Tuesday, June 26, 2018

June 26, 2018 Kim’s Weekly Garden Blog

Hi Gardeners
Evening primrose and buddleia
When we woke up this morning it was downright chilly, temps went down into the 40’s last night.  But never fear, this is Michigan and we are promised that temps will be quite warm this weekend, possibly 100 degrees. And humid.  Ugh, ugh and more ugh.  I am hurrying to get some tasks done before that comes.  The poor plants don’t know what to do.
Even with cooler weather the garden has taken a growth spurt.  And I am thrilled to report that the Jasmine stephanese, pink jasmine, has produced a few blooms for me. Remember I wrote about the problems of transplanting it to a bigger pot just a few weeks ago. This is it’s third summer here and finally results.  Just a few flowers, but still!
My Asiatic lilies are just beginning to bloom.  I may have had daylilies in bloom, but the deer went by one bed and ate all the buds off.  The ditch lilies have begun to bloom, and I did have an early daylily in bloom, but the main daylily crop is yet to come- if any are spared.
My tomato plants are huge, and I’ll be harvesting peppers soon.  The saskatoons are ripe. Pumpkins are blooming.  The catalpa tree is blooming.
I talked about making a little water feature in my expanded front bed.  I went through all the work of painting an old wash tub, well my husband did, to use.  We tested it first for leaks.  But after adding gravel and plants and the little solar fountain I discovered it had a slow leak.  Then the slow leak became a bigger leak. What a hassle removing that, I had to take all the gravel out and lift it over the petunias and other things I planted around it.
I replaced it with an old rubber horse dish sitting on top of another horse dish turned upside down. I don’t think it looks too bad. It will look better when the plants grow up around it.  When I found the horse dish it was behind the barn filled with rain water.  Last night I fixed up the new water feature.  Got up this morning and most of the water was gone. 
I refilled it and so far today, it’s kept the water.  I think maybe something drank most of the water last night. It’s shallower than the first tub and a bit smaller in diameter and I added gravel to it. The dogs were carrying on this morning about something.  Maybe a loose horse or a big dog or once again deer. I’m hoping.  We’ll see.  But this illustrates the fun of gardening.

