but that doesn’t mean those foods are actually pleasant to eat. Acorns are one of those things.
Usually helpful people on facebook start talking about how Native Americans or our early ancestors used these wild foods someone is enquiring about. I too, am guilty of giving ways that Native Americans used a certain plant part when discussing some plants. However much of what modern people believe to be true of indigenous people’s diets from earlier times comes more from folklore than fact. You have to do your research in the older ethnobiology books where early American botanists actually talked to native people and asked them what foods they and their ancestors used, how they used them, and how they prepared them instead of relying on romantic stories in childhood history books or some modern “wild foods expert’s” interesting but often inaccurate stories about how “natives” used a certain plant product.
Take acorns for example. In some groups of Native Americans acorns were utilized as emergency foods or survival foods. First Nation people marked trees that had acorns low in tannin- called sweet acorns- and tried to collect acorns only from these trees unless times were dire. They did pound some acorns into flour and sometimes made flat cakes but when acorn meal was used it was generally used in soups and stews to thicken them and to extend the meat. It might be made into gruel with water when other food was lacking. Some eastern tribes grew corn and sunflowers, and these were preferred over acorns as a grain product. A few North-Eastern tribes collected and may have cultivated wild rice.
Acorns take a lot more time to prepare for eating than these other grains as they must be soaked and rinsed several times to leach out the tannins, then dried and pounded. And the end product, acorn meal, is nutritious but also bland and tasteless. It does not cook up fluffy baked goods. There were lots of other alternatives to flour-like products such as the powdered roots of cattails, arrowroot and so on that were easier to process and tastier and native people used those items too.
Other than tribes who grew grain crops, Native Americans relied on game meat for their basic diet, the fatter the better. Even farming tribes used lots of meat and fat in their normal diet. For many native people grain and plant products were used as flavoring, in season treats and in times when game was scarce. A small amount might be stored for those hard times, usually late winter and early spring. In tribes that farmed squash-pumpkins were dried for winter and these tribes did store seeds like corn, beans and sunflower for winter use, sometimes in great quantity. Berries were also dried and used for special treats.
Native Americans certainly didn’t rely on acorns as a primary food nor did they make “muffins” with rose infused honey as one supposedly ethnobotanist taught his group to do. There were no honey bees before Europeans arrived on the continent. Even after colonists brought bees to the new world it took a century or so before there were many wild colonies for native people to collect honey from and there is no evidence that honey was widely used by indigenous peoples. Honey use would be equivalent to wheat flour use, a foreign custom adopted by some people. Every time some naturalist starts talking about Native American dishes made with honey you can just chuckle.
While it’s alright to experiment a little with a wild food source, don’t collect a lot of acorns or nuts or anything else until you know you like the flavor and are confident you will use what you collect. Otherwise you are wasting a valuable wildlife resource better left in nature. And make sure you have permission to gather wild foods. In most parks you are not allowed to carry out plant products.
It’s also a heavy apple year
If you have driven along any country road this year you have probably noticed lots of wild apples ripening. In my area there are all kinds of apples along the roads, from small yellow crabapple types to big red apples. These trees for the most part are not cultivated. They must have sprung up from seed when an apple core was tossed from a car or piles of deer bait were dumped near roads. I am always tempted to take some branches and try to graft some of the odder types on my apple trees. (Apples don’t grow true from seeds.) My own trees are loaded and I have given some apples away as well as processing some for the freezer. Between the heavy mast production and heavy apple production the animals will eat well this fall.
Apples are one wild food that modern humans don’t have to learn to like. And by the way- apples aren’t native to America either. You can gather roadside apples and make some great apple butter or apple juice or even a pie. And the bonus is that not only are the apples free but generally organic. Do wash them well to remove road dust before using. Some may also have been sprayed with mosquito sprays on the roadside. If they are on the edge of someone’s property get permission to gather apples.
Burdocks and other sticky things
If you have farm animals or pets you have probably encountered the annoying “burrs” in their coats, which are the seed pods of the common burdock, (Arctium minus). And if you have ever walked in the woods or fields and brushed against these plants you’ve probably had the unfortunate experience of trying to pull these sticky balls off your clothing. The round seed clusters of burdock will stick to almost anything. This is an extremely proficient way for the burdock plant to spread its seeds near and far.
