31 July 2009

Joseph E. Meyer - Herbs for Your Garden and Kitchen Pharmacy

Growing herbs is popular and deserves to be more popular. Many annual and perennial herbs grow well in Oklahoma, their flowers provide nectar for butterflies and they are useful in the kitchen.

Photo: Black and Blue Salvia, Jewels of Opar and Basil bloom together in a nectar garden.
Before science brought us modern chemistry, the scarcity of physicians and money led to self-medication using herbs.

Today, many people sip mint tea to calm their stomach, drink basil tea to calm ulcers and nerves, apply an Aloe Vera leaf to a burn, and eat garlic as an antibiotic.

Chicago botanist Joseph E. Meyer (1878-1950) founded the Indiana Botanic Garden in 1925. There, his family, including 8 children, harvested, dried and packaged herbs.

His 1918 book The Herbalist described herbal remedies known at the time. Then, from 1925 to 1979 his company published a free annual Herbalist Almanac based on customer testimonials and recipes. His son, Clarence reprinted 50 years of the Almanacs in The Herbalist Almanac: A Fifty Year Anthology which is available online for around $5.

Meyer wrote about the basics of botany, where herbs grow, how to gather and prepare them for use as medicines, teas, spices, flavoring, dye, dentifrice, cosmetics, etc.

In Herb Doctor and Medicine Man Meyer said that As a matter of fact, an honest doctor will admit that the latest medical science is not more uniformly successful in the treatment of many ills and maladies than the remedies discovered and used for centuries past by numerous tribes.

In The Old Herb Doctor Meyer reported, "Inorganic substances disturb the proper functioning of the organs … Organic substances, however, such as are found only in plants, are easily and quickly assimilated and do not disturb the system. "

A 1933 Indiana Botanic Garden catalog offered herbs with advice. The directions provided are simple and short: Just place a heaping teaspoonful of any herb or herb mixture into a cup of boiling water; let it stand until cold. That's all. Drink one or two cupfuls a day; a large mouthful at a time.

The products listed in the catalog provide a window to common treatments of the day. For example, Circus Oil (fifty cents for an unknown quantity and unknown ingredients) is an old and tried liniment extensively used by acrobats and circus people.

Mate tea is popular today as a healthy substitute for caffeine beverages. Meyer's catalog said Mexican Mate is beneficial in many ailments where ordinary tea is prohibited. It is often used externally as a wash.

Before listing a variety of laxative herbs, Meyer weighs in on the common cold, "But while waiting for the medical profession to decide … we need not allow this ailment to go unchecked … faulty elimination of the waste products of the body is at least a contributing or aggravating influence … . "

The preparation for growing hair contained Haar Wurzel, Jabora, Sage, Chamomile and Peach Tree Leaves. The catalog said, "The results are astonishing". The leaves were placed in a gallon jar with 2 quarts of vinegar, strained two weeks later and water added. The potion was used instead of washing the hair.

Meyer wrote about Arnica cream, which is used today for sprains, bruises, wounds and sore feet. He said, For irritation of the nasal passages and chapped lips there is nothing superior.

Many new hybrids of old herbs are available for today's gardener to mix with flowers and vegetables as well panting in mixed pots.

Clarence Meyer, also a lifelong herbalist, published several more books through Meyer Publishing. All of Joseph Meyer's books are available on the Internet.

Indiana Botanic Gardens still sells herbs through the mail and the Internet (http://www.botanicchoice.com/).

Meyer’s Castle (http://www.meyerscastle.com/) built in 1929, as the family residence is now open as a setting for dining, weddings and parties.

29 July 2009

Pollinators = Pollination = Seeds

Joe Benton of Oklahoma State University Extension wrote a column about saving seeds that had some fascinating tidbits in it. Benton is an extension educator for Pottawatomie County.
Benton said that we should collect seeds from non-hybrids because hybrids do not come true from their seed.
The best candidates for seed collecting include: beans, broccoli, dill, corn, chives, leeks, muskmelon and garlic. They are bee pollinated except for beans which are self-pollinated and corn, which is wind pollinated.

Maybe you knew all that, though I did not.

