Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October 27, 2015, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

October 27, 2015, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter    © Kim Willis
http://www.examiner.com/country-living-in-detroit/kimberley-willis


Hi Gardeners

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 seed.

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
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.
Kim Willis
 “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
https://www.facebook.com/groups/875574275841637/

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 |
http://www.lesliesnc.org/

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



Newsletter information
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


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 13, 2015, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

October 13, 2015, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter    © Kim Willis
http://www.examiner.com/country-living-in-detroit/kimberley-willis


Hi Gardeners

The color show begins.
Well I think the season is winding up for us gardeners.  We had our first frost Saturday morning and I think there will be more in the next few days. The frost was light and patchy but it was obvious that it did some damage.  Most of us are a little relieved that the season is ending but sad too.  There are still things to be done until the ground freezes but that time is coming all too soon when we will be curled up inside looking at garden catalogs.

I had big plans to renovate two garden beds this fall but it may now have to wait until spring because we decided to paint the house when our moving around in the front will be the least damaging to the plants there.  The big ostrich ferns have mostly died down, the lilies and other things can be trimmed down and getting a ladder up against the house will be easier than in the spring.  I guess it just depends on the weather which projects will get completed.

Saturday after the frost I picked one of the watermelons still in the garden.  It weighed about 10 pounds and was a yellow fleshed melon.  Very nice.  There are still two good sized melons in there – I left them even though the vines wilted in some places from the frost.  I am hoping they will ripen a bit more- but they might not make it.  I am still digging carrots.

The frost was light enough that it only blackened the dahlia foliage a bit and the blooms still look good.  The morning glories were wilted on top but they continued to open flowers from the lower part of the vines.  The next good chance for a frost or maybe even a freeze looks like this Friday night- Saturday morning again.

Frost and your garden

It may not have happened to your garden yet but the time is coming quickly.  Mid October is the usual time for first frost throughout most of southern Lower Michigan, zones 5 and 6. Last year frost came much earlier.

 Frost can happen when the nights are still and clear and the temperature dips below 40 degrees. The dew point must be the same as the air temperature or below it for frost to happen.   A frost usually happens slightly above 32 degrees and a freeze happens when the temps fall below that.  Frosts are often classified as hard or light depending on how much ice forms on plants.

Some people may get their first frost weeks before others living nearby.   Low areas tend to get frost first because cold air flows downhill.  Gardens in cities generally get frost later than those gardens in suburban and rural areas because the pavement and buildings tend to hold heat.  After you have gardened  a year or two on your site you will probably know if you are in a frost “pocket”.    You will know that when the forecast calls for clear, cold nights you should take steps to harvest crops or protect them from frost.
Frost damage

Many plants are able to withstand a light frost without suffering much damage.  Plants that have been outside all summer and gradually acclimated to colder nights take frost better than plants as they first go outside in the spring.  Every gardener should have a roll of spun row cover for protecting plants at the beginning and end of the season.  Old sheets, newspapers, paper bags  etc., can also be used to cover plants at night when frost is likely, and buy a few more days of bloom or time to ripen crops.   If you use plastic sheeting it should not touch the plants but be held off them with some kind of supports.

Make sure you remove covers as soon as the sun is out in the morning or you may cook your plants. Sometimes that first frost is followed by many days of nice weather and protected plants can continue growing.  If you don’t want to cover plants and a frost is predicted, it’s time to harvest crops like tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, melons and summer squash.

Tomatoes that have started to ripen will continue to do so if they are picked.  Peppers will too.  Tomatoes that are nearly ripe can be set in a sunny window to finish ripening but the greener ones should be kept out of direct sunlight and stored in a single layer. My grandmother always wrapped each green tomato in newspaper and had tomatoes ripening until Thanksgiving.  Check them often and throw out any rotting ones at once. 

The vines of winter squash and pumpkins will be killed by a frost but the fruit will safely sit in the field a while longer.  A freeze, however, will turn them to mush.   Most fruit like apples and pears should be picked before a hard freeze.  Grapes can be damaged by frost and they should be covered if the fruit isn’t ripe enough to pick.

Zinnias, morning glories, dahlias and many other flowers will be killed by a frost.    Pick them and make huge, glorious, end of season bouquets to share with others.  Other flowers like mums, pansies and asters will continue to bloom.  Even some roses, petunias and marigolds will survive a light frost and continue to bloom.   The foliage of cannas, glads, callas and dahlias will be killed by frost but you can wait to  dig the corms or tubers until just before a hard  freeze occurs and store them inside until next year. 

Houseplants and very tender tropical plants, like bananas, should be moved inside before the first frost even occurs.   When the nights are falling below 50 degrees on a regular basis it’s time to move them back inside.  Check them for bugs and other unwanted creatures before bringing them inside.

If you have almost hardy potted plants, those hardy to a zone or two above yours,( rosemary, some lavenders, some figs, jasmine, gardenias are examples), which you want to protect you can do two things.  You can leave them outside until cold weather has caused them to go dormant, sometimes losing their leaves, and then before a big snow or very low temperatures bring the pots inside to a cool, ( just above freezing) , dimly lit area to store.  If you want to keep the plants growing slowly all winter bring them in a bit earlier and give them a bit warmer conditions, 45 -50 degrees, and good light.  Some plants actually need that period of colder weather to bloom.   Some of these plants store better dormant rather than in a growing state too.  You need to research the varieties hardiness and whether it needs a dormant period.