My revised water feature. 
Imagine it when the plants have filled in.
The plastic problem
Do you recycle? Where do you think all those carefully sorted plastics and papers go?  Up until this year about half of our recycled materials went to China, where they were turned into plastic beads and unbleached paper that was then manufactured into new products.  Old appliances and electronics are mined for metals that can be re-used. There is a whole industry that employs thousands in China to recycle our trash as well as that of Europe and many other countries.
But this year that changed.  The people in China have become more interested in protecting their environment and a lot of the trash they took in was contaminated with toxic chemicals and even radiation. They demanded that their country stop being the worlds dump.  As more people in China obtain a higher standard of living they produce enough trash of their own to recycle for their various manufacturing needs. 
In March the first set of restrictions on what China would accept for recycling went into effect and next year and the following year more restrictions will go into place.  They are also demanding that what they do accept be cleaner and well sorted. Already American recycling centers are piling up plastics and papers with no place to send it.  Much of it will have to go to landfills, the landfills we were trying to keep it out of.  Already many municipalities have stopped their recycling programs and tell residents just put what used to be recyclables in the trash.
Plastics are the biggest threat to the environment, paper does decompose, and metals still are more likely to be accepted for recycling. While plastics have become extremely useful we all have to think about how we use them. Conventional plastics don’t break down for at least 200 years, and even then, they just become small particles that remain in the soil and water. There is a huge amount of plastic in the ocean that is seriously impacting wildlife. We all must use less plastic.
Plastics are made from fossil fuels and they can be burnt and turned into electricity.  We are still studying what toxins this might leak into the air and at the present we don’t have the capacity to turn much of our waste into electricity. 
We are also trying to put recycled plastics into building materials and road surfacing applications, but it isn’t being widely done yet.  I once saw an article about a man who was building road sections from recycled materials that snapped together and were said to last a very long time. If we can get this going it would be great. 
And we are exploring ways to make biodegradable plastics from cornstarch, agave, and a few other things.  But we are still at the experimental stages for these innovations and in the meantime a lot of conventional plastic is going to be used and disposed of.
Things a gardener can do to use less plastic
Horticulture/gardening uses a lot of plastic.  All those plastic flats, pots, and trays are part of it.  But think of all those plastic bags holding mulch, topsoil, gravel, sand, and fertilizers.  There are plastic handles on tools, plastic watering cans and spray bottles, all kinds of plastic garden décor, plastic fences, edging, hoses and irrigation supplies.  What can gardeners do to use less plastic in the garden?
First plants could be sold in biodegradable pots and cell packs.  We have the knowledge to make them from peat, coir, hemp and other materials.  There is some trade off in weight, expense and the containers holding up to retail sales conditions.  But if you have a choice choose plants in biodegradable containers and urge sellers to use them.
If you buy plants in plastic pots and baskets reuse them. I save and re-use my plastic pots, you’d be surprised how often I have uses for them.  You can turn black plastic pots into something prettier with paint or fabric covers.  If you can’t use them maybe another gardener can, or maybe the place you bought the plants from would accept the empties back for re-use.  Small greenhouses and nurseries often welcome the return of empty pots and flats because it saves them money.   We should consider putting deposits on plastic pots and trays so that they must be returned to where they were purchased.
Consider buying supplies like mulch and soil in bulk, without the plastic bags.  Choose tools with wood handles, metal watering cans and hose accessories, cement and wood garden art, wood trellis, and wood fences.
On the other hand, benches, picnic tables, and deck materials that are made from recycled plastics will divert some of that plastic from the landfill. Choose them or wood and metal items rather than the cheaper disposable plastic items.
Use bird feeders of glass and wood or metal.  Buy cement or pottery bird baths.  Glass gazing balls instead of plastic.  Buy the items you need for the garden that have less plastic packaging.  Buy plant food in cardboard boxes.  When you buy decorative pots choose clay or pottery over plastic and foam (also a waste problem).  Bring your cloth and net re-useable bags with you when you shop for garden supplies.
Things you can do in other areas of your life are to stop using plastic straws, plastic tableware, cups and plates. Choose food and other items with the least amount of plastic packaging.  Stop using plastic wrap to cover food, and plastic baggies to store things. Use plastic items for food storage that can be re-used multiple times. 
It’s difficult to think of trash cans without plastic liners/bags in them but 50 years ago we used them.  (I don’t know if I can do this.)  We also drank from glass pop bottles and cardboard milk cartons.  When shopping, ask for paper bags or bring those re-usable shopping bags.
Examine your cosmetics and soaps and see if they have micro-beads in them.  Micro beads are plastics for the most part and they are causing serious problems in our water supply, since they are hard to filter out.  Don’t use products with micro-beads.
If everyone found some way to reduce their plastic use, we would need less space in the landfills. Every little bit helps.  Wildlife would be safer and the environment cleaner. If we continue to use plastic like we are doing, we will soon be buried in it.
Plant Bargain hunting
It that time of year when many places are closing up their garden shops for the summer and real nurseries and greenhouses are featuring sales to draw you in and move merchandise.  It’s a good time to get plant bargains but you must use a little caution and common sense.
When I was a merchandiser for a large wholesale perennial nursery I was called one day and told to go to a store I was servicing and remove certain lilies.  A state nursery inspector had visited the main nursery and ordered certain lilies destroyed because they were diseased.  The nursery wanted to remove and destroy the same lilies that had already been sold to avoid any future problems.
As I was told to do I bagged the lilies in black plastic garbage bags and removed them to the dumpster that was being used for garden shop waste at the back of the store.  The lilies were blooming and still looked pretty nice.  A few customers watched me do this.  One approached me and asked to buy the lilies.  We were instructed to always be cautious when we discussed why we were removing plants, so that rumors didn’t get started or the retailer harmed by people thinking there was something wrong with all the plants.  I simply told her that my company had asked me to take the plants off sale because they were not healthy, and we could not sell or give away the plants
That didn’t sit well with the customer.  She talked to a store manager who referred her back to me, since they were still my companies merchandise. She called me cruel (to plants? or to her?) as well as a few other names.   My car was parked in back of the store and when I went to it a short time later there was this lady climbing on the dumpster and removing the bags of lilies.  I called store security and they made her leave.
Had the lilies been treatable the nursery wouldn’t have destroyed their stock back at the nursery. I don’t remember what disease the lilies were believed to have, a viral disease of some kind.  It was the right thing to remove and destroy them before the disease spread.  I am telling you this because I have read similar stories on line where people are outraged when they see plants being disposed of and they aren’t allowed to “rescue” them.
While it’s fine to ask stores for a reduction in price for plants that are still on sale but don’t look well, don’t go dumpster diving. Usually plants that just haven’t been cared for well or have finished blooming and aren’t attractive are marked down before being disposed of.  But if plants that still look good are being thrown out there’s probably a good reason. Dumpster diving is a good way to bring home pests and diseases.  They may not only affect your garden but those of hundreds of others. And in many cases you could be breaking the law by taking plants that have been condemned.
What to look for in bargain plants
When you go to a big box stores garden shop you’ll often see a lot of plants in sad shape.  Usually they haven’t been watered well, either too little or too much watering.  Sometimes they have just gotten spindly and yellow because they have outgrown small cell packs or pots.  If they have been marked down these plants can be a good deal for the thrifty gardener.  But do check them over carefully.  Look for insect pests or signs of them like chewed leaves, egg masses, and webbing. You probably don’t want to bring these plants home.
It’s often hard to tell a diseased plant from one that’s just not been cared for well.  Yellowed leaves and leaf margins, black or brown spotting on leaves, holes in leaves, curling and deformed looking leaves and flowers, streaked or reddened foliage, dried up buds, pale leaves with darker green along the veins, gray dusty appearance to foliage, mushy stems and crowns, all of these could mean disease or just symptoms of neglect.