Here are a other few facts that were new to me.
"Most flowers are pollinated by bees, butterflies and moths.
Bees can't see red, so the flowers they pollinate tend to be yellow, or sometimes blue. Some of these have ultraviolet landing patterns which they see also.
Butterflies see well, and red, but have a weak sense of smell. So most of the flowers they pollinate have little or no fragrance.
Moths are nocturnal, so the flowers they pollinate are often whites or colors seen more easily at night. Moths also smell well, so they pollinate strongly fragrant flowers easily found at night."
Who knew?

28 July 2009

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars

The beautiful black Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly has been in our yard for weeks and evidently found the spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) we planted for them. The University of Florida has plenty of information about them here. The U Florida site says they are Papilio troilus troilus.

Yesterday I noticed that the leaves of the bush were shredded but thought it was from the storm we had the night before. But they were so raggy that I took a closer look

So, on closer examination I found the caterpillars!

Here's a closer look.

Also from U Florida's site: "First instar larvae bend a leaf edge over and silk it down. Older larvae spin a silk mat on a leaf that contracts to curl the two lateral leaf edges upward and together to form a leaf nest. Larvae usually hide in the leaf nest during the daytime and to molt when birds and other predators are unlikely to see them. They come out to feed at night. Young larvae are bird-dropping mimics, and mature larvae with their swollen thorax and eyespots are believed to mimic either green snakes or tree frogs."

While doing other research I found a website called Wormspit dot com. It's about silkworms and silk moths. Great photos of silkworm caterpillars going through their lifecycle. Check it out here.

25 July 2009

Encourage A Child's Interest in Gardening - No Child Left Inside

Teaching children to love nature, plants, gardens and the outdoors in general is a responsibility we love. Giving a little one some seeds to plant, letting them pick flowers and participate in a vegetable harvest are experiences they deserve. Something so simple can make a difference.

A site called India Parenting mentions the fact that even most parks are too manicured to give children a real feel for unstructured nature as we knew it.

The Children and Nature Network exists to help reconnect children with the natural world. Click on the "get involved" link at the top of the page for tips on what you could do in your community.

The best selling book, The Last Child in the Woods is already in its second edition. From author Louv's site, "nature-deficit disorder" ... has created a national conversation about the disconnection between children and nature ..."

State Legislatures around the country are launching No Child Left Inside initiatives.

Carol Zelaya is writing a series of children's books to encourage a child's interest in nature.
"Emily Waits for Her Family" is a read aloud little volume sure to charm your children and grandchildren.

The Emily the Chickadee series has its own website here.

As we encourage children to live outside, we'll have to eliminate harsh chemicals they might encounter.
Try home made fungicides like this one:
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon liquid-soap
1 gallon of water
Spray both sides of all leaves and let it drip down the stems.

Go outside with a little one by your side - you will love the experience and so will they.

24 July 2009

Butterfly Gardening and Fall Planting

We grow butterflies. We plant plants the adults enjoy for nectar and we grow plants for the babies to eat when they hatch. There have been 4 hatches of Monarchs this summer in our yard.
The swallowtails are going crazy on the fennel. Each plant is taller than I am and several of them are tucked between tomato plants. Others are near shrubs so they are all reasonably well protected from the birds.
I put this one in my hand so you could enjoy seeing how big they are growing.
In this photo you can see the tomato plants protecting the caterpillars.

Several great companies are having sales right now on fall planted bulbs - don't miss out.
Home Garden Seed Association sent out a reminder that it is time to plant our fall gardens with calendula, beets, salad makings, peas, radishes, cilantro, etc.
On that topic, Pinetree is having a summer clearance on garden stuff, including an interesting item used to root woody shrubs - right on the plant. It's called a Rooter Pot. The other item of interest is 75 press-fit pots for $15. The pots are 4 inches deep. Here's a link to the sale page.
It still seems pretty hot to start lettuce seeds - they come up so fast I'm afraid the leaves would be bitter by the time it cools down. Are you starting seeds for greens yet?

400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces by Diana Miller

The middle of summer is a good time to assess what is thriving and where the bare spots are in the garden. Also take a look at what could be replaced. The shrubs we put in ten years ago are now thick-stemmed green blobs that no longer inspire.

"400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces" by Diana Miller provides help with selecting, placing, pruning and propagating small trees and shrubs. Of the 215 pages, 134 are descriptions of evergreen, flowering and deciduous trees, shrubs and vines for all growing zones.

