Tuesday, August 27, 2019

August 27, 2019 vines, webworms, pot and pie

Hello gardeners

We got a bit of rain last night, not enough, I’ll be watering tomorrow.  The grass is crunchy.  Its amazing how things go, too wet in spring, too dry in late summer, but since I spoke of it, it will probably get rainy and too wet again.

I don’t mind the cooler weather we are having though.  I’m cleaning out garden beds and transplanting things around.  I’m eliminating beds far from the house where the deer don’t allow things to bloom any more. 

In the garden this week the black eyed Susans and coneflowers are still going strong.  The ligularia and hardy hibiscus are starting to bloom as well as the mums.  Phlox and roses are blooming.  The clethra is blooming.  Ferns and some daylilies are looking tatty and I am cutting them back.

I am impressed with the pansies I bought way back in April, which have bloomed all summer in the front bed and are still going strong.  I didn’t save the tag and I wish I had because I will surely try to buy them again next spring.  Usually pansies and violas die off in the heat of summer, but these thrived.  I am going to scour my records and see if I can find the name of the variety.  I do have some violas popping up here and there from seed for the fall bloom period.

We had some new potatoes from the garden this past week and I have more to dig.  We are still getting tomatoes, but the plants are looking sorry.  Grapes are beginning to ripen.  Apples will be a while.

This week I intend to order some fall bulbs.  I usually order them before now, but I am in the process of looking for blank areas to plant them as I clear out the beds.   I always want more than I have room to plant.  I like to try a different tulip every year.  Some come back every year, some don’t.  I think all my digging and transplanting this year may have disturbed some of the tiny bulbs so I think I’ll replant some snowdrops and other tiny things so I will be sure to have those early flowers. 

I remember I was always sad at this time of year as a child but excited too, with school starting back up.  I don’t envy parents the school morning routine at all.  I don’t miss going to work on foggy, chilly, dark fall mornings but missing the sunny warm fall afternoons either.  Retirement is great.

Remember when I promised a photo of the flower of violet stemmed taro?  Here it is.

I hope everyone has a great Labor Day holiday.  Get out there and enjoy nature if you can.

Annual Vines

If you love lots of flowers but have little room for growing, you may want to put annual vines to use in your garden.  They use vertical space instead of precious ground level space.  Vines can also cover things you would like to hide, such as an ugly fence.  And some vines are just fun to grow, with interesting and colorful flowers.  A garden without a vine somewhere is incomplete.

There are two types of vining plants, annual and perennial.  This article discusses annual vines, those that die after one growing season.  Some vines are treated as annuals in most US gardens but may be perennial in tropical climates.  Annual vines are temporary, although many will reseed, and this allows you to change things in the garden each year.  Annual vines can also spill out of baskets or planted in containers with proper support. 

This article will briefly discuss the appearance, needs and uses of some common annual vines.  Many vines will need to be started indoors a few weeks before your last frost in planting zones 7 and lower. You can sometimes find started vines in nurseries, but for many types you may need to start them from seed.

One thing to remember about annual vines is that they can be hard to remove from things like chain link fences once the vines have died and dried up.  I think it’s easier to remove them just after the first hard frost, while they are still pliable.  If you allow them to reseed or plant new seeds in spring, they will quickly cover the old mess, but it can look unsightly in early summer if the dried vines remain on a fence or other support.

Morning glory

An easy vine for beginners, morning glories are probably one of the most common vines grown in the garden. Morning glories have glossy, green, heart shaped leaves.  There are now some varieties which have leaves that are attractively variegated with cream or white. The flowers come in every color except yellow or orange.  Morning glory flowers have fused petals forming a flared trumpet, ranging from 3 to 7 inches across.  Many morning glory flowers have lighter throats or a star shaped pattern radiating from the center.  

Morning glory flowers open in the early morning, as the name suggests, and are closed by mid-afternoon.  Newer varieties stay open longer, but morning glories are best planted where daytime viewing is expected. Each flower lasts only one day but hundreds of flowers are produced by the vine to keep the show going.  Morning glory flowers eventually form papery seedpods filled with hard-shelled seeds. 

Morning glories often reseed prolifically.  Many of the flowers grown from these seeds will have reverted to the wild purple form, especially after a few years.  If you want larger flowers in a variety of colors, you may want to plant purchased seed every year.

Seeds should be nicked and soaked overnight before planting. You can plant them directly in the ground after the last frost or start them in pots inside for earlier bloom.  Transplant outside after the last frost.  They begin bloom in mid-summer and will bloom until a hard frost.

Morning glory plants should be in full sun for best bloom.  They are not fussy about soil types, although the area must be well drained. Morning glories will tolerate dry conditions after they are a few weeks old but should be watered if they begin to wilt.
Double flowered morning glory
Morning glories can be planted on fences and trellises, but they can also be planted so they climb up and peek through shrubbery or small trees.  It won’t hurt the shrub if there are only a few vines but avoid a heavy covering of vines.  They will also climb sturdy plants like sunflowers.  They sometimes become a pest in gardens if not thinned out and may overwhelm smaller perennials.

Some of the oldest varieties are still the most charming.  ‘Heavenly Blue‘- deep blue with lighter center, ‘Grandpa Ott‘-reddish purple with a red center, ‘Scarlet O’Hara‘- crimson red, ‘Pearly Gates‘- pure white; are all older morning glories that perform well. 

‘Star Struck’ is a newer variety of pastel colors with darker stars in the center.  ‘Sun Smile’ only grows about 2 feet long, making them excellent for containers and baskets.  They are darker shades with a white edge around each flower, and have foliage variegated with white.  ‘Mt. Fugi mix’ has huge flowers in many deep shades and each flower has a white edge and a white star in the center that combine to give it a pinwheel appearance.  It has unusual lobed leaves that are variegated with white.  There are many other varieties and color mixtures on the market.