Hellebores

An old garden favorite that had fallen out of favor has made a return to garden popularity. Hellebores have been grown in gardens for thousands of years but modern gardeners had until recently passed them over for more exotic things.  New hybrids of Christmas and Lenten Rose, as Hellebores are commonly called, have sparked great interest in gardeners.  

Hellebore.  Wikimedia commons
Hellebores come in a wide range of colors and are one of the few flowering plants that grow in shady conditions.  They are hardy, fairly easy to grow and deer resistant.  New vigorous hybrids have larger flowers over a longer time period in early spring. Hellebores make an excellent evergreen groundcover under trees and in other shady areas.

There are a number of species of hellebores that are native to the mountainous, wooded regions of Southern and central Europe and the Balkans. When modern plant breeders begin to hybridize the species they provided gardeners with a variety of interesting colors and even double flowered hellebores, which sparked new interest in growing the plant.

Steeped in the murky mist of medicinal and magical, used in poisoning along with hemlock and other deadly herbs, the white flowered Christmas rose was often found in old cottage gardens.  In the mild wintered climates of southern Europe the plant bloomed near Christmas, when little else bloomed.  It was called the Lenten Rose in colder climates where it bloomed later.  Here in zone 5 Hellebores bloom in early spring.

Hellebore Habits

Hellebores are hardy from zone 4-9.   They are evergreen, retaining their leaves until a new set grows in the spring.  The thick leathery leaves are compound, with 7-9 leaflets of glossy green.  The roots are rhizomes and they spread slowly to form clumps of hellebores 15-18 inches in height. 

Hellebores flowers are interesting.  What we perceive as flower petals are actually sepals.  The true flower petals are in the center and they are modified to form little cups that hold nectar to attract pollinators.  The sepals often retain a greenish tinge to the back but the part of the sepal we call the flower now comes in colors from deep plum to white.  Some of the sepal/petals can be spotted or edged in another color.

The flowers are 2-3 inches wide, lightly cupped and nodding.  They often stay on the plant for a month.  An established plant with good conditions produces dozens of flowers. After the flowers fade attractive seed pods are left, unless you remove them to prevent invasion by seedlings.

Hellebore culture

Hellebores are plants from the edges of deciduous woodlands.  They like shade in the summer but sun in the winter and early spring before the trees leaf out.  They like rich, organic soil, like that in forests covered with decaying leaves.   They prefer slightly alkaline soil.  Gardeners can reconstruct these conditions by planting Hellebores under deciduous trees or in lightly shaded areas and working plenty of organic matter into the soil.

Hellebores dislike being moved once planted into the garden so make your site choice a good one.  They will spread slowly from rhizomes and by seed to from large clumps.  It may take a year or two before hellebores reach their full potential in your garden after planting.

Gardeners can also transplant new seedlings when they first pop up.  It will take 2-3 years before they bloom.  Hellebores don’t do well with division of the clumps; they will often sulk for a few years before blooming again if divided.

Hellebores do not need fertilization but they do need to be watered when conditions are dry.  It is especially important to keep Hellebores moist while they are getting established. They do appreciate additions of organic matter such as chopped leaves from time to time.

While the leaves are evergreen, they can look pretty bad in early spring.  As soon as you see new leaves emerging in the spring you can cut off the old foliage.

Choosing Varieties

Hellebores are propagated by seed.  The seed of the new hybrid varieties does not come true to color, so if you want a specific color you must purchase a plant that has already bloomed so the bloom color is known.  That is also true of double flowered forms, they do not come true from seed.  The true Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, which has white flowers, and some other species will come true from seed.

Hellebores are often sold as color mixes or strains, and the plants you buy will have a variety of colors.  Good strains are ‘Double Queen ‘™ and ‘Heronswood Doubles’ with double flowers in many colors, ‘Royal Heritage’™  and ‘Brandywine’ are mixtures of single flowers in many colors.

Some individual Hellebores of note are; ‘Goldfinch’, a light golden flower, ‘Walhelivor’ which has leaves with silver veining and red flower stems, white flowers, ‘Mrs Betty Ranicar’, pure white double flowered and ‘Blue Lady’ which has deep purple blue flowers.

Caution

All parts of the hellebore plant are poisonous, but the roots are extremely so.  While once used in herbal remedies, it is not recommended you experiment with it.   Many accidental or deliberate overdoses resulting in death are recorded in history.

 Deer and other animals will not eat the plants.   Some people get an allergic reaction when handling the plants so gloves should be used.

Wild Grapes

In Michigan wild grapes are often spotted in the fall, when they are loaded with small purple, sour grapes. Birds and small animals feast on the bounty and there are seldom any left for the winter. Humans sometimes collect the small but perfectly edible grapes to make jelly, juice and wine.

Wild grapes can be used just like garden grapes.
Grapes are native to several parts of the world. North America has several species of native grapes, the most common in Michigan being the Fox grape, Vitus labrusca or Frost Grape, Vitus vulpina. Both have 3 lobed leaves, the Fox grape has more rounded lobes and the Frost grape has a more deeply serrated edge. Both grapes have leaves that are lighter and somewhat fuzzy on the underside.