Miller, who lives in England, points out that hedges add fruit, flowers, wildlife habitat, privacy and a background for your perennials. But she also reminds us that if we want to reduce the amount of work in the garden, we can have beautiful spaces by selecting the correct shrubs and trees.

Dwarf shrubs are supposed to grow to one and one-half feet tall. For example, Mini Crape myrtles or Lagerstroemia indicta, grow to one or two feet tall (http://www.crapemyrtles.com/). Dwarfs are great for rock gardens and to place at the front of a shrub bed.

Small shrubs grow up to 5-feet tall and medium shrubs grow to 10 feet tall. The rest are considered large.

Small trees, weeping trees, and columnar trees can be planted in small spaces, garden rooms or along a sidewalk or driveway.
To attract wildlife, use plants that have pollen and avoid double flowering varieties because they have been hybridized to create an extra row of petals at the expense of pollen.

The book has pages of charts by flower color, size, bloom season, sun needs and features. Plus there is a chart of shrubs and trees with attractive leaves, fruits, etc.

With the book in hand you could plan a shrub and small tree row or garden that is in flower at least three seasons. Most shrubs and trees will succeed in slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5. Buy an inexpensive kit at the hardware store and test your soil.

Use a range of trees and shrubs to add interest and so you have something in color most of the warm months. A variety of leaf shapes, tree bark colors and tree shapes are more pleasing to look at than a row of 5-foot tall identical plants.

Bare root trees are best planted between the fall and spring and tender plants are planted in the spring.
Anything that blooms in the late winter or early spring should be planted near the house so you can enjoy them from a window. Scented plants should be near a place you walk or relax.

Choose small trees with a slower rate of growth such as Malus (crabapple) or Sorbus Lutescens (whitebeam) which has red fruit and gold leaves in the fall.

Flowering climbers lengthen the number of months a shrub and tree filled garden has something blooming. Climbers save ground space, too. Plant them where they can cover a fence, wall or shed. Or, let them climb over shrubs.

A well-planned garden of woody plants can be less work. Avoid high maintenance plants that need pruning every few months.

Sit back and look at an area that is visible from your windows. Would you like more privacy, more flowers, better greenery? Take into consideration how your garden is used. Plan for children, pets, poolside activities and eating areas.

Visit public gardens and garden centers and list names of plants that appeal to you. Then, conduct research online and at the library before purchasing.

These tips came from "400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces" by Diana Miller, published 2008 by Timber Press http://www.timberpress.com/. $30 list, $15 used online.

23 July 2009

Today's Harvest

Peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes are the harvest at this time of year - well, in the years we are lucky enough to have a harvest. The peppers are an assortment of varieties we started from seed in late winter/early spring plus a couple we got from Blossoms Garden Center when they ran their pre-season-order-ahead special in the Muskogee Phoenix.
This 6-inch tomato is one of the first to come from the Blossoms' plants. There are many more green ones on the vines.

These are Johnny's Orange King tomatoes - we started the plants from seed in February in the shed. Lights and heat provided by Oklahoma Gas and Electric of course.

Not bad for one day of picking - after 6 months of effort of course. What's more fun the growing or the harvesting?
What's growing and blooming in your garden?

21 July 2009

Late July Garden

Tennessee Cushaw Sweet Potato Squash is called a winter squash since they are harvested in the fall and keep well over the winter.
A few seeds came to me from Tulsa World garden writer Russell Studebaker through his friend Felder Rushing. Russell wanted the heirloom preserved so I grew the plants and distributed them to a few gardeners.
This flower is a male - no fruit attached at the base of the flower - and it had 6 bees in it at the same time. That pollen must be divine food.
The book, Renewing America's Food Traditions, from Chelsea Green Publishers, has a bit of information about it. Click here to read.

I'm becoming a Salvia collector of sorts. A former garden writer for the Muskogee Phoenix, Ronn Smith, gave me my first plants and seeds of Lady In Red.
Then I started looking for perennial Salvias. Betsy Clebsch's book on Salvias is a great resource.
Another friend, Sharon Owen introduced me to her favorite salvia resources and we started ordering plants together. We added pineapple sage to the garden and it just keeps blooming, bringing hummingbirds and pollinators.
I still only have 6 or 8 varieties. The Lady In Red and the Black and Blue Guarantica in the photo are two of my favorites. A master gardener friend, Jan Farris gave me the Black and Blue.
Each plant has its own loving connection.