Burdock is a bi-annual plant. In the first year it puts down a thick, long taproot and a rosette of large broad leaves. In the late summer of the second year burdock sends up long flowering stems. The stems may be streaked with purplish red and they have a grooved, rough surface. Burdock has purple tuft-like flowers at the top of a rounded mass of green, hooked bracts. The bracts turn brown and form the familiar round burr as the seeds ripen and dry.
Left alone in good soil burdock leaves can grow huge - 2 foot long and wide. The leaves have a grayish looking underside because they are covered with fine white hairs. The hollow flowering stems can reach 5 feet into the air and are thick and tough.
Burdock usually grows in full sun and prefers rich soil although it can pop up in other places. You must be vigilant and remove young plants from pastures and other areas as soon as you see them as the older they get the harder they are to remove, and letting them go to seed compounds the problem. Even when kept mowed, burdock will struggle along and produce its burrs on plants a few inches from the ground. The flowers will continue to ripen and become burrs if cut from the plant while still green and are often found in hay.
Asian species of burdock are cultivated for their roots and American species also have edible roots. The young leaves of burdock can be eaten as a salad green. The stems can be peeled and cooked also. Burdock has many medicinal uses, the roots, seeds and dried leaves are used in a variety of home remedies.
If pets, livestock or even you get burdocks in your hair cover the burdocks with gobs of cheap hair conditioner and let it soak in for a few minutes. The burrs will then easily comb out. Don’t pick off burrs from your socks and gloves and toss them on the ground near your house unless you want burdock to sprout up there in the spring.
Stick-tight, or Beggar’s ticks (Bidens frondosa) is another plant that uses stickiness to distribute its seeds. It’s also a common fall “condition”. The small, dark brown, flat seeds are oval shaped with two prongs on one end that grab onto fur and clothing. Hundreds of the small seeds can attach themselves to you as you walk through a field and will come home with you to grow in your yard next year.
Stick-tights grow in moist, sunny areas and are a common weed in nurseries and home landscapes as well as along roadside ditches and in moist fields. Because the seed can lay dormant until conditions are good, stick-tights may pop up in the garden several times each season. They persist until a hard freeze in the fall.
Stick-tights are annual plants that can germinate all through summer and they mature rapidly. The compound leaves consist of blade shaped, deeply toothed leaflets with a prominent mid-vein in groups of 3-5 leaflets. They are attached opposite each other on a squared stem. On the end of each leaf is a group of 3 leaflets with the center leaflet being the largest.
The flowers of stick-tight are small sunflower like things with yellow outer petals and brownish-yellow centers. They develop into a cluster of the hooked seeds with the true seed enclosed in the brown papery husk that sticks to you. Birds do eat the seeds, but obviously not enough of them.
Hair conditioner will also help you get stick tights out of hair and fur. Make sure to dispose of them in the trash, not in the yard or compost pile.
Common cocklebur ( Xanthium strumarium) the prickly burrs of this plant look a bit like burdock burrs but they are smaller and longer rather than round like burdock burrs. Each burr consists of two pods with a seed in each. The spines and coating of this burr are very hard and can cause intestinal problems if animals ingest them when grazing or trying to remove them from their fur.
Cockleburs are annual plants with stems that are spotted with brown or purple. The leaves are triangular with wavy edges and a rough texture. They have 3 prominent surface veins. Mature plants get to be about 3 foot tall and have several branches and a thick taproot. The stems and leaves of cocklebur can cause liver damage if animals eat them.
|Cocklebur. Wikimedia commons|
The flowers of cocklebur consist of clusters of inconspicuous male flowers and female flowers that have the immature burr (fruit) attached. They are in the axils of the leaves. Each burr is covered in spines but there are two longer spines on the bottom that help the burr attach to fur or clothes. Interestingly one seed in the burr can germinate almost at once but the other will lay dormant for one or more years.
Cockleburs are generally found in uncultivated fields, and untended lands in full sun. They are not as common as burdock in this area, thankfully. They should be eradicated when found because of their dangerous qualities.
