30 December 2012

Poetic Inspiration


As I was debating with myself about what to write this week, I came across a bit of trivia about Joseph Rudyard Kipling, the English author who wrote “The Jungle Book.”  I found that he also wrote a beautiful poem titled ‘The Glory of the Garden.’  This led me to other poets, such as the well known Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Lord Tennyson and others.  I had visions of a new gardening journal, scattered not just with seed packets, culture information and pictures, but now with bits of poetry tossed in between the entries as well.

I fell in love with Kipling’s poem and wanted to share it with you.  Enjoy your first week of the New Year.  May it bring you time to dream of new gardens; new visions of home, happiness and the myriad of colors that come with the changing of the seasons. 

Joseph Rudyard Kipling, English author was born in Bombay, British India on December 30, 1865.  He wrote several enduring favorite children's books including "The Jungle Book" and the poem, “The Glory of the Garden." Kipling received the Nobel Prize for literature; he was the first English language recipient.




The Glory of the Garden



OUR England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.
For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You'll find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dung-pits and the tanks,
The rollers, carts, and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.
And there you'll see the gardeners, the men and 'prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise ;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.
And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows ;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.
Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing:-" Oh, how beautiful," and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.
There's not a pair of legs so thin, there's not a head so thick,
There's not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find some needful job that's crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it's only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner In the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener's work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray
For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away !




http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_garden.htm

12 July 2012

Crunchy Veggie Slaw

Fresh from my kitchen....Crunchy Veggie Slaw

Ingredients:
1 lb mixed shredded red and green cabbage
4 - 8 oz shredded carrots
3/4 Cup baby broccoli florets
1/4 Cup roasted sunflower seeds
1 Handful raisins
1/4 Cup Mayonnaise
2 TBSP Milk
2 TBSP Sugar
3 TBSP Vinegar, either white or cider
1 tsp Celery Seed

Mix all veggies, sunflower seeds and raisins together in large bowl.  In separate small bowl, for the dressing, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, sugar, vinegar and celery seed.  Pour the dressing over the veggie mixture; stir until dressing is evenly distributed and chill for one hour.  Serves 8.....unless you are my family, then it only serves 4. :-)

Tip:  We always have Balsamic Vingar in our home, not so much of the others.  You can substitute with the Balsamic if you like.  Keep in mind the dressing will be brown and not white...still very yummy though.

09 July 2012

This week at market.....

This week at market, we are adding freshly dug garlic, patty pan squash and salad cucumbers to our produce line-up.  Yum...all farm fresh picked!

Zucchini Beer Bread

3 Cups Flour
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 Cup OC Blonde, Chatham IPA, Chatham Pale Ale (beer replaces eggs)
2 Cups Sugar
2 Cups Zucchini, grated
1 tbsp Vanilla
1 Cup canola Oil

Sift first 5 ingredients together; add sugar and then remaining ingredients.  Mix and divide into greased loaf pans or bundt pan.  Bake @ 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until top springs back when tested.

Courtesy of my friends at Chatham Brewing (www.chathambrewing.com/) and the Dive Bar (www.DiveBarNYC.com)

Easy Baked Patty Pan Squash

1 c. squash (Jersey Golden Acorn, Patty Pan or summer white squash)       Peel squash if skin is tough; cut up and cook until tender crisp.
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. melted butter

Beat 3 eggs; add 1/2 can sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Add cooked and drained squash and melted butter. Bake at 325 degrees until knife inserted comes out clean.
 
Cooks.com

30 June 2012

Today at Market

What to find at Running Creek Farm's market tent today:

Mediterranean Squash
Zucchini
Yellow Summer Squash
Kirby Cucumbers - just a few this week...more next week
Zucchini Flowers
Cannas (Plants)
Bedding Plants
Container Gardens

BATTER - DIPPED FRIED ZUCCHINI

Read more about it at www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1750,155180-224205,00.html
Content Copyright © 2012 Cooks.com - All rights reserved.
1/4 c. beer
1 1/3 c. flour
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
pinch of freshly minced basil (optional)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. oil
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
oil
grated Parmesan cheese
Allow the beer to stand at room temperature for 45 minutes. In a large bowl, combine flour, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and garlic powder. Add oil, egg yolks and beer. Beat until smooth. Fold in beaten egg whites. Pour oil into a deep pan to 2 inches.
Heat to 375°F. Dip zucchini slices into batter. Fry 3 to 4 at a time. Turn once and fry until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels. Serve while still warm, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Cooks.com

28 June 2012

Squash Recipes

We've been harvesting a light green Mediterranean squash out of our greenhouse for a while now, but this week we've started picking zucchini and yellow summer squash out of our field as well.  Customers have come to the greenhouse in the past to buy squash plants and always comment on how many squash they are overrun with.  So much so that their neighbors hide when they see them ;-) ....just kidding.  I've also recently written an article on growing squash for our local paper, and I will post that once the article has been published next week.  For now, let the recipes begin. 