There is a website called Salvia World (here) where you can read all about them.

Check out Horizon Herbs' site for several possibilities for your garden.

Today I harvested seeds from the perennial sweet pea that the birds planted a few years ago. And, there are still lots of white hollyhock seeds available from my plants.
If you want either of these, send an email to mollyday1@gmail.com

19 July 2009

Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest by Mary Irish

Recently I read an online book review complaining that a plant reference described plants that would not all survive in zone 4 and colder.

Unlike that reviewer, I enjoy reading books that cover a variety of zones and regions because we often encounter plants in catalogs and garden centers that are not exactly perfect for our region. And, we buy them.

The upside of having a variety of references is that you can look up those plants to see how they could work for your garden.

Such is the case with Mary Irish's "Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest". Irish describes 200 plants for hot, dry situations in the arid and semi-arid southwest United States. The map for her selected plants includes Las Vegas, Austin, El Paso, Tuscon, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego.

In addition, low rainfall, sandy soils and high winds contribute to the dessication of plants in that area. Irish is the director of public horticulture for the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

In the Introduction, I learned that Irish consulted several references for plant names. Her resources included: Kew, Flora of North America, Biota of North America Program and the International Legume Database. That last one was new to me. Who knew?

Despite her years professional horticultural work and writing experience, Irish writes in a way that makes you want to read the whole book.

I love her reference to a "tapestry hedge" made up of mixed plantings with varying heights, shapes, evergreen as well as deciduous, some blooming and others not. Her words paint pictures and you know just what she is describing.

Here's another pithy comment - "Scale is where many urban gardeners lose their minds." Who among us has not planted too much, too tall, too wide, too close and too many?

There is good information on plant selection, planting, plant care, watering, pruning, bugs and propagation. Then, pages 80 through 315 contain the plant directory.

Most of the plants are cold hardy to around 20 degrees which means pot plants or annuals for those of us who garden farther north.

But, Lantana, Vitex (chaste tree) and Elderberry are in there and all are perennials here in zone 7. My wonderful Esperanza (Tecoma) is in the book too but I bring her in every winter. I see that I could move it to that hot south wall next summer and it would be quite happy.

Great reference for southern gardeners, southern vacationers and gardeners who can protect tropical plants. These are drought tolerant so the pots wouldn't have to be watered every five minutes either.

Details: Hardcover, 332 Pages, 7 x 9 in, 208 color photos, Timber Press, words by Mary Irish, photography by Gary Irish.

Other books by Mary Irish: Perennials for the Southwest: Plants That Flourish in Arid Gardens (hardcover) and Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants: A Gardener's Guide (hardcover).

18 July 2009

Seeds Started Now Come Up Quickly!

The package of broccoli seeds that the back of the envelope said would take 7 days to emerge have emerged and have been transplanted into individual pots. They seem to love the heat.

Rudbeckia hirta is the Latin name of Black Eyed Susans. I bought two new varieties and planted the seeds this week.
The Rudbeckia Hirta Cherry Brandy seeds were predicted to take 2 to 3 weeks and came up in less than a week.
Ditto for the Rudbeckia hirta Chocolate Orange. Almost every one of the 50 seed cups has a green tip in less than a week.
Slow by comparison is the Heuchera Marvelous Marbles. They have not emerged. Not a one. They are supposed to take 10 to 60 days but the way things are going I expect them to be up soon.

Seedrack.com says "Marvelous Marble is the first Heuchera with very short flower stems. It is a gorgeous foliage plant, performing well in spring, summer and autumn. In the spring, the foliage is a nice purple and during the year, the leaves change to green with very distinct dark veins. Creamy white flowers form earlier than other Heuchera varieties. Grows up to about 2 feet in height and width. Zones 4-9."

The white hollyhocks grew to over 5 feet tall and were free of that pesky mold hollyhocks sometimes get. I'm going harvest the seeds. Email mollyday1@gmail.com to get my address if you want to send an SASE to receive FREE SEEDS of the white hollyhock.