Morning glory seeds can be hallucinogenic and are poisonous.  Keep children and pets from eating them, although accidental consumption is rare as the seeds aren’t attractive.  Teens, however, have been known to experiment with the seeds.


While moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a common name given to several species, here we are referring to the vine called moonflower. They are native to the subtropics and are native plants in some parts of Florida.  In the tropics they are perennial but are grown as an annual in planting zones 8 and lower.

Moonflowers are related to morning glories, with similar leaves, just a bit larger.  They take a long time to grow before blooming and must be started inside about 8 weeks before your last frost.  They will bloom in late summer, when nights are about 12 hours long. 

The flowers are huge, pure white with a pale yellow “star” marking, and very fragrant. Rarely, pink flowers are seen. Moonflowers look like larger editions of morning glory flowers.  They open at night and are an excellent plant to place around patios and porches that are used at night.  Occasionally they stay open on a cloudy, cool morning. They attract hummingbird moths as pollinators.

Moonflower seeds must be nicked or cracked to break the hard seed coat and then soaked overnight before planting.  Start the seeds in 6-inch pots to eliminate frequent transplant shock about 8 weeks before your expected last frost. You’ll need a stake for the young vines to climb up.  Do not put them outside until after the last frost and when the ground is warm.  Then you can transplant them into the ground or 10-12-inch containers.

Moonflowers need full sun for best bloom.  They like frequent watering.  Vines should be given sturdy supports.  They can grow 12 feet long or more.  Let them grow up for several feet then train them along rails or other supports horizontally so the blooms will be more visible. 

Moonflower seeds are not hallucinogenic but should be considered poisonous.  Do not eat any part of the plant.

Scarlet runner bean, other beans

If you like both edible and pretty you may want to try some beans as annual vines. ‘Scarlet Runner’ beans have scarlet flowers, ‘Sunset Runner’ has salmon pink flowers, ‘Painted Lady’ has red and white blooms.  All of these climbing beans will produce flowers for a long time if the beans are kept picked off and eaten as snap beans while they are young and tender.  

Sunset Runner has peachy pink blooms.  It’s an early bloomer/producer that will keep producing as long as the pods are picked and is excellent for “green beans.”  Moonlight is also an early producer with large, pure white blooms.  It is semi-string less when used as a green bean and can also be used as a dry bean Lady Di runner beans have bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds and stringless bean pods that can reach 10 inches long and still remain tender and tasty.  The dry beans are mottled red and black.  Streamline also has red flowers and pods that can reach 18 inches long.

Plant these beans in full sun where you want them to grow after the last frost. Keep them well watered.

Hyacinth bean

Hyacinth beans or Lablab purpureus have beautiful purple flowers and some varieties have leaves with purple veins or that are purple shaded.  There is controversy whether the purple podded beans are edible or not.  Most sources claim the beans can be eaten if they are boiled with several changes of water. The beans are eaten in other countries with proper preparation and the young leaves of the plants are eaten like spinach.

Hyacinth bean is a vigorous vine and will cover a small trellis.  Like other beans they can be planted in the soil where they are to grow after danger of frost has passed.  They can also be started in pots 6 weeks before your last frost. They do best in full sun.

Ipomoea lobata, formerly Mina lobata, and a.k.a. Spanish flag

Spanish Flag gets its common name for its pretty and unusual flowers.  The flowers jut out of one side of stems that grow on a slant, looking like flags (or maybe windsocks), flying from a pole.  They are in clusters along reddish stems and are tubular, with only a small opening which faces downward. 

The youngest buds are scarlet red, as they mature, they get longer and plumper, like a balloon inflating, and change from red to yellow-orange and then a finally a creamy white.  They mature from the bottom upward.  Each spray of flowers will display individual flowers in various color stages.
Once Spanish Flag begins bloom it is quite a prolific bloomer and puts on a good show.  Several vines along a fence or trellis will be very colorful.  Bees and butterflies do visit the flowers although it would seem like they would have trouble getting to any pollen or nectar rewards through the narrow opening.

The leaves of Spanish Flag have 3 deep lobes (think ace of spades).  In spring the young leaves have a bronzy purple look and they later mature into green leaves along a dark wiry stem. The vines are vigorous once the weather warms and quickly cover a lot of space.  They will climb and smother other plants so choose your planting site carefully. They prefer full sun in the north, in zone 8 and above they will do fine in partial shade.  Poisonous.

Black-eyed Susan vine

Thunbergia alata, or Black-eyed Susan vine is a common trailing plant in hanging baskets and containers.  It’s not related to the other Black-eyed Susans found in the garden, although the flowers may look like tiny copies of them.  If helped it can climb, it climbs by twining around a support.  Wrap young plants around a support to get them started if you want a vertical look.  They will climb to about 5 feet.

Black-eyed Susan vine is a perennial in its native Africa but is generally grown as an annual here.  Gardeners in zone 9 might be able to grow it year-round.  I don’t know if it would winter inside, but it might like a greenhouse. 

The leaves of Black-eyed Susan vine can be oval, triangular or heart shaped.  The leaf stems or petioles have little wings.  Leaves are dark green, lighter underneath and softly hairy. 

The flowers of Black-eyed Susan vine look like tiny daisies about 3 inches across. Once found only in orange with a dark center they now come in a variety of pastel colors, yellow, cream, pink and others, all with the dark center.  A healthy vine blooms at a young age and is usually covered with blooms through the summer.  The flowers are visited by bees and butterflies and turn into odd rounded bumpy pods with a “beak”.

Black-eyed Susan vine likes full sun and moist soil.  The vine will grow in partial shade but produce few flowers. Fertilize once a month for best bloom. In growing zones 7 and above it’s best to start with small plants or start seeds indoors 8 weeks before your last frost.  In zones 8 and 9 you could plant seeds directly in the ground.

Cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit)

The cypress vine is native to South America but makes a pretty delicate vine in the garden which attracts hummingbirds with its tubular scarlet flowers.  The leaves are fern like.  The vine gets about 10 feet long.  It makes an excellent cover for fencing. It’s also pretty in large containers.

Cypress vine flowers are scarlet tubes with a flare of 5 petals on the end like a red star. They are slender and about ¾ inches across at the bottom. They begin blooming midsummer and bloom until frost.  There are now white and pink varieties of cypress vine also.

You can plant the seeds of cypress vine in the ground where they are to grow or start them inside 6 weeks before the last frost.  Soak seeds overnight before planting.

Cypress vine prefers full sun and moist soil, although it will withstand moderate drought. It is cold sensitive, plant outside after soil has warmed.

In zones 6 and higher the seeds of cypress vine can overwinter and pop up in spring and the plant is sometimes considered invasive in warmer areas.   All parts of the plant are poisonous.

Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea sloteri.) 

This vine is a cross between two plants native to the southern part of North America and Central America, the Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) and the Scarlet Morning glory (Ipomoea coccinea)  Cardinal Climbers have small scarlet red flowers with a long tube at the back and an opening shaped like a star.  The throat of the flower is lighter in color, with yellow stamens and pistil protruding in the center.  The flowers close at night, just like Morning Glory Flowers. Cardinal Climbers begin blooming earlier than Morning Glories, often in early summer and will continue blooming until frost. 

The leaves of Cardinal Climbers are triangular with deep “cuts” in the margin, giving them a lacy appearance.  They look like Morning Glory leaves that someone took shears to.  Although the slightly smaller flowers of the Cypress Vine are very similar Cardinal Climber flowers are broader at the top and Cypress Vine has fine needle-like leaves.  The vines are a little sturdier than Cypress vines and somewhat showier in leaf and flower.  Cardinal Climbers are fast growing and in good conditions will climb or spread 20 feet or more in a season.   If you like a less invasive vine, Cardinal Vine doesn’t reseed as freely as Cypress vine.

Cardinal Climber vines need full sun and like a loose, rich, slightly acidic soil but will adjust to many soil conditions.  They will take some drought, but should be watered when it hasn’t rained in two weeks or if they show signs of wilting. The plants do not tolerate frost or cold ground. 

Canary creeper

The canary creeper, Tropaeolum peregrinum is related to nasturtiums and has an edible flower.  It’s more of a scrambler than a climber, it likes to climb up and over other plants.  It is being used in containers as a “spiller”.  It’s a native of South America, but gardeners love it for its pretty yellow flowers.  It can be trained up a trellis to show off the pretty flowers.  It climbs by twining its stems around a support.

Canary creeper
Kurt Stuber
The leaves of canary creeper are blue green and have 5 rounded lobes.  They are attractive even when the plant isn’t in bloom.  Vines grow quickly and bloom by mid-summer.

Canary creeper has bright yellow flowers.  Two of the petals are large and frilly and point to either side like bird’s wings.  The other 3 petals are clustered in front and smaller with little spurs.  The plant blooms much of the summer and a well grown plant looks like it is full of small birds from a distance.

This is a vine that likes partial shade, especially in southern areas. It needs moderately fertile soil, don’t fertilize it.  It can dry out between watering.  You can sometimes find starter plants in nurseries or start seeds inside 6 weeks before your last frost. Soak seeds overnight before planting.  You can also plant the seeds where they are to grow after the last frost.  

Cup and saucer vine- Cobaea scandens

If you need something covered cup and saucer vine may be the vine you are looking for. It’s equally good on a trellis or chain link fence and will also climb into trees and shrubs if you let it. Cobaea scandens has compound leaves, consisting of 4-6 oval leaflets.  It climbs by tendrils that are often forked and have a hook at the end.  It grows upright as a seedling until it finds suitable support then will branch to cover a wider area.  Stems are a reddish-purple color when young.

The flowers of cup and saucer vine are said to look like a teacup in a saucer, but I find that quite imaginative.  The flower starts with odd looking 5-sided pale green buds which then opens and shows off the frilly inner cup like flower. The cup has a light center spot, markings along the petals pointing to the nectar in the center, darker veins and long protruding clusters of stamens. When it first opens the flower cup is pale greenish white, over a few days it darkens to pale purple and then becomes deep purple after the flower loses its pollen.  The flowers are said to have a light sweet scent, although I have never noticed it. The color change in the flowers makes sense because in its native habitat Cobaea scandens is pollinated by bats. 

For more about growing Cobaea scandens you can read this article;

Sweet Peas

If you are into nostalgia or heritage plants sweet peas will also charm you.  They are a vining plant that is fairly easy to grow in cooler weather and come in a wide range of colors.  Most are fragrant. While sweet peas are related to garden peas, their pods and peas shouldn’t be eaten but only admired.

Sweet peas like cool weather but don’t survive hard frosts.  They are a cool weather annual, that needs to be started early for early summer bloom.  When summer turns hot they fade and die.  But if you allowed pods to form and dry you can collect seeds for the following season.

For an article on growing sweet peas please go to:

Fall web worms

If you are noticing those huge webs of wiggling worms on the tips of branches on trees in your area, don’t be alarmed. The fall webworm is a native seasonal pest that doesn’t significantly harm trees even though they look pretty ugly. In many areas we begin seeing the “tents” of fall webworm in late August. Even after a hard freeze kills the worms inside, or they have become pupae, the nests may hang in the trees until winter winds dislodge them.

Fall webworms are often confused with their spring cousins, the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. Fall webworms enclose leaves at the end of a branch with their white, web like tent. They feed inside the tent and enlarge it when all the leaves inside are eaten. Eastern tent caterpillars make their tents in the crotches of branches and they leave the tent to feed on leaves, returning to the tent for protection from weather. Eastern tent caterpillars appear in late spring and early summer, fall webworms late in the summer.