Blackspot disease on a rose.
Not all sellers are ethical enough to dispose of plants they know are diseased. If you are an inexperienced gardener you probably don’t have the “plantdar”  that would cause you to avoid certain plants.  So, when you buy those marked down plants be aware that they could be diseased.  You are taking a bit of a gamble.  Some diseases aren’t spread easily or can be cured but many do spread and can’t be cured.
It’s a good idea to put the clearance plants somewhere away from the rest of your plants for a few weeks.  If they perk up after a good watering (or letting pots dry out that are too wet) or after you have transferred them to bigger containers and new growth and/or flowering begins you can probably assume they are safe.
One of the best bargains may be in perennials that have finished blooming for the year but still look healthy.  These are fine to buy, checking them over carefully first. They probably won’t bloom again this year but will bloom nicely again for you next year and may even transplant better than those in full bloom.  Remember that annual plants bloom for only one season and then die.  If these seem to have finished blooming they can sometimes be cut back and will rebloom again but this can take several weeks. It may not be worth the time and effort.
Also check to make sure the reduced plants are hardy in your planting zone or that you can bring them inside to winter if they are not.  Many garden stores sell tropical hibiscus, calla lilies, brugmansia, mandevilla, bougainvillea and other tropical plants in the summer and a clearance price may seem wonderful, until you realize it won’t be back the following year if you leave it outside.  Know your planting zone.  But I have noticed that some of these plants don’t have planting zones listed on the tag, it is assumed people know they are tropical I guess.  A little checking on the species and whether it’s hardy for you is prudent before purchase.
Even species that do have hardy varieties for your area can have varieties that are not hardy, but they look good when in bloom, so they are sold in garden stores outside their hardy zone.  I see a lot of hydrangeas being sold in my area that aren’t hardy here.  Other plants with varying hardiness include roses, lavender, rosemary, buddleia, clematis, sedums, salvias, agastache, foxglove, and mums.  It does no good to get a good price on these if they aren’t hardy in your area.
What not to buy even at a “steal”
Bulbs for summer blooming plants in bags or in bulk displays and bareroot plants in those cardboard containers should not be purchased at this time of the year.  Packaged roses are another bad buy at this time of the year.  Even if you see sprouts these plants have probably exhausted their stored reserves and won’t do well for you.  If they are dried up and dead looking- that’s what they are.
Plants in pots that haven’t leafed out by now are likely to be dead.  If they have leafed out and the leaves dried up they are probably dead.  Evergreens that have large areas of browned foliage or are totally brown are dead or dying.  Don’t buy these.
Annual flowers and vegetables that are long and spindly and still in little cell packs this time of year are not are a good bargain.  Vegetables that are flowering or have fruit in these tiny cells or in little pots are not likely to perform well in the garden, they are unlikely to overcome the stress. Sometimes annual flowers can be cut back, and the totally overgrown root system teased apart to allow the plants to survive but you have to be a dedicated plant rescuer to get satisfaction and any benefit from this.
Don’t be tempted into buying plants that are a good price if you really don’t have a place fore them.  For example, if you don’t have any full sun conditions don’t buy plants that must have them, even if they are 2 for 1 or 70% off.  Spend your money on plants that are right for your situation.  Of course, you could always cut down that tree….
Bargains can be had this time of year, especially on “shop worn” plants and plants that are being cleared out just so the space can be used for back to school merchandise.  It’s a great time to shop those reputable greenhouses and nurseries that take good care of their plants.  But don’t get fooled by plants that aren’t really bargains and stay out of dumpsters.