Grapes form vines that climb into trees and may climb to the very top- 60 feet or more of a large tree. They also cover thickets and fences. Grapes climb by using tendrils, small modified stems that wrap around things like a green wire. Wild grapes should be removed from landscape trees as they can overwhelm them and cause stunting or death. Grapes develop woody stems as they age and some very old vines may have stems a foot or more wide. The bark on older stems is composed of shaggy, loose strips. Wild grapes are very long-lived, with vines living to be a 100 or more years old.

Grapes flower in early summer and the small greenish white flower clusters have a pleasant aroma. Clusters of small green fruit develop that ripen into blue- black or purple-red grapes. Wild grapes are said to be sweeter after a frost, but many are gone long before that. Grapes can be found growing in the sun or shade, in many kinds of soil.

Grape leaves are used in cooking and the vines are used in many types of crafts. For craft use pull the vines out to long lengths before cutting them.  Then let the vines dry a bit in a sunny place until the leaves fall off.  Grapes are also used medicinally- (not for just wine!)- as a laxative, and for liver and kidney problems. Grape leaves have been used on wounds to stop bleeding. Oil can be pressed from grape seed, but it takes an awful lot of grape seeds to make a little oil.

Knowing When Nuts Are Ripe

There’s a lot of gleaning and harvesting to be done right now.  If nuts are something you have access to here are some tips to know when to harvest and how to store them.

Pecan and hickory nuts are nearly ripe when the outer husk turns brown and splits.  Gather the nuts and spread them in a thin layer in a warm dry place for about 2 weeks.  Make sure that the nuts are protected from hungry animals.  After 2 weeks, peel off the husk and crack the nut shell.  Remove the meat from the shell.  If the nut meat snaps easily the nut is ripe and dry enough to store.  Pecan and Hickory nuts can be stored in the shell or the meats can be removed and stored in dry clean containers. 

Black walnuts in the husk.
Walnuts, Black or English, are nearly ready when the husk turns black.  Collect the nuts and store in a warm dry place for about a month.  Remove the husks using gloves as they stain the hands. Crack open the nut shell and check the nut meat.  Ripe meats are firm and white.  Some people put the walnuts on a driveway and run over them with a car to remove the hulls and crack the shells.  This will stain the driveway.  Others have used old washers that have a bucket of sand put in them with the nuts.  Agitating will then remove the husks.  Never do this with your good washer!    

Almonds are seldom grown by homeowners, but they are ripe when the husk splits open and reveals the nut.  Crack a shell and see if the nut meat snaps easily.  If not let the nuts dry longer.

Nuts will stay fresh tasting longer if refrigerated or frozen.  Make sure containers are closed tightly as the nuts will pick up flavors of things stored near them.

Preparing and preserving pumpkin

Pumpkin spice latte? Bah humbug- try the real thing. Preserve some pumpkins so you can have pumpkin spice anything you want.

Its fall and pumpkins are available locally.  Most of the pumpkins on the market are going to be turned into Jack O’ Lanterns but there are some good recipes that utilize pumpkins and they are not all pie recipes.  Pumpkin is used in a variety of dishes from soups to desserts.  It’s tasty and good for you too.  Why not turn some of the pumpkins you grew or bought at the market into some delightful dishes?

While pie type pumpkins are best for cooking, any pumpkin can be cooked. This article will give you the scoop on cooking, caning and freezing fresh pumpkins.  Winter squashes can also be cooked, canned and frozen exactly like pumpkin.

Preparing pumpkin
How chickens prepare pumpkin.

Here’s how to prepare a pumpkin for fresh use in a recipe. 

Select ripe, firm pumpkins.  Do not use pumpkins that have been frosted or frozen. Wash the pumpkin well under clean, running water.

Cut the pumpkin in half. Scoop out the stringy goop and seeds in the center of the pumpkin.  Save the seeds for roasting if you want.

Scrape the inner side of the pumpkin with the blade of a spoon until all the stringy matter is gone.

Cut the pumpkin into 1 inch chunks unless you are roasting or grilling it.  In those cases cut it into 3-4 inch chunks.

Stand each chunk on end and slice off the rind or skin with a sharp knife.  There is a color change between the hard rind and the fleshy part.  Discard the rind.

Proceed with your recipe directions or see cooking tips below.

Cooking fresh pumpkin

There are two main ways to cook a fresh pumpkin.  You can place chunks of prepared pumpkin flesh in a pan with enough water to cover them and cook on low heat until it is softened. Drain off the cooking water.  For most recipes you will then mash the pumpkin with a potato masher, blender or even a spoon.  In some soup recipes the pumpkin chunks will be cooked in other fluids.

You can also bake or grill larger pumpkin pieces.  Lightly spray the grill or a cookie sheet with olive oil or a butter spray. Place the pumpkin pieces on it.  Bake at 325ยบ or grill on medium heat until the pumpkin is softened.  Occasionally halved or quartered cleaned pumpkins are baked.  Consult your recipe but generally baked and grilled pumpkin is also mashed or pureed.