How are the houseplants?
If your houseplants are losing leaves don’t worry. Many plants lose their leaves when brought inside and need to adjust to lower light levels. Some plants just drop a few leaves, others almost all of them. In a few weeks new leaves more suited to indoor light levels develop. Since plants without leaves require less water be careful not to over water until new leaves begin to develop.
Some tender perennials that may have gotten too cold before being brought back inside may go into a short dormancy. For some things like tuberous begonias you should expect the plants to go into dormancy, dropping their leaves and stems. Leave the tubers right in the pot and store the pots in a cool, dim place until spring. Water them just enough to keep the soil barely moist, which can be just once a month in a cool spot. Don’t let them freeze.
If you are in doubt whether a plant has died or gone dormant just leave it alone for a bit, watering it only when the soil feels dry. If stems remain green and pliant it’s probably fine.
If a plant is flowering, such as a tropical hibiscus, you can continue to fertilize it with a blooming plant food. Otherwise do not fertilize your houseplants until the days lengthen in March.
Check pots before you water them. Some pots will need more water in winter because the heat and low humidity draw moisture out of the soil. Other pots will need less water than they needed outside. Overwatering can become a big problem in the fall before you and the plants develop a new watering schedule.
Please do have houseplants. Plants help clean the air, raise humidity and bring calm and peace. If there is any teachers out there who would like plants for their classroom contact me. I have some houseplant starts I’ll give you. Every school room needs the homey, feel good presence of plants. Lots of plants will survive weekends with cooler temperatures and even extended holiday breaks.
And it’s Halloween time again
Halloween is Saturday night, but the moon is full tonight. In earlier times people carved out turnips instead of pumpkins (pumpkins were brought to Europe after America was discovered.) They put candles inside to scare away the ghosts of the dead which were said to be flitting around on All Saints Eve. They also made little cakes of sweet bread that were given to appease the dead souls floating around. People wore masks so the dead wouldn’t recognize them.
Halloween sure has changed since the early days, even since I was a kid so long ago. One thing I really dislike is those plastic inflatable decorations. They are hideous and environmentally evil. Please use natural decorations if you can. And there are now solar lights that can light up that Jack O Lantern safely and in an environmentally friendly way.
|This Jack O Lantern is lit by a solar light.|
Here’s something that may really scare some people. NASA reports that a new meteor or asteroid- there’s some debate- just discovered this month will pass relatively close – (like slightly farther than the moon) to us on Halloween. They say it’s no danger but that doesn’t stop some people from worrying. The object will actually pass us early Saturday morning and you’ll need a telescope to see it. So if you wake up on Halloween it’s safe to go Trick or Treating.
Remember to turn your clocks back one hour Sunday.
“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.
Do you have plants or seeds you would like to swap or share? Post them here by emailing me.
Four inch pots of spider plant (house plant) absolutely free. If you want one contact me, (Kim)
An interesting Plant Id page you can join on Facebook
Here’s a seed/plant sharing group you can join on Facebook
Here’s a facebook page link for gardeners in the Lapeer area
Here’s a link to classes being offered at Campbell’s Greenhouse, 4077 Burnside Road, North Branch. Now open.
Here’s a link to classes and events at Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor
Here’s a link to programs being offered at English Gardens, several locations in Michigan.
Here’s a link to classes at Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy and Shelby Twsp. MI, and now combined with Goldner Walsh in Pontiac MI.
Here’s a link to classes and events at Bordines, Rochester Hills, Grand Blanc, Clarkston and Brighton locations
Here’s a link to events at the Leslie Science and Nature Center, 1831 Traver Road Ann Arbor, Michigan | Phone 734-997-1553 |
Here’s a link to events at Hidden Lake Gardens, 6214 Monroe Rd, Tipton, MI
Here’s a link to all the nature programs being offered at Seven Ponds Nature center in Dryden, Michigan. http://www.sevenponds.org/education/progs/springprograms/
Here’s a link to events and classes at Fredrick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids Mi
http://www.meijergardens.org/learn/ (888) 957-1580, (616) 957-1580
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.
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