Da-ta-da....!!!

My Mom’s Summer Squash with Rice
             ……an old Sicilian recipe 
8 medium summer squash, either zucchini, yellow or other, split in half lengthwise, then cut into ¾” slices
2 medium or 1 large yellow or sweet onions, roughly chopped
1 -28 oz can peeled plum tomatoes with juice or 6 fresh plum tomatoes, skins removed, crushed or coarsely chopped
1 can butter beans or other white bean, to your preference
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 TBSP dried basil or 3 sprigs fresh, chopped
2 tsp dried parsley or 1 sprig fresh, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano or 2 or 3 leaves fresh, chopped
pepper to taste, either black or crushed red pepper
Olive Oil
1 – 2 cups brown rice, uncooked will yield 3-6 cups cooked 
 
Directions:
Cook rice according to package directions.  While rice is cooking, heat olive oil, about 2 TBSP, in a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Add onions and sauté until almost translucent.  Add sliced squash to onions and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, adding garlic after 5 minutes.  Add a little more olive oil if necessary to keep onions and squash from sticking to skillet and stir. 
Add tomatoes and beans and all seasonings.  Continue to stir occasionally and cook until squash is tender but not mushy, and tomatoes and beans are heated through. 
Serve over cooked rice either as a meatless meal or a side dish.  Top with grated parmesan cheese if desired for extra flavor.
Tip:  I added the beans one night as I was not cooking meat.  The beans add protein to the dish, but you can omit them if desired.  My mom’s original recipe does not call for beans.




24 June 2012

Citronella Plant as Mosquito Repellent

Summertime!  Ahhh…picnics, barbeques, outdoor sports……mosquitoes.  There are many things you can purchase to help fend off those nasty, disease carrying insects.  One of those items is Citronella Oil.  Citronella Oil is produced from Citronella plants, one of which is a type of grass (Cymbopogon nardus).  There are also Citronella Geraniums or Scented Geraniums, of which the citronella type are also known as Mosquito Plants.

Citronella grass is a coarse, clump-forming tropical grass that can grow 5-6 ft tall. The stems are cane-like and the leaves are grayish green and flat; about 3 ft long and about 1 in wide.  It does not spread by runners, as some grasses do, but the clump increases in size as the plant matures.  I did read somewhere that the grass can become quite invasive as it produces a large quantity of seeds, so you may want to check with you local nursery or county extension office prior to planting.  This grass is closely related to Lemon Grass, which is used in Asian cooking.

Scented Geraniums include fragrances of citronella, rose, lemon, nutmeg, mint and the list goes on.  The flower colors range from white to pink to lavender and because there are so many varieties, they can be used for anything from window boxes and planters to the garden.  Most have full to partial sun requirements, although I did see one or two varieties that do fine in just a few hours of direct sun.  Some are used for culinary purposes as well as for fragrant ornamentals.  It is the citronella variety that we use for keeping mosquitoes at bay.  The Citronella Geranium has small, lavender colored flowers and grows to almost 3 feet in height. 

Neither of the above plants are perennial in our area as they will not overwinter outdoors, but they can be grown as annuals.

Many years ago, Citronella Oil was used in hair oil and from that use, it was discovered that it seemed to repel mosquitoes.  You can find Citronella Oil in a wide variety of products, such as candles, outdoor torches and mosquito repellents, and also as an essential oil.  It is used as a fragrance in cosmetics and soaps and is used as a flavoring in foods and beverages.  I’ve seen it used in no-bark dog collars, as dogs do not like the smell.  Each time the dog barks, the collar emits a spray of citronella.  It also has some medicinal purposes. 

As far as using it for insect repellent, some people use citronella oil in skin-care lotion and apply that to their skin rather than a chemical based insect repellent to ward off the pesky insects.  According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it repels mosquitoes, black flies, fleas and ticks.  Tests on the oil have shown no harm to humans as there is little to no toxicity.  The only concern may be possible skin irritation to citronella oil or citronella oil based products.  Thus, products do carry a warning label to address this. 

So plant a few of these scented plants on your patio or in your garden.  Use the citronella based products too and you should be able to enjoy your outdoor activities.  Happy Summer!

09 June 2012

Summer Gardening


We are still adding new crops to our sales greenhouse…new marigold colors, new crops of alyssum,   a young coleus crop and new types of basil, to name a few.  The month of June is full of great celebrations; Father’s Day, weddings, graduations. This is a perfect time to assess your landscaping goals and schedule further plantings accordingly for the remainder of the summer and fall seasons.  