Canning pumpkin

Make sure you have some canned pumpkin on hand.
Credit- wikimedia commons
The easiest way to have cooked pumpkin on hand for recipes is to can it.  This allows you the convenience of having cooked pumpkin for recipes throughout the year.  You will need a pressure canner to can pumpkin.  Water bath canning is not safe.  When you can pumpkin at home you are making good use of a local and seasonal food source.

You need to can pumpkin chunks as it is not safe to can mashed pumpkin. Mashed pumpkin in the jar is too dense to allow proper heating to prevent bacterial growth.  Leave the mashing to when you open the can to use it.  It will be soft and easy to mash.  Also add spices just before using the pumpkin for best flavor.

You will need 18-20 pounds of whole pumpkin to can 7 quarts of pumpkin.

Clean and prepare pumpkin as outlined in the beginning of the article.

Clean 7 quart jars, rims and lids in hot water and keep warm.

Place the pumpkin chunks in a large pot and add water to cover them. 

Bring the pot to a boil and then boil for 3 minutes.  The pieces should still feel firm. Save the cooking water and keep it hot.

With tongs remove chunks of pumpkin and pack your jars with them to 1 inch from the top.  Do not mash the pumpkin.

Ladle the hot, saved cooking water over the pumpkin pieces, leave one inch of space at the top.

Run a bubble stick through the jars to remove bubbles, wipe the rim and add the lid and screw band.

Place the jars in a pressure canner and process for 90 minutes.  Set pressure on a dial gauge at 11 pounds at up to 2,000 feet altitude, 2000-4000 feet at 12 pounds, 4000-6000 at 13 pounds and above 6000 feet altitude at 14 pounds.  For weighted gauges set them at 10 pounds up to 2000 feet altitude and 15 pounds above 2,000 feet altitude.

Remove jars and allow them to cool.  Check seals and label before storage.

Freezing pumpkin

You can freeze chunks of pumpkin that have been blanched and finish cooking them later or you can cook, mash and season pumpkin before freezing.  To blanch pumpkin cut it into chunks, and place the chunks in boiling water for 3 minutes.  Drain the pumpkin pieces and freeze in freezer bags or containers.

To freeze mashed pumpkin cook the pumpkin as described earlier in the article.  Mash the pumpkin and put it in freezer bags or containers to freeze.  You can season the pumpkin before freezing but not seasoning it allows you more flexibility later when you use it.

Now that you have some canned or frozen pumpkin to work with you can experiment with all of the great pumpkin recipes and surprise someone you love.

Check those furnace filters- you are going to want the heat this week.

Kim Willis
 “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
https://www.facebook.com/groups/875574275841637/

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 |
http://www.lesliesnc.org/

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



Newsletter information
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



Tuesday, October 6, 2015

October 6, 2015, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

October 6, 2015, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter    © Kim Willis

Hi Gardeners


I generally like fall weather but I certainly don’t like this gloomy, wet weather we are having.  So far we have escaped a frost here and in the short term it doesn’t look likely but we are pushing the frost/freeze average occurrence.  It will happen soon.  The hummingbirds left last week but the turkey vultures remain.  Maybe they know its prime season for car-deer smash-ups and want to be around for the feast.
Garden at Suncrest, Lapeer.

All of my houseplants are now inside, except for my huge rosemary and a pot of rain lilies, which are marginally hardy.  It’s very crowded near the windows now.  I brought in a burro’s tail (succulent) that sat near some small annual nicotiana outside that obviously dropped seed into the burro tails pot. There’s a nicotiana plant about a foot high in the pot and it started to bloom, the prettiest deep purple, almost black flowers.  I saved some seed from that pot of nicotiana earlier and I am tempted to start some more plants to see if they would bloom through the winter.  I also have some small lavender petunias blooming in my Chinese hibiscus pot that came up from seed.

I still have a few stragglers blooming, some annuals like zinnias, morning glories, calendula and cleome, the dahlias, Maximillian sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes, and the landscape roses.  In the vegetable garden I am holding my breath that some nice sized watermelons ripen before frost. I have some romaine lettuce getting bigger and still have cabbage and carrots to harvest. 

I started a project to thin out two of my older flower beds but the weather has put that on hold.  In one I have the Maximillian sunflowers which are so cheerful right now but are taking up huge areas of garden and are flopping on everything else.  Comfrey has gotten a hold in there too, and it’s messy looking this time of year. But in order to do the “ shake up” I am going to have to be ruthless and cut the Maximilian down in its prime. Oh, the hard dilemmas of a gardener.

I want to transplant the smaller perennials from another garden bed into the bed where I’m removing the Maximillian’s and make that bed home to larger shrubs like viburnums, hydrangeas and peonies, things that are easy to care for and can be seen from farther away.  That bed is now literally choked with phlox which will have to be dug out.  And all this need to be done while trying to get my ambitious order of fall bulbs planted.

I am also going to be making apple butter this week and preparing apples for freezing.  I have recipes for apple butter and applesauce in this issue.  Apples are abundant this year. My trees are loaded.  It seems every dirt road around here has apple trees near it spilling apples on the ground.  Anyone who needs apples should just take a ride in the country.  They may not be perfect apples but can make nice sauce or apple butter. 