17 July 2009

Ornamental Grasses Tall and Short

Ornamental grasses are popular in large commercial settings such as airports and hospitals. They are equally at home in large pots, small ponds and garden beds.

The variety of grasses range from ones that can be used as a lawn substitute to those that grow 8 feet tall and remain standing throughout the cold months adding winter interest to your landscape.

Many of the plants we call ornamental grasses are actually Cyperaceae or sedge family and Juncaceae or rush family. Mondo grass is Ophiopogon and Liriope is lilyturf. True grasses are in the plant family Gramineae.

Annual, biennial and perennial ornamental grasses grow easily in average soil. Many can be grown from seed and most are insect and disease free. Popular annual grasses include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

Perennial grasses can take a couple of years to become established so plan to put annuals in the planting spot that first year to fill in.

For this year's garden take a look a the High Country Gardens site here.

Here are a few to choose from for next year's garden.

Andropogon gerardii, Blue stem, Turkey grass, Beardgrass - There are 200 Andropogons. They have red-purple to silver-blue flower stems and fluffy blooms. They are easy to grow from seed and make durable screens and fillers for large beds.

Bluestem is the tallest at 7 feet with blue-green leaves that turn copper in autumn. Good for wildlife. Hardy to zone 3

Buchloe dactyloides, Buffalo grass, is drought tolerant, grows 6 inches tall with blue-green leaves. Zone 4 hardy.

Carex – there are 2,000 sedges to choose from.

Carex muskingumensis is a native grass that is hardy in zones 4 to 9. It is a creeping sedge with palm-like fronds. Use as a groundcover in moist, dappled shade or as a tall lawn substitute under trees. Grow from seed.

Carex pseudocyperus or Cyperus sedge dies back in the winter but emerges in the spring with yellow-green leaves. Good for water gardens in half shade. Grow from seed or division.

Carex texensis or Texas sedge is a low, clumping plant that grows to 4 inches tall. Can be used as a sturdy lawn for shade or sun and can be planted between stepping-stones. Can take lots of foot traffic. Used as a lawn it is mowed twice a year (http://xrl.us/be24tj). Plant from seeds or plugs.
Cyperus or papyrus - Cyperus alternifolius is a tall umbrella palm for water gardens. For a shorter version choose Cyperus alternifolius Gracilis.

A new Papyrus Cyperus percamenthus, King Tut, will be available next year from Proven Winners (http://tinyurl.com/nbpj3x).

Melinus nerviglumis - Pink Crystals ruby grass grows 1-foot tall with pink spring-summer blooms. Hardy to 20 degrees.

Miscanthus senesis or Japanese silver grass has great fall color. Use as a tall background, hedge or screen. Needs moist soil.

Muhlenbergia capillaries - Pink muhly or Pink hair grass, 3 feet tall with billows of pink fluffy flowers. Hardy to zone 6. Panicum or switch grass likes moist soil and dappled shade. P Heavy Metal grows to 5 feet with blue foliage and red tips.

Pennisetum glaucum – Purple Majesty millet, 4-feet tall, purple leaves and stems.

Pennisetum messiacum - Red Bunny Tails, 20-inches tall, pink flowers. Hardy to 0.

Pennisetum setaceum, Red Fountain, Rubrum and Burgundy Giant are grown as 3-foot tall annuals with burgundy leaves and plumes.

Saccharum Arundinaceum - Hardy sugar cane or Plume Grass is 6 feet tall with pink flowers in sun.

Stipa tenuissima - Mexican Feather Grass is a drought tolerant native grass for sunny rock gardens.

Resources: Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses by John Greenlee (1992, $10 used online), Fine Gardening’s database of ornamental grasses http://cli.gs/Bqus0X and Dave Brigante on papyrus at http://is.gd/1wwJv.

14 July 2009

Harvesting Worm Castings and Making a Trench Bed for the Just-Planted Leeks

The tiny leek starts went into their little trench this morning. As they grow we will fill the trench to make the white part of each one longer so there is more to roast.