The History and Growing of Sunflowers Helianthus Annuus

I rarely plant sunflowers since I feed a lot of their seeds to the birds all year around and they plant them for me.  But there have been years when I have actually bought the seeds of a sunflower variety that took my fancy and planted them.  Sunflowers seem to symbolize cheerfulness and country nostalgia.  They appear in folk art, in modern designs and just about everywhere.  They are often loved by children and planted in gardens for them and by them.
Bi-color sunflower
Sunflower seeds are a crunchy nutritious snack and can provide an oil for cooking and other uses. They attract butterflies and bees in bloom and birds when the seeds ripen. Beautiful and useful, sunflowers should be part of every sunny garden.  The gardener has almost endless choices now for the size, color and form of sunflowers that they can plant.  There are miniature sunflowers for pots and small gardens.
Sunflower history
Sunflowers are native to the Americas.  Sunflowers were being grown as a crop as early as 3000 BC., probably in Central America.  It is thought that they were domesticated before corn. The Aztecs worshipped the sunflower and priestesses wore them to show their divinity. The sunflower was called ‘acahual’. It was often immortalized in gold replicas which were some of the items the Spanish invaders stole and took back to Spain. The use and growing of sunflowers spread north and west until most First People in North America that farmed were also growing the crop.
The First People developed the plant by selective breeding to have one large head and a lot of seeds. They produced tall sturdy stalks. They also cultivated plants with different colored ray flowers and seeds.  Contrary to the “three sisters story” they were not always grown in conjunction with beans and squash.  Only a few farming tribes actually followed the 3 sisters idea, most farmed just as we do now, separating the various crops for ease of care.
Sunflowers were used for food, for dye, for oil, and they also had some medicinal uses. The oil was used on the skin and hair and a purple dye made from sunflowers was used to color textiles and paint the body.  As is typical of indigenous crops no part of the sunflower was wasted.  The stalks were used as building material and fodder for animals.
In the early 1500’s Spanish invaders of Central America took the seeds back with them to Spain and sunflowers began to be grown as exotic ornamentals.  Use of the sunflower as an ornamental spread slowly through Europe. Some use of sunflowers for oil and food was practiced.
In the early 1700’s Peter the Great of Russia was touring Holland and became fascinated by the sunflowers growing there.  He brought seeds back and encouraged Russians to grow them.  Imagine a subtropical beauty of a plant that would even grow on the Russian steppes!
When the Russian Orthodox church forbid the consumption of oils during Lent, sunflower oil was left off the list, probably because it still wasn’t widely known.  Russians saw the loophole and the race was on to develop sunflowers that had good oil properties.  Sunflower oil became very popular in Russia and throughout Europe where olives couldn’t be grown.
In 1716 a patent was granted to an English inventor for a press that converted sunflower seeds to oil.  Eventually millions of acres were devoted to growing sunflowers and many new varieties developed. In the late 1880’s immigrants from Russia and eastern Europe brought sunflowers back to the Americas, where once again they became popular with gardeners and farmers began exploring their use as a cash crop.
In the US sunflowers are currently grown as a crop mainly in North and South Dakota with Colorado in a distant third place.  In 2017 about 2.65 billion pounds of sunflower seeds were produced in the US, which is behind the production in Europe and Russia.  That’s a shame because sunflower oil is much better for humans than soybean oil.  It contains no linolenic acid, which causes human health problems.  It has a high smoking point for cooking and a bland flavor that doesn’t compete with food taste.
In Eastern Europe and Russia where the oil is plentiful it’s used in cosmetics and soap.  Other uses are being explored as a pesticide ingredient, lubricant, fabric softener, in plastics and paint and as a biofuel.
Plant characteristics
Sunflowers come in three main categories, ornamental, edible seed, and oilers.  Gardeners could be interested in all the types. Most ornamental and edible sunflowers are annuals, although there are species of sunflowers used as ornamentals that are perennial.  In this article I am discussing the annual sunflower, Helianthus Annuus.
There are varieties of sunflowers that range from about 18 inches high to more than 10 feet high.  Commercial sunflowers for oil are generally modest in height averaging 4-5 feet high.  Ornamentals can be tall or short.  Edible seed types are often the tallest with the largest flower heads.
Sunflowers have sturdy stalks that turn woody with age. Edible and oil types usually have one stalk and one main head with little or no branching.  Some ornamental types have more branches and lots of smaller flowers.
The leaves of sunflowers are oval or heart shaped, with a rough, sticky feel, arranged opposite each other on the stalk.  They can get quite large.  The sunflower has a central tap root that can grow 6 feet into the ground and a network of secondary roots that help support the weight of heavy seed heads.
The flowers of sunflowers are deceiving.  They consist of a ring of flowers along the outside, the ray flowers or “petals”.  Petals can be yellow, red, brown, purple or white.  The ray flowers do not make seeds.  The center of each “flower” is actually hundreds of small flowers all packed together.  If these are fertilized each will make a seed.  These disk flowers can be yellow, brown or red. 
Sunflowers really prefer to be pollinated by another sunflower and self -pollination results in poor seed set. They are pollinated by bees and butterflies. Plant a few sunflowers together for best results.  Be aware that some ornamental varieties are infertile.  They don’t produce pollen or seeds.
Sunflower seeds remain on the head until they are ripe.  Each is surrounded by a paper like cell with the seed poking out.  Seeds can be black, brown, gray, red, and striped, depending on variety.  The head of the sunflower will droop as seeds mature, in an effort to prevent them from being eaten by birds.
The sunflower has an interesting habit of following the sun in its daily travel across the sky.  This is called heliotropism. The plants orientate the budding flowers and leaves toward the east overnight, so they can take advantage of the early morning sun.  During the day the plant slowly turns to follow the sun, ending up facing west at dark and overnight the plant once again adjusts its orientation.  When the flowers begin to open the plant stops tracking the sun, almost always in an East facing position. So, if you want to see the full glory of your sunflower blooms make sure you can look at them from the east.

Sunflower with ripening seeds.
Growing sunflowers
Gardeners should read the catalog descriptions of sunflowers to make sure they get a variety that gives them what they are looking for.  Most sunflowers are pretty but there are some that are better at providing edible seeds and some are better for oil use. Most gardeners will not be able to produce enough seeds to make producing oil practical.  If you need sunflowers for containers or want certain colors, you’ll find them in ornamental varieties.
Sunflowers will grow just about anywhere, which is part of their charm and usefulness.  They will grow from zone 4, maybe 3, to as hot as it gets.  Just remember that the really huge sunflowers may need a longer growing season to flower and ripen seeds. 
Sunflowers do need to be planted in full sun to produce the best flowers and seeds.  However, I can attest that they will grow in partial shade.  I have some growing on the north side of the house every year where the birds plant them.  They just don’t get as large as those in full sun.
Sunflowers will tolerate just about any soil type except poorly drained wet soil.  They do not produce very well in drought conditions or desert areas though.  They will need to be watered when it gets really dry.
You can plant sunflower seeds where they are to grow after the danger of frost has passed or start them in pots inside about 6 weeks before your last frost and transplant them out after frost chances have passed.  They shouldn’t be too large before you transplant them because of the tap root.
Sunflowers will grow without fertilization, but a good balanced fertilizer used at planting can make flowers larger and seeds bigger. Choose a fertilizer for flowering plants.  Do not use Epsom salts on sunflowers.
Since sunflowers are a native plant they do have some pests and diseases.  However, gardeners will rarely be bothered by most of them.  Insect pests include the larvae of several moths, some weevils and a sunflower beetle.  Japanese beetles can damage them.  If insects are a problem, you can use a registered pesticide.  If you are going to eat the seeds make sure it is for food crops.  Follow label directions.
Diseases that sunflowers can get include; rust, downy mildew, verticillium wilt, sclerotinia stalk and head rot, phoma black stem and leaf spot.  Rust is the most common disease gardeners will see.  Most of these are fungal diseases that can’t be cured, only prevented.  If you have a serious problem, make sure not to plant sunflowers in the same space the following year.  Use a fungicide to prevent the diseases and to keep them from spreading to healthy sunflowers.
Harvesting sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds should be allowed to ripen and dry on the stalk.  The seeds are light when immature and darken as they ripen. If birds are a problem slip a paper bag over each seed head and secure it with a rubber band.  Don’t use plastic bags.  When seeds are almost dry you can cut off the whole seed head and bring it into a warm, dry spot to finish drying.
The seeds are ripe and dry when they can be easily scraped off the seed head. Do this over something that will catch the seeds. Lightly “banging” seed heads on spread newspapers may work.  After removal spread the seeds out on a clean surface in a warm dry place and let them dry a few more days.  You can husk the seeds (a lot of work) or store them with the husk.
To prepare sunflower seeds for snacking they are usually roasted. Soak seeds in the husk in salt water for a few hours then drain and spread on a cookie sheet. (About a ½ cup salt to a quart of water.)  Bake at low heat, 300 degrees, for 30-40 minutes.  Stir the seeds a couple times during roasting.  You can do this with hulled seeds also.
Store roasted or raw sunflower seeds in clean, dry containers with tight lids.  If you are growing the seeds for the birds don’t roast them.
Sunflowers are pretty in the garden and the seeds are also great for snacking. Plus, they are a native plant with a long colorful history.   Make sure your garden has at least a few sunflowers.