If we ever get rid of the gray and gloom we are fast approaching the peak of fall color.  Make sure to get out and do some leaf peeping if we have a nice day.

October almanac

October’s full moon occurs on the 27th just before Halloween. This full moon is called the Hunters moon, Dying Grass moon or Traveling moon as Native Americans often moved to winter grounds during this time. The Hunters moon is named such because at this time of year the moon rises early in the evening and stays bright until almost dawn, letting hunters easily track animals in the night.  It’s now illegal to hunt most game animals after the sun goes down.

If you like sky gazing you may want to look for the Draconid meteors which will be at their peak Oct 9th.  This meteor shower isn’t as frequent or showy as others but who knows what you might see.  Look for the meteors in the northwest sky just after dark.  Later in the month the Orionid meteor shower peaks around October 20-21st.  Good viewing times for this meteor shower are around midnight.  Look straight up and to the southeast.

October’s birthstones are the Tourmaline and Opal.  October’s birth flower was the calendula originally, but now is listed as marigold.  Calendulas were the “marigold” before the African plant we now call marigold was discovered. So now either calendula or marigolds is considered correct.  The meaning in flower language is warm, undying and contented love.

October is National popcorn popping month, vegetarian month, seafood month, cookie month, pizza month, and applejack month.  If you are not into food it’s also National Diabetes month, National Adopt a Shelter Dog month, National Domestic Violence Awareness month and of course the most used and abused “cause” of all, Breast Cancer awareness month.

Holidays of note in October include the 10th –World Egg Day, 12th-Columbus Day (why are we still celebrating this one?) 14th – National Dessert day,  17th –Sweetest Day,(another stupid one), 21st National Pumpkin Cheesecake day, 22nd – National Nut Day, 24th –and then there’s two of the  world’s favorite holidays, 30th Devils night and 31st Halloween.

October Gardening in Michigan

Ornamental grasses in fall.
In Michigan we generally have pretty good weather in October and it’s an ideal time to do some garden chores.   While the weathers not too hot hard labor seems a little less daunting and sometimes the beautiful fall weather just invites us to work outside.  The first good frost usually comes by the second week of October across most of Lower Michigan.  We usually have a freeze before the end of October.  But there are still nice days in between the cold weather.

If the weather is dry you will want to remember to keep watering annuals and plants in containers even if it’s cool as long as they are blooming.  Also newly planted trees and shrubs, grass seed, and newly planted perennials should also be watered if it’s dry.  If fall turns out to be very dry you may want to water established perennials and shrubs several times so they go into winter well hydrated, which helps winter survival.  They can use water even after they lose leaves if the ground isn’t frozen.

Before the garden dissolves into brown mush you may want to take some good close pictures of your perennial beds and landscape.  It’s amazing how much space we think we have and what we can’t remember when it’s deep in the winter and all those garden catalogs are tempting us.  Photo’s help us remember where we do need plants or want to change things and where it’s really too crowded to add more.

In the vegetable garden clean out all plants after they have been killed by frost. Remove all dropped fruit and left over veggies to the compost pile to help prevent overwintering disease and insects. Some root vegetables like carrots and beets can stay in the garden until just before the ground freezes without harm.  Lettuce, chard and some other greens may survive for harvest through the month. Harvest any herbs you want to dry before frost.

It’s a good time to add manure or compost to the vegetable garden. Let the chickens in the garden to fertilize and till it.  If you feel you have to rake leaves pile them on the garden.  It’s also a nice time to build additional garden beds or smother a spot to enlarge the garden.  Put away all the stakes and cages.  You may want to record what vegetable varieties you planted this season and how they performed for you.

Harvest all apples, grapes, pears and other things that are ripe even if you don’t want them and pick up all fruit on the ground under trees.  This does two things, it keeps animals like deer away from your trees and it helps keep insects and disease from over wintering.  Compost these fruits or pile them far away from the house.  You may want to scatter old fruit far away from your trees if deer are around. They may munch your trees as well as the fruit.  If the fruit is edible and you don’t want it give it to someone.
 
In the flowerbeds add bulbs now for spring color.  See the article below for tips. You’ll want to dig up and store summer bulbs like dahlias, canna’s and glads after frost has wilted them and well before a freeze is predicted.  Collect seeds now if you want to save them.

Pull out and compost annuals killed by frost.  For color you can still add pansies or mums to planters. Ornamental cabbage and kale are cold hardy and can add bright and unusual color.  Or pile pumpkins and gourds in planters to add color, maybe with dried flowers or seedheads tucked among them.

Watch the pruning now.  Pruning can stimulate new growth in some trees and shrubs and that isn’t good close to winter. After a hard freeze though, you can trim oaks if needed and trees that bleed easily like maples. Winter damage to woody plants starts at the end of stems and works its way back toward the trunk or base of the plant. Dead areas can protect living tissue farther down. If the stems are short there’s no tissue to sacrifice.

Most perennials that die back to the ground are better cut back and cleaned up in the spring. Dead stalks and foliage catch snow and protect the crown or base of some plants through winter.  Neatniks out there can trim dead growth back to a few inches above ground for those herbaceous plants if they must but leave the woody stemmed plants until spring. 