Many times we have customers come in thinking it is too late to plant in June….not so.  Flowers can be planted throughout the summer, many well into August.  Garden centers are still full of great plants and you will also find larger plants for a greater impact in your garden.   For those of you not wanting to spend time in the garden weeding, or for a lack of planting space, look for container gardens; combination plantings in larger 10” -  20” pots.  Talk about instant gratification!  Vegetables can also be planted in pots successfully and one is only limited by the size of the pot.  As the summer wanes and the nights become shorter and cooler, look for plants that like the cooler weather, such as mums, asters, ornamental kale, pansies, dianthus, violas and Osteospermum daisies.  These plants are also cold tolerant and can probably withstand a bit of frost.  Well established snapdragons will also flower well into the fall.  One year we had such a mild winter, that my mother’s-in-law snapdragons flowered through Christmas! 

Larger perennials with strong root systems can be planted as late as September and October.  Keep in mind when fertilizing your fall perennials and lawns that you should use less nitrogen and more phosphorous and potassium.  The reason being that nitrogen encourages vegetative growth…too much at this time could predispose the plant to winter damage.  Phosphorous and potassium will encourage stronger root growth, buds and flower primordia and enable the plant to store more carbohydrates, all in preparation for the following spring.

Many vegetable crops such as tomatoes, vine crops, lettuce, arugula and root crops can be planted well into summer.  Check the number of days to finish on the label.  Many tomatoes are about 72-75 days (some longer) from transplant to harvest and can be planted up until July 4th for a later harvest.  Vine crops such as cucumbers and squash finish quickly by taking advantage of the accelerated degree days in June and July and typically finish in 40-55 days, so they can be planted through mid-July for harvest well into September.  Cool season crops like lettuce, arugula, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli like the cool nights and can be planted through the end of July depending on the number of days to finish a particular variety.  On the farm, we make several successive plantings of many crops to obtain the highest quality produce from fresh, young plants as opposed to trying to harvest from older plants.

As always, happy gardening!

Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic Scapes are the stem and seed pot of the garlic bulb.  Garlic is usually planted sometime between September and October.  The cloves are separated from the bulbs, some of the papery skin is rubbed off and the cloves are planted separately, about 10 - 12" apart in rows.  The garlic bulb must go through a period of vernalization, which is basically the cold period through the winter.  This vernalization is necessary for the plant to flower the following season.  However, when producing garlic, we don't want the plant to go to flower, so the scapes which harbor the seed pods are removed while they are still green.  These scapes have the same garlic flavor as the bulbs and are widely used in cooking but only available for a very short period of time.  This year, being that we had such a mild winter and early spring, the scapes are about a month early.  We typically don't harvest them until the beginning of July.  The remaining leaves of the garlic plant then begin to turn yellow and dry.  It is after this process that the garlic itself is then harvested. 


GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
-Great on toast and bagels just as it is on pastas, seasoning for meat and vegetable dishes and also used as a salad dressing…

I have no measurements for this recipe but it is so very simple.  No doubt it will be so versatile and loved, you’ll want to prepare extra to have on hand.

As with asparagus, you’ll want to trim the thicker, tough ends of the scapes and discard.  Wash and pat dry the remaining Garlic Scapes.  Puree Garlic Scapes with a little olive oil in a food processor until smooth….you’re done!  Very easy.  Now spread on bread, toast, crackers, or bagels and enjoy!  Great as a pesto on pastas or add a bit to a cruet with olive oil and vinegar and make a salad dressing.  Season meats before roasting or grilling; add to sautéed vegetables for seasoning. 

NOTE:  You can also chop the Garlic Scapes and use them in vegetable or rice dishes either fresh or sautéed.  

25 May 2012

Mediterranean Stuffed Squash

Stuffed Mediterranean Squash
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­  Mediterranean Squash or zucchini (ends trimmed each approx. 6 long about 3 pounds)
12 ozs ground lamb
3/4 cup brown rice (instant)
1-3/4 tsps marjoram (dried, divided)
1-1/4 tsps ground cumin (divided)
1-1/4 tsps mint (dried, divided)
1/4 tsp ground allspice (divided)
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
28 ozs tomato sauce (preferably chunky)



1
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
2
Hollow out each zucchini using a zucchini / apple corer or small, flexible paring knife, leaving 1/8-inch-thick walls.
3
Combine lamb, rice, 1 1/4 teaspoons marjoram, 3/4 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon mint, 1/8 teaspoon allspice, salt and cayenne in a medium bowl. Loosely stuff each zucchini with the lamb mixture. Place the stuffed zucchini in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
4
Combine tomato sauce with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon marjoram, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 3/4 teaspoon mint and 1/8 teaspoon allspice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then pour over the zucchini. Cover the pan with foil.
5
Bake, turning the zucchini halfway through cooking, until the zucchini and rice are tender and the filling reaches 165ºF on an instant-read thermometer, 40 to 50 minutes. Serve the zucchini with the sauce.