The soaker hose to the left will be run down the center. Leeks cannot ever dry out. To give the plants a great head start, one of the worm compost bins was harvested.I spread out sheets of newspaper in the shade and dumped the bin upside down. Then I tore enough newspaper to fill the bin and wet it down, turned it and let it drip out the bottom holesThen, I broke up the bin of castings to encourage the worms to go to the bottom of the pile.After a half hour, I could sort through the castings, move the worms to their refurbished digs and use the remaining black gold to fertilize the leeks, the Louisiana Sweet Potato Squash and some tomato plants, too.
The leek starts are plants we started from seed in the shed last January.

13 July 2009

Really Green Fashion

Artist Nicole Dextras calls herself a mixed media artist and indeed this dress made of leaves and flowers meets that description.

The ecology news site, Inhabitat, reported the story that the show Weedrobes by Dextra is showing in Albuquerque NM at the Richard Levy Gallery.

Click over the Inhabitat site to see lots more photos of the Weedrobe items. It will inspire your creativity for making garden art or art out of garden stuff.

11 July 2009

Reuters Reports Potato Fungus in US

Not to get on a soapbox about seed and plant varieties, but ...
One of the reasons places like Seed Savers and preservation catalogs like Sand Hill exist is because the food source has become so concentrated that they are worried about a plant or animal disease rapidly running through the entire food system.

Julie Steenhuysen of Reuters reported this piece
Late blight, which caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and 1850s, is killing potato and tomato plants in home gardens from Maine to Ohio and threatening commercial and organic farms, U.S. plant scientists said on Friday.

Late blight has never occurred this early and this widespread in the United States, said Meg McGrath, a plant pathologist at Cornell University's extension center in Riverhead, New York.
She said the fungal disease, spread by spores carried in the air, has made its way into the garden centers of large retail chains in the Northeastern United States.

Wal-mart, Home Depot, Sears, Kmart and Lowe's are some of the stores the plants have been seen in, McGrath said in a telephone interview.
The disease, known officially as Phytophthora infestans, causes large mold-ringed olive-green or brown spots on plant leaves, blackened stems, and can quickly wipe out weeks of tender care in a home garden.

McGrath said in her 21 years of research, she has only seen five outbreaks in the United States. The destructive disease can spread rapidly in cooler, moist weather, infecting an entire field within days.
What's unique about it this year is we have never seen plants affected in garden centers being sold to home gardeners, she said.
This year's cool, wet weather created perfect conditions for the disease. Hopefully, it will turn sunny, McGrath said. If we get into our real summer hot dry weather, this disease is going to slow way down.

According to its website, the University Maryland's Plant Diagnostic Lab got a suspect tomato sample as early as June 12, very early in the tomato growing season, which runs from April-September.
McGrath said the risk is that many gardeners will not recognize it, putting commercial farms and especially organic growers at risk.
My concern is for growers. They are going to have to put a lot more time and effort in trying to control the disease. It's going to be a very tough year, she said.
This pathogen can move great distances in the air. It often does little jumps, but it can make some big leaps.
McGrath said the impact on the farmer will depend on how much the pathogen is spread. Eastern New York is seeing a lot of disease, she said.

She said commercial farmers will be able to use fungicides containing chlorothalonil to control the blight. And while some sprays have also been approved for organic use, many organic farmers do not use them, making it much harder to control.
If they are not on top of this right from the very beginning, it can go very fast, she said.
(Editing by Maggie Fox and Lisa Shumaker)

If it's hot and dry where you are, the blight and fungicide spraying is less of a worry. But do check your garden and consider planting a wider variety of plants in your fall vegetable garden.

10 July 2009

Safely Preserving Your Work

Growing fruits and vegetables is a satisfying activity that can yield a bumper crop. After all the work of planting, weeding and harvest, we prefer not to toss extra produce on the compost pile.

Most of us give friends and family a considerable amount of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and corn. Gospel Rescue Mission (326 S 2 and 918-682-3489) welcomes produce donations to feed local families in need.

When it comes to preserving and storing some of the extra to use over the winter, gardeners each have a preferred method.

To keep food safe and nutritious, four problems must be conquered. (See Piers Warren reference below.)
1) Enzymes cause food to begin to lose nutritional value and to spoil quickly. Extreme heat used for canning stops enzyme action, as does freezing.
2) Bacteria cause most food poisoning and their growth can be stopped through freezing, high heat, and high concentrations of sugar, salt or acid used for pickling.
3) Yeasts cause the kind of food spoilage seen when jam ferments. Cooking jam at high enough heat for the correct length of time prevents yeast growth until the jar is opened.
4) Fungi spores are in the air and cause bread to mold. Fungi growth can be prevented through freezing and pickling.