Remove seed heads of plants that don’t provide food for birds or winter interest, especially if the plant seeds itself widely and you don’t need it coming up everywhere.  October is a little late to add new perennials but if you find a bargain plant them, water and mulch and hope for the best.

Do not mulch plants, such as strawberries, for winter protection until the ground has frozen solid.  You want the ground to stay frozen.  If you protect broad leaf evergreens with burlap shields, put the stakes in before the ground freezes but add the burlap after. 

Do not put cones over roses until the ground freezes, which hopefully won’t be until late next month.  Only trim them enough to fit inside the cones.  Hardy landscape roses do not need cones.  If you don’t use cones you may want to mound some soil over the base of less hardy rose plants.  Use some soil dumped from containers or bring soil from another place, don’t scratch it up from around the plant because you may damage roots.  Mound soil up to a foot high around the base of rose canes.

Weed your flower beds and edge them.  It’s one less job to do in the spring.  Dump out and clean bird baths, if you have ceramic or thin plastic baths they need to be turned upside down or put away so they won’t freeze and break, ditto for clay and ceramic pots.  Put the hummingbird feeder away.  Fill suet and other bird feeders.  Make sure they are in places where you can see them from the house for winter bird viewing.

If you do it early in October, grass seed can still be planted.  So can new trees and shrubs.  They do need some time to establish roots before the ground freezes.  Trees and shrubs that are small or have thin bark, old and newly planted, including fruit trees, should be protected with rings of small wire mesh around the trunk.  This keeps rabbits and voles from girdling trunks over winter.  Mesh openings should be no larger than 1/2 inch and plastic mesh doesn’t work for this use.  The mesh should be about 3 feet high.

Don’t rake leaves, run over them with a mulching mower several times.  Leaves return valuable nutrients to the soil and chopped leaves bring down quickly.   Oak leaves are great to pile in flowerbeds whole; other leaves should be chopped first.  Never burn leaves or send them to the landfill! That’s a major waste of valuable nutrients and environmentally harmful.  If you must rake leaves put them into the compost pile.

If your lawn is very high- over 3 inches long and you aren’t cutting it when you mulch those leaves, mow it to about 3 inches high.  Long grass tends to matt and get fungal diseases under the snow.  Grass grows more slowly as the day light shortens but it will grow until a hard freeze.

Little touch ups such as replenishing mulch, making paths, painting benches or fences can be pleasant fall tasks.  Don’t forget to take some notes about what grew well or didn’t grow this year so you can refer to it in spring.  If you planted bulbs, note what kind and where.  Get a soil test done now if you feel you may need one due to poor plant growth this season.

Next month you may need to turn your gardening efforts to houseplants but enjoy what’s left of the Michigan garden season.

Crock pot applesauce or apple butter

Turn some of those Michigan apples that are so abundant into delicious apple sauce.  You can make applesauce from fresh apples or from apple slices you have frozen.  On a cold fall day in Michigan start up a batch of crock pot applesauce or apple butter and fill your home with a delightful aroma. If you make your own applesauce or apple butter you know what kind of ingredients and care went into it.  You can adjust the flavor to accommodate allergies or aversions to particular spices.

Applesauce is great eaten just as it is but it’s also great to cook a pork roast or pork chops in it.  It can be added to any cake mix for moisture in place of oil.  It can be used with some slices of apple to make pie filling.   It’s great for making apple cake or bread.  Applesauce can also be used to make swallowing pills easier.

Apple butter used to be more common than peanut butter. Nearly every housewife made apple butter in the fall.  Apple butter is great on toast or an English muffin.  It can also be used in cooking, particularly pork dishes. 

Peeling apples.
The difference in applesauce and apple butter is that apple butter is usually cooked until it is very thick and the spices are usually stronger.  Apple butter is usually brown; you don’t need to worry about keeping the apples from turning brown as you peel them.  Using brown sugar instead of white sugar, (recommended for apple butter), also makes the apple butter brown.

Applesauce or apple butter can also be made on a pot on the stove.  It takes less time but requires careful watching and occasional stirring.  Using a crock pot lets you do other things while the sauce cooks and makes a great product.  However do note that batches of apple butter or apple sauce will probably be smaller than what you can cook in a large kettle on the stove.

You will need about 3 pounds of apples per quart of sauce you want to make. The same amount of apples will usually make about a pint of apple butter. One pound of peeled, sliced or chopped apples yields about 3 cups of apples.  You’ll need to guess-timate how many cups or pounds of apples your crock pot will hold.  A 6 quart crock pot may hold 6 pounds of sliced apples but it may hold more or slightly less depending on many factors.

You can flavor the homemade apple sauce/ butter in a number of ways and make it as sweet as you like. You can leave applesauce chunky or make it smooth. Your finished applesauce or apple butter can be canned in a water bath canner or frozen to store it. 