The nests of fall webworms are usually on the outside branches of a tree, where the branch extends over an open sunny area such as a road or lawn. This makes them very visible to concerned gardeners. Each nest contains a colony of small caterpillars, busily feeding on tree leaves. The caterpillars are either red headed or black headed. Black headed webworms are greenish, with two rows of black bumps on the sides. Red headed webworms are tan with orange or red bumps. Both are covered in long white hairs.

The adult fall webworm is a small white moth, occasionally marked with a few black spots. She lays her eggs on the underside of leaves, where they hatch and begin feeding. The young feed for about 6 weeks then drop to the ground to pupate and over-winter. Occasionally in Michigan’s southern counties there is enough warm weather in fall for the first generation to turn into moths and create a second generation. Levels of the pest are higher in some years too, with heavier populations every 5-7 years.

Fall webworms prefer to feed on trees such as wild cherry, walnut, hickories and fruit trees but can feed on almost any tree. They seldom feed on willows and cottonwoods. When a tent or web is disturbed all the little caterpillars move in a peculiar synchronized jiggling movement. This may be their attempt to make a predator think something much larger is lurking within.
Fall webworm

Controlling fall webworm

Since trees are near the end of their active cycle the loss of leaves from Fall Webworms doesn’t harm them much. If the nests offend you, you can use your garden hose to spray them out of the tree or use a stick to knock them down, and then smash the worms. Worms won’t crawl back up the tree when knocked to the ground. You can trim the tents out of the tree if doing so doesn’t harm the looks of the tree. Valuable ornamental trees can be treated with systemic pesticides early in summer. These go through the tree and kill the worms as they start to feed on leaves later in the year.

Pesticide sprays are not recommended as the collateral damage to the environment isn’t worth it, as trees are barely affected by the feeding of the Fall Webworm. Most pesticides do not effectively penetrate the webs; they would have to be torn open. Spraying foliage around the nests may kill the caterpillars when they enclose more leaves into the web. And burning the tents with a blowtorch is as dangerous to the tree and to you as it is to the worms.

Fall webworms have several natural enemies including yellow jackets and paper wasps. If you tolerate these insects on your property, then you may have fewer fall webworms. Birds also like to eat the worms, especially if you tear the web for them.

Pot for pain – how the US government is making pain relief difficult

An herb that many gardeners can grow at home if it is legal in their state is one of the most effective and safe pain relievers known.  Cannabis has been used for pain and many other medical conditions for centuries.  But on a national level this herb is illegal.  While we are exploring modern medical uses for many traditional herbs one of the most valuable herbs, cannabis or “pot” is being left behind because of its outdated and misguided legal status.

The Federal government makes studying cannabis for medical use extremely difficult. While studying class II drugs like fentanyl, oxycodone, and cocaine is not too difficult, cannabis is still classified as a schedule I drug, which is just ridiculous.  Schedule I drugs are said to have no medical uses and research on them is strictly limited.  While there are still some controversies over certain medical uses of cannabis, there is no doubt that that cannabis does have medical uses and that is born out by research, much of that done in other countries of course.  Why cannabis remains in level I classification cannot be justified and should be questioned by every citizen.

How the Feds pressure Extension educators and Master Gardeners

Not only is research on the medical use of cannabis hampered by the Feds, the government has ordered Extension educators not to help people with growing problems or to help with projects exploring growing or processing methods of cannabis even in states where either recreational or medical cannabis use is legal.  They can do this because the universities associated with Extension offices receive Federal money.

Extension offices have gone so far as to prohibit Master Gardeners from discussing or growing cannabis or risk losing MG certification, even where such activity would be legal.  Yet Extension educators and MG’s are free to discuss growing far more harmful herbs or tell people how to produce their own alcohol.

Some cannabis research does get through the hurdles in the US.  The University of New Mexico recently used a database that thousands of medical cannabis users report their experiences on.  This free app Releaf, (https://releafapp.com/), is allowing researchers access to data from people using commercially available cannabis.  While users are self-reporting their reactions to various forms of cannabis it’s similar to data bases that are mined for information in other forms of medical research.

The research done at UNM and recently published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that when people used cannabis in various forms for chronic pain relief, they averaged a 3-point drop in their pain level on a scale of 1-10. This research found that 95% of people who tried pot for pain found some relief from it, with no harmful effects.

Additionally, research was done at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in MontrĂ©al, Canada on cannabis for pain relief.  After a yearlong study of people prescribed cannabis for pain researchers stated this: “We found no evidence of harmful effects on cognitive function, or blood tests among cannabis consumers and we observed a significant improvement in their levels of pain, symptom distress, mood and quality of life compared to controls. '' The Journal of Pain, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2015.07.014

And interestingly, the UNM research just published found that higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels were actually more effective in pain relief than low THC- high CBD (cannabidiol) cannabis that is commonly thought to be better for pain. (THC and CBD are chemical components of cannabis that act in different ways on the body.)  This is the kind of information that needs to be established.

The whole cannabis bud is the most effective pain reliever.  This may be because the plant contains other ingredients, such as terpenes and flavonoids, that also act to promote pain relief and wellbeing. The whole bud elevates mood and helps calm anxiety which also acts to make pain more tolerable. In contrast current research found that pure CBD, often found in health food stores and touted because it does not get you “high” did not relieve pain.

Federally approved research can be flawed

Most legal cannabis research done in the US has to be done using cannabis grown at the University of Mississippi.  This cannabis is notoriously weaker in THC than commercial cannabis available where it is legal.  The THC level of the cannabis doled out to researchers jumping through hoops to get it, is set at no higher than 12.4%.  Commercial cannabis and modern homegrown strains usually contain between 18.7 and 35 % THC levels.  And there are ways to concentrate the THC level in various cannabis products that can make THC levels 70% or higher.  So, most legal research is being done on cannabis that does not compare with what can be bought legally in some states or grown at home.