Serves 5.  Yummly.com
Tip:  You can also substitute the lamb with ground beef and use Italian spices, such as basil, oregano, garlic.  Some take the above recipe and add chick peas as well.

10 May 2012

USDA Hardiness Zones

I wanted to bring up the subject again of USDA Hardiness Zones since it is now planting season and the article garnered much attention the last time I posted it.  We definitely have had a mild winter, and a very dry one at that.  I heard yesterday that even with the recent rains, we are still about an inch to an inch and a half short of necessary rainfall for this time of year.  Here in our area, we can expect frost up through the third week of May or so.  We can never be sure what Mother Nature will hit us with.  In 2008 and 2009 both, we were hit with damaging rain and hail in June, the same day both years.

Without further delay, here is the article I posted previously:

There seems to be confusion at times among some gardeners as to the definition of perennials and annuals. For those of you that this applies to, this posting is for you! J

The definition of “perennial,” simply put, is a plant that continues to grow in your garden year after year. The simple definition of an “annual,” is a plant that needs to be planted each year. Perennial plants can be perennial in some areas and also annual in other areas. To know if a plant will be perennial in your area, you need to know what hardiness zone you live in.
The USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map helps us determine which zone we are in. This hardiness map is based on winter temperatures and each zone has a span of ten degrees. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map was first introduced in 1960 with the last revision in 1990. This map divides the U.S. and Canada into eleven separate zones. The temperatures for each zone are based on the average annual minimum temperatures for a given area. Zone 1 has the coldest winter temperature averages while zone 11 has the warmest winter temperatures, generally 40 degrees. For our purposes, the picture shown illustrates zones 2-10 for the United States only.
So if we look at a plant tag that states the particular plant is hardy in zones 5 through 8, and you live in zone 5, then that plant should be hardy for you. It will also be hardy in zones 6, 7 and 8. Likewise, if the plant tag states it is hardy to zone 3, the plant will also be hardy in zone 5. These same zones that apply to plants also apply to shrubs and trees. There are some things to take into consideration here as well.
First, the map is effective for plants that are actually planted in the ground. It may not hold true for plants that remain in pots above the ground as ground temperatures are typically a few degrees warmer. Temperature fluctuations will usually result in the pot freezing and thawing several times over the winter, decreasing the plant’s hardiness. A suggestion would be to plant the entire pot in the ground so that the top of the pot is level with the ground. This will insulate the plant and you can dig it up, pot and all, in the spring if you plan on keeping it above ground for the growing season.
Sometimes a plant that is not listed as perennial in your zone (by a one zone difference) may also be hardy for you. This may be possible due to certain areas of your garden being a few degrees warmer than the rest of the area. Areas near your house, such as the foundation, retain more heat and I have seen annual plants left in the ground continue to grow the following spring.
For more information and to see what zone you live in, please visit http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/index.html

29 April 2012

Sweet & Savory Chicken Salad

So our Mango Roasted Chicken last night was delicious!  There was not enough left over for another full meal, so I took the rest and decided to make chicken salad and chicken stock.  I'm not sure what it is with me lately, but I've been concocting and trying out new recipes.  Maybe it's because I can't wait for the growing season here on the farm to start. 

We've had such a mild winter and that 80 degree weather on and off between March and April...who knew?  Then the other night there were hard freeze warnings!  My poor hydrangeas are very confused.  I know Mother Nature is going to make us pay for our very mild winter!  Hopefully it will not be by the way of hail after the crops are planted and sprouting.  Last year's rain after the hurricane was bad enough.  We lost our crop of cauliflower and a field of beans and cucumbers too!  It's very scary at times living on the farm, but it's our way of life.  Tough at times for this Long Island gal who married a farm boy!

So for the chicken salad today, you will need, obviously, chicken :-).  Once again, I used my Mango Roasted Chicken left overs, but any roasted chicken will do. Mine was a larger bird, so I think I had about a pound of chicken left over.  You will also need the following: 

1/4 Cup Vanilla Greek Yogurt
1/2 Cup Low-fat Mayonnaise
1 to 2 TBSP Ranch Dressing (to taste)
1/4 Cup chopped Red Onion
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 Cup Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
1/4 Cup Raisins

I have to admit that as I went along, I kept adjusting to taste, so the measurements are approximate.  But I have faith in you...you'll figure it out!

Shred the cooked chicken or chop into bite-sized chunks.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt and mayonnaise.  Add the Ranch dressing 1 spoonful at a time and whisk into the yogurt mixture until you are satisfied with the taste.  Add the dressing mixture to the chicken and stir together until thoroughly coated.  Add in the remaining ingredients and stir again until everything is incorporated.  That's it...you're done!  Enjoy in a sandwich or on crackers.  Refrigerate any left overs.