Preserving produce by freezing is straightforward if you have vacuum sealing equipment and a chest freezer.
Pick produce in the morning and handle carefully to avoid bruising or nicking. Wash and prepare - steam, blanch, chop, or slice. Foods such as corn and peas lose sweetness quickly so have everything ready to go before picking.

Both produce and herbs can be air dried in a few hours in an oven set to 110-degrees. Store in airtight containers to maintain flavor.

Sauerkraut is an easy to make example of salt preserving. The flavor of homemade kraut makes it worth the small amount of trouble.

High acid foods such as tomatoes are usually canned in a boiling water bath. We can outside using a turkey deep fryer with propane. Canning outside keeps the heat out of the house and the deep fryer pot is tall enough to cover quart jars with two inches of boiling water.

Use a pressure canner for preserving low acid foods such as green beans. If you have any questions about pressure canning, Virginia Stanley at Oklahoma State University Extension is our local resource. You can contact Stanley at 918-686-7200.

Jam, jelly, and pickles are the some of the safest products for home canning. They have enough preservative in the form of sugar, salt or vinegar to keep them from spoiling.

Mason canning jars were invented in the 1860s and home canning became a hobby of the wealthy by the 1880s. Home canned food was used to feed troops and home canning remained popular until after WWII.

Americans' insecurity about food safety is thought to be one of the primary reasons that there has been a 92 percent increase in the sales of home canning supplies such as jars, containers and food storage systems.

To be sure your home preserved foods are safe to eat, check out some of these resources -

The United States Department of Agriculture Complete Guide to Home Canning at http://is.gd/1glGe.

The Ball Blue Book is the standard for food preserving guidance. Ball's website has step-by-step canning, recipes, and videos at www.freshpreserving.com.

“Introduction to Home Food Preservation” is online at http://is.gd/1gleN from the University of South Carolina.

Piers Warren provides several straightforward approaches to food preservation in his “How to Store Your Garden Produce: The Key to Self-sufficiency”. Warren grows most of his food on an acre in Norfolk UK. The book was published by Chelsea Green, www.chelseagreen.com, and $12 online.

09 July 2009

How Much Heat Can Tomatoes Take?

We are just home from a week on the road and my neighbor came over and said the tomatoes should be covered to protect them from the next series of 100-degree days.

Is that true? Do you know? Do you cover your tomato plants in the heat? Sunscald can be a big problem for tomatoes. Kansas State University says that they will develop a leather like skin and rot inside (here).

One horticulture science site, Acta, says that shading tomato plants has these results: Increases the fruit yield, produces heavier and prettier fruit, and reduces sun scald.

Clemson University agrees here - cover the plants because the green fruits are vulnerable to hot humid weather.

Oklahoma State University Extension fact sheet - here - says that tomatoes need 2 inches of water a week to survive our heat. Pick them weekly when they are pink and let them ripen.

I know that many gardeners take cuttings now to start new plants for fall and I've never done that before either.

Do you take summer tomato plant cuttings to plant in August for fall harvest?

07 July 2009

Busting Up Clods of Garden Myths

Can you tell fact from fiction when it comes to healthy happy plants and soils? Most of us can't.


Colorado State University Extension (here) has a piece called Beware of Gardening Myths. For example, Gypsum does not break up clay soils. And vitamin B1 in formulations guaranteed to jump start transplants has zero effect. But we hear gardeners state with confidence that these things work for them.

A completely different list of myths is at the Skagit County Master Gardeners site here. For example, uncomposted wood chips spread pathogenic fungi and bacteria to healthy plant roots.
most important to re-learn is to STOP using chlorine bleach as a disinfectant. Use isopropyl alcohol, Listerine or Lysol.

C. L. Fornari, the Gardenlady gives a memorable presentation on busting gardening myths. Her Gardenlady website is great to browse, too. You can read my 2007 column about Fornari here. My favorite on C.L.'s list is about pruning tomatoes - don't bother.

Washington State University also has a page full of myths here. For example, using Epsom Salts on plants and soil is almost always useless.

Then, there are water garden myths from Lawn and Garden's site here.