You will need:

Apples, washed, peeled and cored, sliced or chunked- 3 pounds per quart of sauce or pint of butter.
Sugar, white or brown, about 4 tablespoons per 4 cups (quart) apple pieces or adjust to taste. 
        Cinnamon - optional to your taste
        Nutmeg - optional to your taste
        Cloves - optional (used frequently in apple butter)


For light colored applesauce slice the peeled apples into color preservative such as a 1/2 cup of lemon juice mixed with a quart of water or citric acid solution prepared as directed on the package. Let apple pieces soak a few minutes and drain, before putting them in the crock pot.  If the color of the sauce doesn’t faze you, or you are making apple butter, you can slice the apples directly into the crock pot.  Frozen apples do not need to be thawed before using.

Place your apples, sugar and spices in the crock pot.  Most people will like the taste of about 4 tablespoons of sugar per quart of apple slices.  If the apples are very tart more may be needed.  Brown sugar has a slightly different taste but will make the applesauce browner.  Apple butter can be made with white sugar but the traditional taste is made from brown sugar.

Applesauce and apple butter can be made without any sugar but they will be quite tart.  Don’t use artificial sweeteners when cooking the applesauce or apple butter because they turn bitter under prolonged heat.  Artificial sweeteners can be used when cooking is finished.  Simply stir it into lukewarm or cooler apple sauce or butter.  It’s better to freeze products made with artificial sweetener rather than can them to preserve them.

Some people like the taste of cinnamon and other spices in their applesauce and apple butter.  Add spices in very small amounts. For a couple quarts of apple pieces a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and less of other spices is suggested to start.  Taste the sauce as its cooking and add more spice if needed.  Apple pie or pumpkin pie spice mix can be used if you like it.

Do not add water. You can fill the crock pot with apple slices to within an inch or so of the top.  They will quickly cook down.  Set the crock pot on high and let the apples cook until they are soft.  This can take 3-6 hours on high in the crock pot.  While you won’t need to stir often an occasional stirring will help water evaporate and keep apples from sticking to the crock pot sides.

When the apples are soft mash them to the consistency that pleases you for apple sauce and as smooth as possible for apple butter.  For really smooth sauce press the cooked apples through a strainer or whip with electric beaters on low speed or run through a food processor.  Add more spices if desired and blend them into applesauce or apple butter.  Applesauce can then be canned or frozen.

For apple butter the apples should be returned to the crock pot after mashing and cooked on low heat until the apple butter is thick and mounds on a teaspoon.  This can take several hours.  Water needs to evaporate off the cooking apples so propping the crockpot lid so that there is a gap that lets steam escape will speed the process.  You can use a spoon handle to hold the lid open a bit.  As the apple butter starts getting very thick stirring it from time to time will aid steam escaping and keep the apple butter from scorching or sticking to the crock pot.

Canning applesauce or apple butter

Bring the applesauce/butter to a boil.  You may have to put it in a pot on the stove to do this. Stir continually to keep it from scorching.  Ladle boiling hot applesauce/butter into hot, clean canning jars to within 1/4 inch of the rim.  Run a knife blade through each jar to remove bubbles, wipe the rim and add lids and bands.

Process applesauce/butter in a boiling water canner 15 minutes for pints or smaller jars, 20 minutes for quarts.

Freezing applesauce and apple butter

You can freeze applesauce or apple butter in containers, either freezer bags or plastic containers. Use containers sized so that you’ll use up the applesauce or apple butter in a few days after you defrost one.  Wait until hot applesauce cools to room temperature before placing them in the freezer. 

Let applesauce or apple butter thaw in the refrigerator overnight before use.  It may separate a bit as it thaws but stirring should restore the consistency. Keep it in the refrigerator until it is used up.

Pink applesauce variation 

To make pink applesauce make sure the apple pieces are sliced into a color preservative before cooking.  Then you can simply add red food coloring to your color preference or you can do a more natural coloring job.  Add frozen or fresh cherries, cranberries or raspberries in the proportion of about 1/2 cup of the red item to 3-4 cups of sliced apples to the crock pot and cook with the apples.  This will flavor the applesauce slightly.

Another, different flavored pink applesauce can be made with red hot candies.  For about 6-8 cups of apple pieces use a 1/2 cup of red hot candies.  Don’t use other spices with these, although you may want to add sugar.  Put the red hot candies in 1/4 cup of water and heat until they dissolve, then pour in the crock pot with apple pieces.

Tips for planting fall bulbs

My fall bulbs have been arriving and I have started the process of planting them.  (If you haven’t ordered yours you should do that today.)  My eyes in the catalog are always bigger than my desire to plant in the fall is, but I work up the energy to get it done by reminding myself how great they will look in the spring. Here are some fall bulb and rhizome planting tips. 
If you want tulips in the spring plant them now.

Always plant lily bulbs and tubers or rhizomes of things like peonies as quickly after you get them as you can.  These do not store well and every day you wait decreases the chance you’ll have success with them.  Lily bulbs found in packages in stores usually don’t perform as well as those that were dug and shipped directly to you from a mail order source.

If you are prioritizing your time, next plant the smaller bulbs, like crocus and snowdrops. They bloom early so they need to get started early.  They also have the tendency to dry out in storage.  Hyacinths, daffodils, and narcissus should be next, with tulips last.  Tulips actually like cooler soil.  While bulbs can be planted until the soil freezes they often do not do as well as those planted earlier.