Need some entertainment?  Check out the videos on our site...up and coming new country artist Jennifer Grace.  That's our daughter!  If you like her music, please comment on her youtube page and feel free to share with others. 

28 April 2012

Mango Roasted Chicken

1 Fresh Roasting Chicken
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 TBSP Butter
1 TBSP Olive Oil
2 - 3 TBSP Mango Butter
1 Lemon, sliced, seeds removed
Red Pepper Flakes, to taste, or about 1-2 tsp
Dried or Fresh Rosemary, to taste, or about 1-1/2 to 2 tsp

Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towel.  Set in roasting pan with a little olive oil.  Spread butter all over chicken, then do the same with the mango butter.  You can spread some of the butter and mango butter under the skin of the chicken as well.  Scatter a few slices of lemon on top of the chicken and sprinkle the chicken with the minced garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes.  I also like to put some of the herbs and butters into the cavity along with one or two slices of lemon.

Bake covered at 350 degrees F until done, calculating at 20 minutes per pound, basting about half-way through.  Serve with your favorite selection of roasted or steamed vegetables and either cooked rice, potato or noodles.

Tip:  When using dried rosemary, I like to crush the herb before using, since the dried rosemary tends to remain a bit hard even after cooking.

27 April 2012

Home Improvement and Your Landscaping

Good landscaping can increase the value of your home by upwards of 8%-15%.  A well maintained outdoor space gives the impression that the home is well cared for and maintained not only on the outside, but on the inside as well.  Realtors all over the country are suggesting that their clients improve the look of their landscaping. Even if your home is perfect on the inside, a bad view from the outside can literally turn people away. An amazing "82% of surveyed agents have had potential buyers decline to look at the interior of a house due to its exterior appearance," according to the survey Real Estate Agent Community Trends (REACT).  http://www.myhomechannel.org/article_landscaping_home_value.php

Even if you are not planning on moving in the near future, you should invest in landscaping as plants and trees take time to mature.  Plan with the end result in mind; design your landscaping as a whole so it looks coherent when completed, even if you can only do a little at a time.  Consider first the larger additions, such as walkways and trees.  Using cement or pavers for the main walkways of the house provides a sure footing.  They are easy to care for and provide a neat, well kept appearance.  Further away from the house, you may choose to consider a more natural pathway made of mulch or stone.  Larger trees around the home provide shade and can be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. 
If you are planning to sell your home within the next year, there are some things you can do right away to boost the appearance of your landscape and home.  Perennials are nice additions, but choosing annuals instead provides season-long color and brightens the yard.  Since perennials take time to establish themselves, you may want to choose larger ones so they look like they’ve been there a while.  You can also cut fresh edges around your planting beds.  This provides a professional look.  Add about 2” of fresh mulch.  Ideally, this should be done each year anyway after removal of the old mulch; it will add to the professional appearance.  Adding mulch also helps to keep the soil cool and moist.   You should also fertilize your lawn regularly so it remains lush and full, rather than sparse and patchy.  Prune overgrown shrubs, keeping them in a natural shape rather than square or ball shapes.

Other things you can do to spruce up your outside living space; sweep porches, power wash the house and/or deck and concrete surfaces as well.   Tidy the yard, storing toys and other equipment and pull the weeds from in between your pavers or concrete slabs. 
Investing in your landscaping pays off big, not only when you sell your home, but also as you are living there.  It’s been proven that overall positive feelings increased and feelings of fear and anger are reduced when plants are well placed and the yard is pleasant to look at.  Trees not only provide aesthetic appeal and shade, but can also provide barriers to sound and weather when well placed.    So take the time to garden and make your home as appealing on the outside as it may be on the inside.  You’ll be glad you did!




15 April 2012

Chocolate Banana Coffee Muffins

I spent part of today baking as I had bananas that were becoming over-ripe.  I made muffins and they turned out so yummy that I had to share the recipe with you!

1/3 Cup melted butter
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg, beaten
3/4 Cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 TBSP Brewed,French Vanilla coffee or any strong coffee
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/4 Cup powdered baking cocoa
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease 12 muffin cups or prepare with paper liners. 

Using a wooden spoon, stir in melted butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.  Add in the sugar, coffee, vanilla and egg and mix well.  Add in the baking soda and the pinch of salt and mix together into the banana mixture.  Add the flour and baking cocoa and mix until just incorporated.  Scoop into prepared muffin tins and bake for 20 - 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into muffins comes out clean.  Cool on rack. 

Recipe makes 12 regular sized muffins or 9 larger muffins.  Delicious!