Tips for cooking in a heat wave

You maybe sweltering under a summer heat wave, but you don’t have to resort to fast food and ice cream to eat.  A good healthy, home cooked family meal can be achieved easily without heating up the house too much, even if it’s too hot for grilling outside.
Shame on you if you are running the air conditioner in the house full blast and then cooking in the oven.  If you aren’t worried about your bank account, at least consider the environmental impact you will be making with this practice.  While all methods of cooking food will give off heat there are ways to prepare a good meal without producing too much heat.
It starts with thinking about the method of cooking when you are shopping.  Choose foods that don’t need oven cooking or long periods of stove top cooking.  Use pre-cooked foods and fresh produce to avoid as much cooking in the heat as possible.  Don’t buy roasts, buy thin steaks that cook quickly on top of the stove.    Instead of a ham you have to bake, consider cooked deli ham. 
Careful shopping and using coupons can get you the convenience and coolness of pre-cooked foods at the same costs as food that needs to be cooked. Meats, eggs, potatoes, pasta and rice are all available pre-cooked with only a small amount of re-heating needed.  Yes they are more expensive and shouldn’t be used all the time but for a meal in the midst of a heat wave their use is justified.  Canned tuna, salmon and chicken are also great meal beginnings.
Here are some meal ideas for hot days

Salads- not just lettuce and veggies, although those are good, but how about with pre-cooked bacon and hard-boiled eggs, (available in stores) or maybe with pre-cooked chicken, ham or tuna.

For hearty eaters it takes just a few minutes to cook some hamburger with taco seasoning to make taco’s or taco salad.  Pre-cooked chicken chunks or beef strips could be used with taco seasoning too.
Pre- cooked pasta can be turned into a delightful tuna salad.  Or use cooked pasta and canned chicken.  Canned salmon and cooked salad shrimp can be used with pasta for something different.
Sandwiches are always a good choice in hot weather.  Buy some nice buns and layer deli meat and cheeses on them.  Children enjoy making mini- subs with hot dog buns.  Try a hot ham and cheese melt by using the microwave to melt the cheese. Toast bread or buns in your toaster, add meat and cheese and put in the microwave to melt and heat the sandwich for those who like hot sandwiches.
Hot dogs and pre-cooked sausages can be heated quickly in the micro-wave if it’s too hot to grill them outside.  Your microwave can cook fresh potatoes for a side dish too.  Take tiny red potatoes, a couple tablespoons of butter and some garlic powder and place in a covered microwave safe bowl for a great side dish.  You can cut potatoes in chunks, place in a microwave safe bowl with just a few tablespoons of water, cover the dish and microwave until tender.  Use those potatoes to make potato salad or mash them.
Here’s a great hot meal that’s quick and doesn’t heat up the house too much.  Cook potatoes that are peeled and chunked in the microwave as described above.  While they are cooking brown some hamburger and fresh onion in a large skillet.  Add a can of condensed beefy mushroom soup and a half soup can of water to each pound of ground beef.  Season with pepper - the soup is salty- and cook until the ground beef is well done.  Mash your cooked potatoes and pour beef and gravy over them.  You can get this done in 30 minutes or less.  You could also use boxed mashed potato flakes prepared as directed or the new prepared packaged, refrigerated mashed potatoes found in grocery meat or dairy chilled foods sections.  But real fresh potatoes taste better.
Your crock pot can let you cook whole meals without adding too much heat to the kitchen.  You can even add the meat while it’s frozen.  Cook a cut up chicken in some barbecue sauce, a pot roast with carrots and potatoes, pork roast, meat balls, there are many choices.  Just remember to start 4 or more hours before the meal needs to be served.   Small pieces of meat or chunked meats will cook in 4 hours on high.  Frozen meats or large cuts take 6 or more hours. 
Don’t add water to meat in a crock pot.  Add seasonings near the end of cooking for better flavor.  Place meat on top of vegetables so the vegetables get drenched in meat juice.  Start frozen meats on low and cook for 1-2 hours, then raise temperatures to high.  Check meats cooking in the crock pot half way through the cooking time and if a lot of fluid or grease has accumulated drain or ladle most of it off.  The meat will have better texture.  Don’t overcook meats either, they either get dried out and tough or fall apart to tasteless mush.
A rice cooker works like a crock pot in that it plugs in and doesn’t use the stove top.  If the directions are followed it produces perfect white or brown rice without much heat or fuss.  The rice can be combined with any number of meats and vegetables for a good summer meal. 
Here’s another good hot meal idea.  Cook some rice in a rice cooker. Plan on 1 c. of cooked rice per person for average eaters.   Sauté some thin beef strips, mushrooms, green and red peppers and onion in a lightly oiled skillet on the stove top.  Toss with the rice and the seasonings of your choice.  Some people like to add a sauce made with beef gravy, or thinned beefy mushroom soup.  This should take less than 30 minutes and won’t heat the house too much.
You can feed your family healthy food and control the fat and seasonings instead of buying fast food, even in the worst heat.  A few grocery shortcuts and some handy appliances will make it all work well.