Using an app like Releaf, or one of the many professional websites out there, where people discuss the various strains of cannabis, and how they administer the medicine, such as in edibles, tinctures, smoking and so on, can help pain sufferers decide what may work for them.  And if you want to help other people and researchers, putting your data/experiences with pain relief from cannabis on such apps and websites can be helpful.  If the government fails to help us and puts obstacles in the way of private research, we must help ourselves.

In a country where more than a 115 people a day die from opioid use, a safe method of pain relief should be an extremely important goal.  No one has ever died from cannabis overdose or use. We should be throwing every research dollar we have marked for pain relief into studying cannabis and any other safe alternative to opioid drugs. Millions of people suffer from chronic pain, caused by arthritis, cancer, trauma and other things.  They deserve to have every avenue of pain relief explored fully.

Most of the opioid deaths come from a group of people who began their use from a legal prescription for a legal drug to treat pain. Cannabis is far less harmful than many legal “drugs” including alcohol, and the fact it’s still illegal is simply outrageous.  We need this herb to become legal on a Federal level so people can safely treat their pain.

More reading

Green Tomato Pie

If you have a lot of green tomatoes and are tiring of ripe tomatoes at every meal you could turn them into pie.  Use the larger, lighter green ones for best results.  This recipe makes one pie, which tastes a lot like apple pie.

3 cups chopped green tomatoes
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 tablespoons melted butter
½ cup chopped raisins
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 double pie crust

Line a pie pan with the bottom crust. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the green tomatoes in a pan and add just enough water to barely cover them.

Bring the tomatoes just to a boil.  Turn off heat and drain off water through a colander or strainer.

Put the tomatoes and all the other ingredients, except top crust, and toss to mix well.

Put the tomato mixture into the pie pan and add the top crust, crimping the top edge together. Poke the top crust with a fork in several places.

Bake about 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder.
-Alfred Austin

Kim Willis

And So On….

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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 people and horticulture. It’s a hobby, basically. I hope you enjoy it. If you are on my mailing list and at any time you don’t wish to receive these emails just let me know. If you know anyone who would like to receive a notification by email when a new blog is published have them send their email address to me.  KimWillis151@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

August 20, 2019 dewy mornings and golden light

Hi Gardeners

Canna flower
The light is softening, the mornings are dewy, and the flush of golden and purple flowers portend the end of a season.  When the black-eyed Susan’s and goldenrod meet the purple phlox and New England asters you know summer is racing toward its end. There are still flowers to come, the mums, toad lilies and anemones but one can sense the end is near. 

If you look carefully the color is starting to tinge the maples and sumac.  The ditches are sporting fluffy plumes of phragmites and in the meadows the grasses are mellowing to golden, purple and red. Grapes and apples hang low on the vine and tree. Seed pods swell and the sunflowers hang their heavy heads. Crickets call loudly at night, hoping for love before the grand finale.  Even though the fall equinox is a month away, the land knows it approaches.

Late summer is a lazy time for many gardeners.  You can take a brief break from weeding and mowing chores before fall rains get the grass and weeds growing again.  There may be harvesting to do, but by now many gardeners have wearied of plucking tomatoes and beans.  Take a moment to sit in the sun while it still warms you.  Close your eyes and listen to the birds and frogs before their voices are gone.

Take a little pause, a brief bit of time before the rush is here, back to school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and let yourself enjoy nature and the serenity of your garden. You deserve it.

Examine your mature garden and get its measure.  Start dreaming about changes you’ll make for next year based on the lessons you learned this season.  Buy those bulbs for fall planting, decide where the houseplants will go when you move them inside, and what projects you’ll tackle when the weather cools. 

Gardens are wonderful.  But they are meant to be enjoyed by the gardener as well as tended. There’s not much time left, so get out there and enjoy.

Ragweed, goldenrod and your allergies

Goldenrod is beginning to bloom.  Before you start sneezing and laying blame on it, please understand goldenrod does not cause your seasonal allergies.  In late summer and fall, before a hard freeze, the primary culprit for seasonal allergies is ragweed, stinging nettles and amaranths.  Goldenrod, a beautiful showy flower is not the cause of allergies. 

Goldenrod pollen is heavy and doesn’t travel well on the wind.  Goldenrod is very beneficial for pollinators and it’s a pretty plant so leave it alone please. But if you have allergies don’t cut goldenrod and bring it inside.  Inside, in warm and dry conditions, the pollen dries out and may drift just enough to cause you problems.

There are several types of Goldenrod that can be found in the northeast but the two most common are Gray Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis, and Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima.  Both have the sprays of tiny gold flowers for which the plant is named.  Gray Goldenrod is shorter, the flower sprays are not as wide and arched as Tall Goldenrod and each long narrow leaf has two short leaves by it where it attaches to the stem.  Tall Goldenrod can grow to 5 feet high in good conditions and the flower spikes tend to from a pyramidal shape at the top of the plant.  Both plants have rough, stiff stems and the leaves and stems are slightly hairy.
The sprays of gold are formed by hundreds of tiny yellow, daisy-like flowers which each have a nectar tube.  This nectar is an important food for butterflies fueling up to fly south and bees preparing for winter as is the abundant, heavy pollen.  Goldenrod begins blooming in late summer and blooms until a heavy frost. Goldenrod will grow almost anywhere, in sun and light shade, in moist or dry locations.  It’s a common roadside and field wildflower.


Ragweed is also blooming now, although most won’t notice its plain Jane flowers and it’s the cause of allergic symptoms for many people this time of year.  Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) has a Latin name many associate with something delightful, but this almost unnoticed plant is anything but delightful to millions of hay fever suffers.  