12 April 2012

Garden Soil Preparation

Spring is here and it’s about time to prepare the soil bed for your gardens.   Remember, you don’t have to have a garden so big that you cannot take care of it all.  You can actually be more productive in a smaller, more manageable sized garden. 

Begin first by planning out your space.  Select a spot in the garden that gets a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight if you are planning a vegetable garden.  If you are planning for flowers, know the amounts of sunlight your gardens will be receiving, as well as soil type and drainage and choose the types of plants accordingly.   Next, mark out your perimeter and then begin turning the soil over.  Dig down at least 12 inches.  Using a roto-tiller is best as it will break up the soil more thoroughly and deeply.  If you don’t own one, you can usually rent one at a local hardware store.   If one is not available, you can use a shovel and rake. 


As you are preparing the beds, work in dried compost and organic matter to enrich your beds.  It is usually best to allow organic matter to decay for a period of time.  If using manure, allow it to decay until it turns dark brown in color and has no odor.  Nutrients found in manure are generally readily available, but if overused, can provide excessive amounts of some nutrients.  A good example of this would be ammonia.  Excessive amounts of ammonia can burn your plants and while fresh manure is great for heavy feeding crops such as corn, it may not be best suited for use on crops such as greens.  Also with fresh manure is the possibility of crop contamination.  If you are planting greens or root crops, then you’ll want to compost the manure for about three months prior to spreading to avoid the possibility of contamination. 


It’s always a good idea to have your soil tested too.  A soil test will tell you what fertilizers your soil will need as well as the texture of the soil.  Testing is usually available through your local cooperative extension office.  It will also tell you the pH of the soil, which ideally should be 6.0 – 8.4, depending on the plants you will be growing.  The extension service can provide you with the necessary information to amend and improve your soil bed.


As for fertilizer, there are three main elements that you will see concentrations for on the fertilizer bag. Those are N-P-K, or Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, respectively and the numbers (i.e. 15-15-15) tell what percentages those macronutrients are in.  Nitrogen is mainly responsible for vegetative plant growth and strong roots, phosphorous for root expansion and flowering, and potassium for metabolism, leaf expansion and the quality and size of the fruit or vegetative parts of the plants that are harvested. Potassium is also responsible for the intensity and development of pigments and color in flowers.


Paying attention to soil preparation is the key in having a great garden.  Tending to your garden regularly by providing fertilizer and pulling weeds as necessary will ensure you have a healthy, productive garden all season long!




               

23 March 2012

Easter Lilies

Easter is almost here.  The traditional plant this time of year is the Lily.  There are many types of lilies, but at Easter, the standard is Lilium longiflorum, the Latin name for the Easter Lily.  The Easter Lily is native to the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan. 

Each holiday is marked by cherished traditions that bring joy, comfort, and warmth, and provide continuity from one generation to the next.  For many, the beautiful trumpet-shaped white flowers of the Easter Lily symbolize purity, virtue, innocence, hope and life - the spiritual essence of Easter.
Easter Lily bulbs are harvested in the fall, packed and shipped to commercial greenhouses where they are planted in pots and forced under controlled conditions to bloom for the Easter holiday.  To keep your Easter Lily as long as possible, follow these guidelines. 

First, look for lilies that are neither too tall or too short. Ideally, a plant’s height should be about twice the height of the pot it is grown in.  You should also look for plants that are lush and full and that have leaves up and down the entire stem.  This indicates a healthy plant.  Don’t buy plants that are in full bloom.  If you purchase plants that have an assortment of both open flowers and closed buds, you’ll be able to enjoy the plant longer.  
Also be wary of plants being displayed in plastic sleeves.  It may seem convenient to take them home this way, but the plant has more of a chance developing disease if left in the sleeve too long.  Ideally, plant sleeves should have been removed as soon as they arrived at the store. 

Check the soil.  If it is too wet, especially if the plant looks wilted, it may have root rot.  Purchase another plant instead.  
As the flowers open, remove the gold anthers on the inside.  This will extend the life of the flower, as well as keep the pollen from staining the beautiful white petals.  Once the flower has withered, cut it off to keep the plant attractive and enjoy the other flowers. 

Indoors, the lilies prefer cool temperatures of 60° – 65° F during the day and slightly cooler at night.  Keep the plants from drafts and avoid exposure to strong sunlight and excessive heat.  Lilies prefer moderately moist, well drained soil.  Wait until the soil begins to show dryness, then water lightly.  If the plant is wrapped in foil, be careful not to let the plant stand in water for too long.  This may encourage root rot.  It is best to remove the plant from the foil cover and water it over the sink, allowing it to drain prior to placing the pot cover back on. 
Follow these simple guidelines, and your Easter Lilies should hold up well for the Easter holiday. 