Grill, eat, swim, sleep
Kim Willis
And So On….

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

June 19, 2018 Kim’s Weekly Garden Blog

Hi Gardeners
Garden at Suncrest, Lapeer Mi.
We finally got some well needed rain and my plants are very happy after their shower, clean and no longer thirsty.  It’s nice to spend a day or two without watering.  On Sunday and Monday, we had very hot and humid weather, miserable weather for June.  Today the temperature isn’t bad although it’s still a bit muggy. 
Just a couple hundred miles north of us the rain was so hard and so much that it washed out roads and flooded everything.  Across the country we are seeing floods in some areas, drought in others. Some places are sweltering in unusual heat, others are still chilly.  There are tornadoes in places they don’t often have them and fewer tornadoes in places where they usually have lots.  The weather is a mess.  Climate change?
The poor plants are a bit confused.  First, we have August, then June, then August, then June and so on.  Strawberries are ripening but many people are talking about how small the berries are this year in Michigan.  It’s a combination of a hard winter, early heat and the dry spell. 
I have potatoes in bloom, we are getting a few of the early girl tomatoes and I have some peppers that are getting big.  The corn has been growing slowly, maybe the rain will give it a bump.
My seed grown campanulas are blooming nicely now, there’s several colors.  I was gifted a lovely campanula last night, Campanula glomerata ‘Superba’, (clustered bellflower), which has stiff stems with clusters of lovely purple flowers.  I hope it establishes well here.
Clematis are blooming, for some reason the bleeding hearts have put out a few new flowers, daylilies are beginning to bloom, coneflowers are starting bloom. The double Asiatic lily ‘Apricot Fudge’ is now blooming. Columbine and goats beard are blooming. The annuals are really beginning to put on a show.
The baby barn swallows in my barn are just about ready to fly.  The parents dive bomb me every time I enter that part of the barn.  I guess that’s better than what I saw on the news last night, where a hawk built a nest in a residential neighborhood that was attacking dog walkers and mailmen, leaving them with bloody wounds.
It’s hard to think about but June is almost over.

Summer solstice

Thursday, the 21st is summer solstice.  It’s the official start to summer.  I don’t like what it symbolizes, the days will now get shorter.   Go outside and look up at midday.  That’s the farthest north the sun will get in your area. It will now begin to swing back toward the south. As summer progresses where you have shade and sun in the garden may change as the sun declines in it’s orbit.

The day of summer solstice has been noted and celebrated since the earliest communities of man.   In the more northern countries the celebrations are more marked, probably because the sun is so welcome and vital in these climates and because at summer solstice in the far north the sun never seems to set.   Celebrations often include bonfires and making wreaths of flowers to hang on one’s door.  If you wash your face with the dew collected overnight on the wreath you are supposed to get beauty and a long life.

The Romans dedicated the month that the summer solstice occurs in (the month we call June) to honoring the goddess Juno, patroness of marriage and fertility in women.  Even today June is the month most favored for marriage. Interestingly a woman’s fertility is also highest at this time. Conception in June results in a baby born in March or early April, which in earlier times was a good time to give birth.  Food supplies would be more plentiful as the baby began to require more milk, the weather more moderate, and the wife would be recovered enough to help with spring planting. 
Midsummer’s eve is often confused with the summer solstice but is not the same.  It generally occurs a few days later than the solstice, on June 23 or 24.  It is supposed to mark the birth of John the Baptist, who is supposed to have been born six months before Jesus and is a product of Christianity adopting and adapting pagan celebrations.  But there is a great mixture of fairy visits and other magic associated with Midsummers eve in folklore also.

Color and the garden

Color is an important part of any garden, whether it’s from flowers or just foliage. You may have a good idea of what colors you like, or you may feel like you need help in choosing and executing a color scheme.  While some people do have an almost instinctive sense for color and design others seem to struggle to come up with a pleasing color and design scheme for the garden.  Remember though, if it’s your garden, it should be something you like, not something others tell you is right.

You may want the same basic color palette each year or you may like to change things up.  Perennial plants, whether they are in the garden for foliage or flowers, will maintain the same basic color scheme year after year.  Perennials usually have a set bloom period, most bloom for only a few weeks. If you want continuous color in the garden you’ll need to choose a variety of perennial plants that bloom at various times of the year or perennial plants like hosta, whose foliage provides your color. (A few perennials, like some roses, do have a long period of bloom.)  Even foliage plants may provide color only in certain seasons.

If you like to experiment and change things every year or you want continuous color, annual plants can be the workhorses in your garden. Most annuals bloom for a long period of time. Many gardeners use perennials, woody plants and annual plants combined to provide pleasing, continuous color in the garden.  Perennials and woody plants provide the “bones” and annual plants provide the pop and sizzle.  This allows you some flexibility from year to year in what colors are showcased in the garden.

In my garden I have a lot of color that is provided by perennial foliage, many colors of hosta and heuchera, Japanese forest grass, variegated Jacobs ladder, various colored evergreens, and ferns.  There are perennial flowering plants like daylilies and iris, phlox, clematis, sedums, coneflowers and other things.  But every year I enjoy choosing a color scheme with annuals to fill in around the perennials and for porch and accent pots. 