When you are planting bulbs in the fall in a perennial flower bed that’s full of mature plants it can be a challenge to get the bulbs tucked under foliage that may still be green and full.  But actually it’s a great idea to tuck bulbs down under those hosta leaves or among the daylilies.  Remember that you will need to leave bulb foliage to dry up before you remove it next spring if you want the bulbs to return well the following year.  So planting bulbs where later emerging perennial foliage will hide the dying bulb foliage is a good plan. 

I like to plant bulbs among hosta, astible, heuchera, ferns and daylilies.  The bulbs come up and bloom before these plants get large in the spring. Oriental and other tall lilies also do well planted with ferns or daylilies as an understory; they won’t bloom until later in the season but they like their feet in the shade.

Almost all bulbs like well-drained soil.  Never plant bulbs where water stands in early spring.  Most bulbs also like to be planted in sunny locations.  However small bulbs that bloom early can often be planted where the shade of deciduous trees will be later in summer, as most of their growth will be done before the trees cast much shade.  A few bulbs and rhizomes do like partly shaded locations, Lily of the valley, trout lilies, trillium, some true lilies are examples, so do some research and make sure you are giving the plants the location they need.

Most bulbs should be planted about three times as deep as their height, but there are exceptions to this rule.  Read package directions or look up the plant requirements if you are uncertain.  If you aren’t good at estimating depth in inches use a trowel that’s marked with inches or mark a small piece of wood with inch measurements and use that to guide you. 

Don’t mulch too deeply after planting as this may impede the bulbs emergence in the spring.  A light mulch of 2 inches or less is fine and helps disguise the planting area from animals.  If thick layers of leaves blow over planted bulbs remove some of the matted leaves in spring so that bulbs don’t struggle to emerge.

Plant the bulbs with the pointed end of the bulb up.  If you can’t find a pointed end, look for a round scar on the bulb.  This is where roots were last year and it goes down in the hole.  Rhizomes should have budded areas on top if you look closely.

Try not to remove any papery covering bulbs have, but don’t worry if some of it falls off. Don’t separate the scales or sections that lily bulbs have and don’t try to divide daffodils with double or triple “noses”.  Yes, experts propagate bulbs that way but it isn’t as easy as it seems and your best bet is to plant the bulbs as they came.  A little mold on bulbs that still feel firm will not harm them.  Mushy or rotted looking bulbs should be discarded.

Don’t use fertilizer or bone meal in the bottom of your hole.  Bone meal should not be used at all.  Old books suggest it and some new references just copy that but bone meal is now steamed and processed for safety and little is left in the way of nutrients. It also attracts some animals, which dig up your bulbs looking for it.  Using a general purpose fertilizer is fine, but mix it with the soil you are back filling with or sprinkle it on the soil surface, don’t dump it in the hole.  This can burn roots.

Arrange your bulbs in a staggered way, not in straight lines for a more natural look.  Small groups of the same color or type of bulb look better than single bulbs.  Once again package directions will tell you how far apart to space bulbs.  Generally large bulbs should be about 6 inches apart, small bulbs 2-3 inches.  Don’t spread bulbs too thinly though, your display looks better in the spring if bulbs are fairly close together.

Mark the spots where you planted bulbs with labels so you know where they are.  Some fall planted bulbs and rhizomes are slow to emerge in the spring and you don’t want to damage them or plant over them.

Lilies are also fall planted.


If you have trouble with animals digging up bulbs you can lay a piece of wire over the planted area until the ground is frozen.  Make sure you remove it early in the spring if you don’t remove it in the fall.  A piece of wood lattice, with 2 inch holes can be placed on the ground and the bulbs planted through the holes.  This discourages widespread digging, such as from pets, which really aren’t after the bulb to eat.  By the way don’t let pets chew on bulbs, some bulbs are very poisonous.

Moles do not eat bulbs, but their tunnels attract other animals like voles and mice which do eat bulbs and their tunneling can sink bulbs too deep to emerge.  If you have lots of moles you can plant bulbs in pots, which you sink in the ground to their rim. Narcissus, daffodil, and allium bulbs are not eaten by animals, although they can be dug out of the ground and left to die. 

When bulbs just begin to emerge in the spring a small amount of slow release granular fertilizer sprinkled on the soil around them, especially if you can do it just before a spring rain, will improve their vigor and size.  And if spring is dry make sure to water your bulbs.

What to do if you can’t plant bulbs right away

If you cannot plant your bulbs promptly store them in a cool dark place.  The refrigerator crisper drawer is fine or even the refrigerator in a brown paper bag.  Moisten them occasionally in storage but don’t get them too wet.  If they develop mold put them on newspapers in a dry dark area for a day or two. 

If you look outside one morning and snow is on the ground don’t despair.  Plant the bulbs in a good potting soil mix in containers and keep the containers cool, back in the refrigerator or on an unheated porch or garage.  The ideal temperature is between 30 and 40 degrees. Water lightly every couple weeks.  After 8-10 weeks of cold the pots can be brought into a warmer, sunny place and they will probably bloom for you.  Plant the bulbs outside in the early spring.  They may or may not bloom the next season but at least you had them this spring.

Watch out for deer crossing the road to eat apples.

Kim Willis
 “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
https://www.facebook.com/groups/875574275841637/

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 |
http://www.lesliesnc.org/

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



Newsletter information
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