Ragweed was once confined to the east coast but has spread throughout the United States.  Ragweed is an annual plant which begins growing from over-wintered seeds as soon as the soil warms above 50 degrees.  Young Ragweed leaves have more rounded points to their divided leaves and may be spotted with purple.  They are hairy on the leaf surface.
Common ragweed
As ragweed grows, the leaves become more sharply divided.  Many people mistake the Ragweed plants for marigolds or tomatoes as the fern-like leaves are similar.  In cooler fall weather the leaves may take on a reddish or purplish tint at the edges.  Ragweed plants can get quite large, up to 5 feet high and branching many times.  

In late summer, about the time goldenrod blooms, ragweed also blooms.  The small greenish flowers are clustered in long wands at the ends of branches and don’t draw much notice.  The pollen that they release into the wind and which can float for miles, does make many notice though.  If you look at it under a microscope you could see the hooks and barbs each pollen piece carries, which can wreak havoc on human nasal and respiratory passages. 

Ragweed will grow in almost any soil, although it prefers heavy, moist soil.  It likes full sun but will tolerate some shade.  It is found in crops and gardens as a weed, on roadsides and in un-mowed fields.  The seeds of Ragweed can survive for more than 80 years in soil, waiting for the right time to germinate, so the plant is hard to eliminate.

Giant ragweed, (Ambrosia trifida), a relative of common ragweed, has 3 lobed (sometimes 5) palmate (hand like) leaves that remind some people of marihuana, hence the common name wild hemp. The margins of the leaflets are toothed, but not as obviously as those of true marihuana, and the leaflets much broader.  And giant ragweed leaves do not have any of the pleasant qualities of marihuana.  The leaves are arranged opposite each other on the woody stem.  Both stems and leaves are covered with fine hairs.  The leaf stem is winged near the main stem. Some plants may have several large branches.  Plants have a short taproot and a large fibrous root mat.
Giant ragweed- young plant
The flowers of giant ragweed are greenish white and inconspicuous although the pollen they produce and release into the wind can cause much distress to hay fever sufferers.  Male flowers are produced on spikes at the top of the plant, so the pollen is better distributed into the wind.  Female flowers are below them in short clusters in leaf axils.  Each female flower makes a single seed. 
The woody stems and seed pods of giant ragweed will persist well into winter.  Plants will grow in sun or partial shade and prefer fertile, moist soil although they can pop up in many places.  They grow from seed.  It is a native plant and found throughout much of the US and Canada.

Stinging nettles

Stinging nettle pollen is also allergenic and it’s shedding pollen now too.  I know a lot of herbalists rave over stinging nettles and there’s much folklore involving cures but if you keep some around at least keep the flowers trimmed off so there won’t be pollen or seeds.

Stinging nettles is a tall (3-7 feet) sturdy perennial plant.  The leaves are dark green, 1-6 inches long and heavily toothed on the edges.  Leaves are arranged oppositely on the tough, squared stem.  The plants usually aren’t branched. 

Stinging nettles in flower
The surface of the leaves and stems are covered with hairs, some of which are larger and contain the poison that causes such misery.  These hairs, called trichomes, are hollow, with a bulbous base that contains acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes, and possibly formic acid. They act like a needle to inject the poison as a defense. These hairs are meant to protect the plant from animals eating them and they do a good job.  They also break off in human skin causing welts, stinging and itching.  When the plants are dried or cooked the poison disappears.

Stinging nettle flowers come in male and female versions on the same plant. They are small clusters of greenish white and appear in the leaf axils throughout the summer.  The female flowers produce tiny egg-shaped seeds of tan to brown.

Amaranths, pigweed and others

Pigweeds, of which there are several types, began flowering in late June and bloom on and off until a hard frost.  They can cause allergy symptoms when pollinating.  Pigweeds belong to the amaranth family.  This diverse family has some edible seeded varieties and some ornamental varieties such as Love Lies Bleeding, which allergy prone gardeners may want to avoid.  Lambsquarters, Chenopodium album, another common weed that blooms in late summer and fall can also cause allergy symptoms
Love lies bleeding
 Other than ornamental grasses and amaranths, most garden plants in the late summer garden do not cause any serious nasal allergy threat.  However, when some flowers are cut and brought indoors, the pollen dries out and has a greater tendency to cause nasal allergies, especially if allergy sensitive people are close to the cut flowers. Lilies, members of the daisy family and as mentioned, goldenrod are frequent culprits here. 

After a hard frost most pollen shedding will stop.  However, another nasal allergen trigger may cause problems.  Mold often causes allergies and moldy tree leaves can trigger nasal allergies.  Plants that have heavy infestations of white fly, aphids or scale insects often develop sooty mold.  Sooty mold grows on sweet secretions or excrement from insects eating plant sap.   Houseplants often have these pests and then can indirectly cause nasal allergies.
If your allergies peak in late summer, don’t blame goldenrod.  Instead look for the sneaky weeds that are the real culprits.