My color scheme is usually chosen when I walk into the greenhouses in the early spring and find some annual plant, like a petunia or salvia, that I just love the color of and must have.  I then choose other things to complement it.  This year it was a salvia, ‘Wendy’s Wish’, which is a mixture of pink and purple and a sort of magenta.  And that’s my color scheme for most of my beds this year.  Where I have flowering perennials that would clash horribly with those colors I have used a few other colors.

Understanding color

If you have ever tried to pick a color to paint a room from a selection of paint chips on cards you know there can be hundreds of variations of a color.  Hues are considered pure colors, they are the primary colors on the color wheel, red, blue, and yellow.  When you combine two of these colors equally you get the secondary colors of orange, purple or violet, and green.  When you combine a secondary and primary color equally you get what is called a tertiary color like red-orange, or magenta (purple and red) and so on.

From hues we go to tints, which are paler versions of any of the hues, and shades, which are darker versions.  Why do you need to know this? Because it can help you pick colors that go well together.  In general, a hue and its tints and shades will go well together.  This is called a monochromatic color scheme.  Some gardens are built around a single color such as white or blue.

From there you need to look at a color wheel.  Colors opposite each other on the color wheel generally go well together.  This is called a complementary color scheme.  An analogous color scheme is made using hues and their tints and shades that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel.

Some people like a mixture of all colors in a garden.  This is called polychromatic.  It’s usually an informal, cottage style look.  This kind of garden sometimes takes a little bit of removal or transplanting or addition of transition colors to improve a glaring color clash, but then some people will be happy with any combination.

While it might not work on your walls all colors go well with green in the garden.  White and silver or gray also seem to go well with all colors and they can be used between colors that may not look well together. Black seems like it would go with any color but in flowers black is usually not really black but deep red or purple.

Of course, if you can just hold up blooming plants close to each other, as when choosing annuals, you’ll probably be able to choose colors that go well together.  If you are color blind you may want to ask a friend for help.  It’s your garden though, so choose what you like.

Other things to consider about color

Warm colors like red, orange and yellow jump out at you from the landscape and are good for gardens that are viewed from a distance. They make the garden seem closer.  It takes less of these colors to make a statement. Cool colors like blue, green, and purple are less obvious from a distance.   Gardens with a lot of these colors seem to recede.  It takes more of a mass of these colors to make an impression.

Very dark colors often disappear when viewed from a distance, appearing like a hole in the landscape.  These very dark colored plants look best when they are an accent color in a lighter pastel or white color scheme or when they are against a light wall or fence.

An accent plant of a contrasting color does bring interest to the garden but too many accent plants causes that “pop” to disappear.  A chartreuse or yellow foliaged shrub here and there among darker shrubbery or a purple one among lighter greens is interesting but too many yellow or purple foliaged plants together are not as appealing.  Many gardeners associate yellow foliage with unhealthy plants, and this feeling increases when there is a lot of it in the landscape.

Consider the colors of buildings, fences, and other hardscape that may be near when choosing colors for the garden.  I have found that that orangish clay brick walls are hard to work with.  Many colors seem to clash with them.  Try white, pastel yellows and some shades of peach.  White, green and gray walls can go with just about any colors.  Blue walls look good with pastel colors of just about any hue, unless they are a very pale tint, when deeper color would be better.

To keep some color in the garden all season you should work to incorporate different foliage colors and choose perennials that bloom at different times of the year.  If you don’t use annuals there will probably be some weeks with little, if any, color.  Also bloom times of perennials can be affected by weather and they may bloom earlier or later than expected some years.

Don’t choose your perennial flower color scheme by holding up blooming plants in the nursery.  Often these plants are not blooming at their natural time.  What looks beautiful together now may never bloom again at the same time in your garden.

Be wary of color descriptions, and especially photos, in catalogs and on line.  The color most often altered is blue, with what looks blue in the photo being actually lavender or some shade of purple.  Chocolate and “black” colored flowers are often not the same in the garden as in a photo.

You can vary your color scheme by season too, by choosing plants that bloom at various times and plants whose foliage may change in fall to provide color.  For example, you could use bright pastel colors in spring flowering bulbs followed by blooming plants with primarily white flowers until fall when brightly colored mums and woody plants with “warm” fall color foliage will carry the garden into winter with a blaze of color.

White and pastel flowers are good for gardens that get used a lot in the evening as the colors stand out in dim light.  They also attract night flying moths which can be interesting to watch.  But all white gardens can look washed out in the sunlight.  Add a few deep accent colors here and there to make the garden more appealing.  White flowers planted in dusty areas, such as near dirt roads, tend to look grimy and unattractive.

A monochromatic garden, all blue, all pink or whatever, always looks more interesting when a few splashes of contrasting color are added.  These can be flowers, like a red poppy in a sea of white flowers, or a piece of garden art or hardscape such as a deep purple chair among your all shades of pink garden.

If you are planning your garden for pollinators bees prefer yellow, white, orange and shades of purple and blue.  They can’t see red.  Butterflies like most flower colors but are not very attracted to blue.  Hummingbirds like red flowers best but many colors are visited, tubular flowers are favorites.

Remember you don’t have to have flowers to have color.  Foliage color is especially nice in shady areas.  There are many types of plants with interesting foliage color, both for shade and sun.  (Foliage color may change through the seasons and weather can also alter foliage color.)  Garden art, containers, furniture and other hardscaping can also provide some of your color.