22 March 2012

Super Plants

Super plants; for many years, plants have been used medicinally.  In medieval times, a person carried with them small bunches of flowers called “nosegays” because they made the nose “happier,” allowing for ease in breathing.  Now there are a group of plants known as “super plants.”  These super plants have been recognized for being able to help clear the air in our homes.

Our homes, while being more energy efficient and air tight, tend to hold in the toxins rather than allowing them to escape our homes.  The EPA states that the air in our homes is up to 5% more polluted than the air outside.  There are many toxins in our homes, stemming from household cleaners, furniture, carpeting and more.  Many people suffering with allergies and asthma probably suffer from these ailments because of those common household products.   Formaldehyde is a big offender in many homes.  It is a colorless, strong smelling gas that can irritate the breathing passages and trigger asthma attacks as well as other allergic reactions.  It is found in building products, insulation and many household items such as cleaning products and bath and body products and it can also cause cancer.  You may not necessarily see the word “formaldehyde” listed on your household cleaners for the manufacturers many times use specific trade names.  For more information on formaldehyde, visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formalde.html.
Plants, in addition to being decorative, can actually absorb toxins from the air through tiny structures in their leaves called “stomata.”  Stomata are pores used for gas exchange for normal plant functions.  During bio-chemical processes, these stomata allow for exchange of carbon dioxide, water vapor and oxygen into and out of the leaves.  In a study by NASA, philodendron, golden pothos and the spider plant were labeled as the most effective at removing formaldehyde toxins from the air, while the flowering Gerbera Daisy and chrysanthemums were most effective at removing the chemical benzene from the atmospheric chambers used in the NASA studies.  Also found to help with toxin removal were the roots, flowers and soil of the plants.  To see more info on this study, go to http://www.zone10.com/nasa-study-house-plants-clean-air.html. Other plants to try as “super plants” in your home include peace lily, weeping fig, mother’s-in-law tongue, purple heart plants, asparagus ferns, orchids, English ivy and bamboo palms. 

Most houseplants are tropical and are easy to care for.  Many like filtered light, temperatures of around 70 degrees, high humidity and light watering.  You’ll want to take into account the fact that you are running the heat in the winter and perhaps provide a source of moisture to increase the humidity in your home, such as a humidifier or even a decorative tray of pebbles and water under the plants’ pots.  Be careful not to overwater your plants as that can not only kill the plants, but can also encourage mold growth and therefore create more allergy related symptoms.  You can search this blog for tips on indoor plant care.


14 March 2012

Moss

When I think of green and St. Patty’s Day, for some reason, in addition to thinking of four- leaf clovers, I also think of moss.  I’m not really sure why, but I do.  Perhaps it is because moss is very versatile in both the indoor and outdoor landscapes.

Moss is a Bryophyte.  A Bryophyte is a unique type of plant in that it has no true roots.  While moss is planted in the soil (preferably acidic soil), it obtains most of its nutrients from the air.  Some types of mosses are also found growing on rocks.  Moss lacks a lignified vascular system, therefore water and nutrients are transferred by osmosis or capillary action.  Capillary action is important for moving water (and all of the things that are dissolved in it) around. It is defined as the movement of water within the spaces of a porous material due to the forces of adhesion, cohesion, and surface tension.  (http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/capillaryaction.html ).  Moss leaves are small and thin and moss enjoys shade for the most part, although there are some species that require some sunlight.  You can find moss in different shades from light to dark green and some with a silvery cast.  Mosses bear no flowers and therefore bear no seeds, fruit or cones.  There are some 12,000 species of moss in the world.
Mosses can be used in a variety of ways.  For instance, outdoors, it can be used as an evergreen and even in place of a lawn if you have the environment.  You can use it to cover statues, for pathways, rock gardens, water gardens, Japanese gardens, shady slopes and in naturalized areas.  Indoors, it is great in terrariums.

Moss, once established, is pretty much maintenance free…no mowing or weeding required.  Once established, it should not need watering, or at least not frequently.  If it suffers through drought and high temperatures, usually a summer shower is enough to bring it back to life although it does prefer to be in a high moisture area.   In a terrarium, the moisture that re-circulates inside is enough.   Moss is also an evergreen, keeping a nice dark green color over the winter months.  
Years ago, traditional uses of mosses included being use as bedding by Laplanders, basketry, bedding, wound dressing and diapers by North American tribal people, insulation in boots and mittens, filling in gaps in wooden longhouses by the Northeastern U.S. Indian tribes, and by the Pacific Northwest tribes to clean salmon prior to drying.

In today’s culture, commercial uses are mainly for the florist trade and for home decoration.  Decaying moss in the genus Sphagnum is a major component of peat moss, which is used as a fuel, as a horticultural soil additive (we make our own growing medium from peat moss), and also to manufacture Scotch whisky!  Some types of mosses are used in science to improve crops and human health and also in the manufacture of bio-pharmaceuticals.
So as you can see, moss lends itself to many different uses in our lives.  It is used in indoor and outdoor landscaping in many different ways and also was very useful in many older cultures in addition to today’s uses. 