Be safe while foraging and using herbs
It’s the season for gathering wild plants and experimenting with garden plants to make salads, teas and medicinal products.  Some people equate “natural”, herbal or “homegrown” with safe to use, and that isn’t necessarily so, as any poison control hotline can tell you.  Every year we have serious illness and even deaths attributed to people who are gathering foods from the wild or mixing up herbal medicines from the garden.  Experimenting with wild foods and herbal medicines and teas can be fine- if you keep some basic things in mind.
Positive identification.  There are many extremely dangerous plants that look remarkably like harmless and helpful plants. Queen Anne’s lace looks like hemlock for example. If you don’t absolutely know what the plant is that you are considering consuming, don’t eat it or put it on your body.  Use good reference books or take classes with experienced people until you are sure you can identify plants you want to use.  Even using some plants on the skin can cause problems as some harmful plant compounds can be absorbed through the skin.  This is more of a problem with wild gathered plants, but even garden plants can be misidentified.
Tasting a plant is never a good way to identify it.  Classifying plants by how they taste, bitter, sweet and so on, is inaccurate and unsafe.  And because animals and birds consume a plant doesn’t mean it’s safe for humans, or even your pets. Different animals and birds can tolerate different plant products.
It is extremely important to use care and properly identify mushrooms before using/ eating them. Mushrooms can be very tricky to identify. Make sure an expert helps you with identification.  Some mushrooms can kill quickly with a few bites.  Others don’t seem to produce symptoms for days, until they begin to destroy your liver and kidneys. Be absolutely certain of your identification when it comes to mushrooms and make sure you keep children and pets from consuming any mushrooms they find.  Even some so-called experts have died from eating mushrooms they thought were safe.
Use the correct part of the plant and know how to prepare it.  In some plants the fruit may be harmless but the leaves or roots deadly and vice versa.  For example, ripe elderberry fruit is edible when cooked but other parts of the plant can cause serious illness.  Tomato fruit is excellent eating, but other parts of the plant will make you very sick. 
You can eat the shoots of pokeberry plants if you boil them in water, discard the water and cook them a second time (usually fried).  But if you eat the shoots raw or eat the berries of the plant you will get very sick and possibly die. DO NOT EAT POKEWEED BERRIES! Despite what some ill-informed people will tell you online, pokeweed berries are poisonous even if cooked and have even caused deaths.   
Before you consume any new plants make sure you know what parts are considered safe to eat and how those parts should be prepared.  Start slowly with any new plant you consume because you could have an allergy to it.
Realize that overdosing and side effects can occur with medical plants.  The medicinal compounds in wild or garden gathered plants can vary greatly depending on where the plant is growing, what soil nutrients are available, what the weather has been like and many other factors.  A dose that was safe from one patch of gathered plants may not safe from another because certain chemicals in the plant may have been enhanced by environmental conditions.  The way that you prepare a medicinal plant may also concentrate its effects. 
An overdose of some herbal medications can cause death or serious health problems and some safe doses may be as small as a drop or two.  All herbs and wild medicinal plants can have side effects also, some serious or deadly. The most common side effects are digestive, vomiting and diarrhea, but even those can be most unpleasant.  Without a laboratory analysis it’s impossible to determine the strength of herbal preparations.  That’s why caution, careful measuring of doses and lots of study and mentoring by experienced herbal practitioners are important. 
If you use prescription or over the counter medications, you should consult with a doctor or pharmacist before using wild plant or herbal remedies.  That includes herbal teas used for pleasure or common problems like indigestion. Most medical professionals today have some knowledge of what drug interactions can occur with herbal medications and conventional medications and can advise you. 
You don’t want to find out that your birth control medication failed because you consumed certain herbs, or you have heart failure or kidney damage because of some interaction.  If one doctor or pharmacist seems to dismiss all herbs as harmful or useless you can always consult a more up to date one.  There is good information online as to what herbs interact with what medications but start with a medical professional.
Start with small amounts and monitor your reactions.  Any herbal medication or edible plant can cause an allergic reaction and some allergic reactions can be deadly.  If you have many other allergies it’s especially important to play it safe with new plant foods or herbs. For example, people who have “hay fever” or ragweed allergy often have an allergic reaction to chamomile. 
Use one herb or new food at a time so you can properly judge your body’s reaction to it.  Using a mixture of herbs will make it hard to decide what caused the reaction.  You may want to apply the herb/plant to your skin before consuming it as many plants will cause an allergic reaction this way as well as when you consume them.  If you have redness, rash or hives where you apply the plant product, don’t consume it. 
Wait for at least 2 hours after consuming a small amount of a new herb/plant before consuming more.  Most allergic reactions will have occurred by then.  Shortness of breath, throat swelling, heart racing, red eyes, itching, vomiting, diarrhea, hives or rash can be allergic symptoms.  If you have any allergic symptoms, even minor ones such as a rash, never consume a second dose as the second reaction could be much worse.  Get medical attention if you have trouble breathing or other serious symptoms.
Plants with inulin, like Jerusalem artichokes, can make some people awfully uncomfortable with gas buildup especially if they are first time consumers.  While not deadly, some people’s digestive systems simply can’t handle inulin well. There are other plants with similar effects so go slow when trying new things.
Jerusalem artichokes
Now that it’s legal in many states, let’s talk about marihuana, one of the greatest herbal plants ever discovered. The marihuana produced today is nothing like the pot people used in the 70’s.  If you are new to marihuana use or haven’t used it in 30-40 years let an expert guide you.  Some strains are stronger than others and have different effects on the body.  Marihuana won’t kill you if you overdose but the experience might be unpleasant. New users should start with small amounts, including edible things like gummy bears to see how it affects you.
Stick with modern medicine for some problems.  If you get a deep puncture wound no herbal preparation can prevent tetanus.  Get a tetanus shot if you haven’t had one recently.  If you are having a heart attack or stroke don’t reach for the medicinal tea, go to a hospital.  While some herbal medications may be helpful for serious problems like diabetes and high blood pressure you should also consult with a doctor and consider modern medicines. 
While many plants are being studied to cure cancer, there are no herbal remedies known to be totally effective yet.  You may want to use both spectrums of care, herbal and conventional, with the advice of your doctor.  Never stop taking conventional medications for serious problems without consulting with your doctor and careful monitoring of your condition on any new herbal remedy.
If you use a little caution and common sense and do your research you can benefit from natural remedies and enjoy nutritious, tasty treats from the wild, but just because something grows wild or in your garden doesn’t mean it’s safe or right for you.  Never rely on just one source of information (including this one) - study, research and safely experiment until you find what’s right for you.  
And don’t be the person that turns their back on all modern medications and treatments.  People are living longer, healthier lives because of modern medicine, and sometime those medicines are even made from plants.  While we constantly hear of drugs that are dangerous, or overused (like antibiotics), we shouldn’t assume that all modern drugs and medical treatments are bad or useless. 
It bothers me that many people are turning away from science and going back to folklore for treating medical conditions.  There is no doubt that herbal medicines are helpful in some cases.  But people need to remember what the death rate was for common illnesses and conditions before we developed modern medicines.  Yes, drug companies like to make a profit and costs certainly need to be contained, but all modern medicines weren’t developed simply to make money.  They were developed because we needed medicines that actually worked.