For the new gardener taking a good look at public gardens, the gardens of friends and photos in magazines and books will help you decide what colors you like in the garden and what plants can provide those colors.  If you don’t get it quite right, you can usually do some tinkering the following year to get closer to your goal.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and if you love it, that’s what counts.

Ostrich fern- Matteuccia struthiopteris

The ostrich fern is a fern most gardeners should be able to grow. It’s hardy from zone 3-7, it doesn’t do well in the deep south. Tall and beautiful, it’s also an aggressive spreader so whether you should grow it is something you’ll need to debate with yourself.

The ostrich fern is native to North America, Europe and Asia.  It’s an old soul that has survived though the millenniums.  It’s a deciduous fern, losing its graceful fronds in winter. It’s a bit slow to begin growth in the spring, but when it does it grows rapidly, becoming a huge plant in just a few weeks.

The Ostrich fern has a mostly upright, vase shaped form. The fronds (leaves) are medium green.  In wet, mild summers I have had these ferns easily reach 5 feet in height in my garden, although they average about 3 feet high. The plants have a bulb like condensed crown that the fronds are produced from. Mature plants can spread to about 3 feet in width.  The plant spreads by root stolens to make huge colonies if not controlled.

Down at the base of the plant the sexual fronds, the fronds that produce spores for sexual reproduction, will form in late summer. These are short, thick and dark brown.  These fronds persist over winter.  The plant can spread by spores, which are released in early spring, but the usual method of spreading is through the root system.
Brown sexual fronds and fern crowns in early spring

Ostrich ferns will grow in full sun if kept constantly moist, and in partial or even full shade. In full shade they are smaller.  They prefer rich, organic soil and plenty of moisture.  They will do fine in clay soil and wet areas and are a good plant for rain gardens.  However, if summer gets hot and dry and they can’t be watered the fronds will dry up and disappear.  Windy areas can tatter and flatten the plants also.

Ostrich ferns do not need fertilization.  They have no known pests and deer and rabbits usually don’t eat them.  I know of no disease problems.  Ostrich ferns look good in masses and can make a good tall groundcover in shadier areas.  Ostrich ferns combine well with larger hosta, astilbe, toad lilies and heuchera if you are careful to keep the ferns from over powering the other plants. You can remove fronds without a problem if they are hiding other plants.

A good use for ostrich fern is to plant it with woodland ephemerals, wildflowers or bulbs that bloom early in spring and then disappear, like trilliums, bloodroot, crocus, grape hyacinth, winter aconite and similar plants.  These bloom before the fronds begin growing and then the emerging fronds cover their dying foliage.  In sunnier areas tall lilies like the orientals and vines like clematis are good companions.

Gardeners may have a hard time finding plants to buy.  They are sometimes sold as dormant roots, other times a potted plant is sold.  If getting a start from a friend try to get it in early spring, before the green fronds emerge.  Look for the brown spore fronds and dig up the bulb like root structure.  Ostrich fern doesn’t seem to transplant well when the fronds are large.

In my garden I am constantly fighting with ostrich ferns so that other plants can be seen and so that they don’t clog every bit of available soil.  But I still find the plants beautiful with a soothing woodland feel. Just be aware they can soon become dominant in the landscape.

In some areas the early curled fronds of ostrich fern, called fiddleheads, are gathered and cooked.  Don’t eat them raw, as it can make you very sick.

Help-my squash blooms but won’t set fruit

One of the common problems of new vegetable gardeners is when things like cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins seem to be blooming very well but the gardener isn’t seeing any fruits.  If this happens to you don’t panic.

Most of the vining crops, melons, cukes, squash, and pumpkins have separate male and female flowers on each plant.  The female flowers have a tiny melon, squash, pumpkin or cuke attached to the back of the bloom.  The male flowers look similar, but they don’t have the tiny fruit.  Only the female flowers can turn into fruits, but you do need both sexes.
This is the female flower of a gourd, with the baby gourd
at the back of the flower.
Almost always male flowers are the first to open.  Why this happens we don’t know. It may be that the plant doesn’t have enough resources yet to support fruit.  But soon the plant will produce female flowers and if they get pollinated you’ll start seeing those tiny fruits enlarge.  There are some varieties of plants that have been selected to produce only female flowers.  These are called gynoecious. These produce more fruit. But there still must be some plants with male flowers somewhere nearby to pollinate them.

Sometimes weather and lack of pollinators can cause poor/no pollination. Cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins need insect pollinators. High temperatures, especially at night and plants under stress will result in more male flowers.  But if the plants keep blooming, you are good, you’ll eventually get fruits.

Salmon salad

This is a meal not a salad in my mind.  It’s healthy and tasty at the same time and great for summer meals.  It’s better not to use canned salmon in this recipe.  Cook some fresh or thawed frozen salmon for this salad.   You can grill it or bake it.  Remove any skin.

Orzo is a pasta that looks like grains of rice.  It cooks quickly.  You could substitute other pasta but use something small.


1 pound of cooked salmon, skin removed, broken into small pieces
1 pound of orzo, cooked and drained
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, washed, cleaned and diced finely
½ cup chopped green onion
1 cup creamy Italian salad dressing
1/3  cup sour cream
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste


Place the salmon, orzo, peppers and onion in a large bowl.
In a smaller bowl mix together, salad dressing, sour cream and cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the dressing mix over the salmon mixture and toss lightly until mixed.
Chill at least one hour before serving.

Have fun in the summer sun, but remember June is the most fertile month.

Kim Willis
And So On….

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