04 March 2012

Mild Winters


It has been very mild this winter so far and that leaves us to worry about the bulbs and perennials already in the ground, especially the newer plantings. 

In addition to the milder temperatures this year, the storm track is different as well, coming from the plains states and remaining further northwest than usual.  The resulting lack of snow in our area deprives our bulbs and perennials from necessary insulation.

Mild winters can create a lot of freezing and thawing of the soil.  This in turn causes our perennials to heave up out of the ground, exposing the plants’ crowns to cold temperatures.  This results in damage to the plants and they may not come back the following spring as you would normally expect them to.  Warmer temperatures over the winter can also confuse plants and trees. The milder temperatures can cause these plants to try to begin to grow too early and they then become damaged by frosts and temperatures that drop below freezing. 

As part of their normal life cycle, perennials and bulbs expect to go through a cold period (called vernalization) and to stay cold for the winter.  This cold period is necessary for proper flowering of the plants.  Vernalization can occur naturally as well as artificially by producers.  The term “vernalization” is derived from the Latin word “ver,” meaning “spring.”

In order to help insulate the plants and prevent them heaving from the ground, we recommend that gardeners spread a winter mulch over their perennials and bulbs, such as straw or pine boughs.  Winter mulch should be applied once the ground gets cold and should be removed once temperatures begin to rise in the spring.  The mulch will keep the ground cold and the plants in a dormant state.  If you have newly planted perennials and bulbs from the summer and fall, the winter mulch will also help the plants’ ability to survive their first winter with a young, yet to be established root system.

Another issue to be wary of is that milder winters allow fungal spores to live through the winter on moist, decaying plant parts.  Over 80% of plant diseases are caused by fungi.  So while we as humans may be enjoying the milder temperatures, we will have more disease issues to look forward to in the spring.   This is one of the reasons why it is so important to rake up and remove debris in the garden as soon as possible during the growing season and into the fall when prepping your garden beds for winter.

As for insect population, insects that remain and normally overwinter in the area should not be affected, but those that migrate from other areas; a mild winter will allow more to survive in their normal habitat prior to migrating to other areas. 

So just be on the lookout earlier for potential problems and keep your gardens clean for a successful growing season.

starting plants indoors

There are many seeds that you can start indoors and then transplant outside when the air and soil temperatures are warmer and there is no longer the threat of frost. 

Start by gathering some seed catalogs or look online to get some ideas for your area. Germination rates, seedling growth, transplant dates and time to maturity or flower vary by the plant.   Check the descriptions in the catalogs or on the seed packets to see how soon you’ll need to start the seeds indoors before they are of sufficient size to plant outdoors in warmer weather.  
You’ll need the proper growing materials as well.  Seedlings are very delicate; you should purchase sterile planting medium, such as a seed starter mix or compressed pellets that expand when watered.  If using last year’s containers, they should be sterilized.  You can purchase seed starter kits in the store, which make it easy to get started with as they generally come with everything you need such as containers, a shallow tray to set the containers on and a see-through lid to hold in the humidity. 

Warmth is necessary for germination and growth.  Germination is when the embryo emerges from the seed.   Soil temperature for germination generally ranges from 50°-72° depending on the crop.  You can purchase special heating mats specifically for germinating seeds, but sometimes the heat from a sunny window or nearby heat source is enough, as long as the seeds have enough moisture.  Some seeds need to be covered with perlite or vermiculite to germinate; others need light and should not be covered.  Once the seedlings have sprouted and are about half an inch tall, they should tolerate room temperatures of about 60°-75°. 

Water is important during both the germination and growth stages.  Sow the seeds in adequately moistened mix and keep the see through cover on to keep humidity in.  Once the seedlings emerge, carefully remove the covering and provide adequate water from the bottom, being careful not to overwater the seedlings.  Too much moisture will cause them to “damp off” (a fungal disease) or may possibly dislodge them from the planting mix.  Be sure air circulates freely around the plants to keep disease at bay.

Seedlings need adequate light or they will be become spindly and weak.  If you don’t have enough light from your windows, purchase grow lights to ensure vigorous growth.  It’s important to use special grow lamps and not regular incandescent light bulbs, which may be too hot and not give the seedlings the proper lumens and wavelengths necessary for growth.  Depending on the light source used, you may choose to set up the lighting so that it can be raised as the plants grow, keeping the lighting about 3 or 4 inches from the plants depending on the light used.

There are many different factors affecting successful germination and growth of starter plants.   By following guidelines, you should be well on your way to growing your favorite plants from start to finish.