Repotting Houseplants
Now is the time to examine houseplants and see if they need re-potting.  While plants are outside it’s a good time to repot them and keep the mess outside.  If your plants are still inside, you can take them outside to repot them without worrying they will get cold. Just work in the shade so they won’t get sunburn.  It’s also a good thing to give plants several weeks to adjust to new soil and pots before their environment is changed, such as being moved inside.
Over time soilless potting mixes, we use in container plants tend to compact or break down.  You may notice the plant has sunk down in the pot or roots are on the surface.  Your plant may be straining at pot edges because it’s produced many new roots and shoots or has multiplied with new plantlets. Water may be running out the bottom immediately when you water because the plant is so root bound it doesn’t have soil left to absorb water. These are all signs re-potting is needed.  And sometimes you may just want to put the plant in a more attractive container. 
Housplants on vacation
Move plants up to a pot that’s only an inch or two wider and/or deeper. Pots that are too large for the plant often don’t get watered correctly.  If you have limited space for huge plants don’t keep repotting them into larger pots.  Instead consider pruning top growth and replenishing old soil with fresh every few years. This helps limit size.
You may want to divide some plants and start new pots, so get some extra pots ready.  Some plants like jade plants will surely lose some branches in the re-potting process but they root easily so have some pots ready for the broken pieces.  It’s not necessary to root all broken pieces, indeed some won’t root.  Give away the pieces or toss them.
Make sure all containers have drainage holes.  Use a good container potting medium and not garden soil or compost.  Get the soil good and moist before you are ready to re-pot.  Some potting mixes have fertilizer in them.  If they do, you won’t need to fertilize the plants for a few months.
Slide those pot bound plants out of their pots and examine the root system.  If the roots are wrapped around and around at the bottom of the pot trim those roots off straight across the bottom.  Gently wash or shake off most of the old soil on the roots. Gently swish them in a bucket or use a gentle stream of water to wash roots. If you have a plant that has many crowns or off- shoots divide them after you can see the root system well (if you want to divide them.) 
Put some fresh, moistened potting medium in the bottom of the pot.  Now settle your plant in the pot.  Notice where the old soil level was on the plant, you won’t want the new soil any higher than that.  But you will want an inch or so of space below the pot rim, so you’ll have a place for water.  Adjust the height of the plant by adding or removing soil on the bottom.  Then fill in around the roots with new soil.  Water well to settle the soil and add more if needed. Some plants may need stakes for a brief time until they develop new roots.
If the pot size seems right for the plant but the pot has lost soil and there are several inches of space from the soil level to the rim of the pot, you could try this.  Lift the plant gently and add soil to the bottom of the pot.  You do want about an inch of space from the soil level to the pot rim, to hold water.
Even if the houseplants don’t need re-potting it’s a good time to prune off dead branches or leaves, dust the leaves or give the plants a shower.  Check them carefully for pests too, as warmer weather and new plant growth often brings a pest outbreak. 
You can treat blooming plants with contact pesticides just before they are moved inside, and you won’t have to worry about bees being harmed by visiting the flowers once they are inside.  Contact pesticides only last a few weeks on plants.  Some active ingredients in contact pesticides are bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, azadirachtin, and spinosad.  Insecticidal soap, not dish soap, is also a contact pesticide.
If the plant doesn’t bloom in the summer outside, and you are worried about insect pests being brought inside, you can treat the plant with a systemic pesticide for houseplants.  These might last in the plant until next spring, which is why using them on plants that will bloom outside next year, like geraniums could be a problem.  But blooming plants like Christmas cacti are not visited by pollinators as a general rule and could be treated systemically.
If you repot those houseplants now while you can do it outside you’ll save yourself a mess and make the plants happy too.

The best way to cook sweet corn
First you need to start with good, fresh sweet corn, preferably picked the same day. If you are buying it at the farmers market look for ears where the husks still look green and moist, not yellow and dry.  There should be dry brown silks at the tip.  Ears should feel plump and full.  Lots of people peel back the husk a little to look at the kernels.  Sellers don’t appreciate this but usually tolerate it.  Kernels should look plump and not shriveled.
If it’s your garden corn you can do this test.  Peel back the husk a little and poke your fingernail in a kernel.  Corn ready to eat will have a white milky juice.  Corn too green will have a clear fluid in the kernel.  If you get no fluid, just a doughy look, it’s old and past eating prime.  Don’t poke fingernails in farmers market corn unless you buy the ear. 
If it’s more than a few hours between harvesting or buying the corn store it in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel. It’s best to eat sweet corn the same day you buy or harvest it.  That’s why grocery store corn never tastes as good as fresh corn, it’s always a few days old.
Husk your corn right before you cook it. To help get the silks off you can rub the corn ear lightly with a damp paper towel. Rinse corn under cold clean running water.  Trim off bad areas, unfilled tips, and break in half if needed.

Add a cup of water per ear of corn to a pot. Get your water boiling then add a stick of butter and a cup of milk, (for 6-8 ears) and then the corn.  Cook for 6-8 minutes with a lid on the pot.  The corn will come from the pot tasting buttery delicious.  Just sprinkle with salt and you are good to eat.  It’s much less messy than buttering it after it’s cooked.
Since we eat corn a lot when it’s in season, I think a stick of butter every time we cooked it is a bit expensive and wasteful.  So, after I take the corn out, I save the water with the milk and butter in the refrigerator and use it to cook corn a second night- it is just as good.  And then I give the liquid left to the barn cats who love it.

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
— May Sarton

Kim Willis

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