My grandmother told me to leave the just-pulled weeds on the outer edge of the bed until they dry. Then, remove them. She said that they have valuable nutrients that they put back into the soil as they dry.

Anyone want to argue with Grammy?

06 July 2009

July in the Garden

It's time to pull and dry the garlic.

The first bulbs we pulled had to come out so we could plant the Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash plants. Now the tomatoes are getting so big that the rest of the garlic has to be pulled to make room for them. And, so we don't walk on garlic when we tend the other summer veggies.

Then, the next joyful chore is a month of blackberry picking. We only grow the thornless varieties developed at Arkansas State University for our humid summers.

The weed cloth on the beds has been in place since 2000. Over the years the suckers have punctured the weed cloth and tall weeds take hold in those places. Late fall and early winter the neighbors will see us out there digging out the extra plants and replacing the weed cloth.

No end to the fun at our 2 acre health club. Send me an email at mollyday1@gmail.com and let me know what's happening where you grow.

03 July 2009

Coneflowers - Echinacea - for Every Garden

Coneflowers are showing up everywhere, blooming in open fields, roadways and flowerbeds. Their humble origins aside, there are now dozens of colors to choose from. And, all have the same preference for making their best flower display on hot, dry summer days.

There is some confusion about Echinaceas among gardeners because sometimes Black Eyed Susans are called Coneflowers. The brown centered orange-yellow wild flower is actually a Rudbeckia not an Echinacea.

Both are members of the perennial Aster family that includes chrysanthemums, sunflowers and Asters. The botanical name Echinacea is from the Greek word echinos meaning hedgehog, referring to the appearance of the center cone.

Large stands of Echinacea used to be common across the central and eastern parts of North America (http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ECPU ).

The perceived herbal medicine benefits of Echinacea roots and stems have led to the plants being illegally removed from the wild and sold to pharmaceutical companies.

The National Institutes for Health tested Echinacea and found that the claimed health benefits of curing colds and infections cannot be supported by science.

Between the natives and hybrids,coneflowers are a favorite in both formal and informal settings. Birds, hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the blooms and the sturdy stems make them great cut flowers.

Echinacea is easy to grow in well-drained soil. The seeds can be planted directly into the garden before the last frost in April or indoors in February. They bloom best in full sun but can take some afternoon shade.

If a clump of the plant shows signs of overcrowding, dig it up in the early spring, divide the root into pieces and replant it.

To use the blooms as dried flowers, cut them when they first open and hang the stems upside down in a dark, airy space such as an attic. Any flower heads left in the garden at the end of the summer will be cleaned off by goldfinches.

Muskogee Farmer’s Market cut flower vendor, Kim Walton, said she will have 2-flats of Echinacea purpurea plants available for sale on a first come basis tomorrow (Saturday July 4).

Echinacea purpurea, also called Rudbeckia purpurea, has red-tinted green stems. The 5-inch flower heads are centered with an orange-red central disk and partly reflexed purple-red petals (the petals fold down away from the seedhead).

Park Seed (www.parkseed.com) has seeds of Green Wizard, Coneflower Magnus, White Swan, Bravado and a seed collection.

If you would like to plant seeds of native coneflowers a few of the mailorder sources include: Echinacea purpurea- easywildflowers.com, Echinacea angustifolia, narrow leaf Purple Coneflower - horizonherbs.com, and Echinacea pallida, Pale Coneflower - americanmeadows.com.

Sources for the new hybrid plants include: Wayside Gardens (www.waysidegardens.com) offers Echinacea in a dozen colors and White Flower Farm (whiteflowerfarm.com) has 24 offers.

Some of the hybrids to look for include:

Echinacea Bravado - rose-red flowers, Finale White - single cream white flowers with green-brown central disks, Leuchtstern Bright Star - purple-red flowers, Magnus - dark orange central disks and deep purple flowers, Robers Bloom - dark brown centers and mauve-crimson flowers, White Lustre - orange centers and cream flowers and White Swan - white flowers up to 5 inches across with orange centers.

Coconut Lime - white and pale green – a new introduction last year that grows to 2-feet tall when established.

Echinacea Pink Double Delight - frilly pink center and is circled by 6 oval pink petals. Razzmatazz is a similar color and larger.

Some of the new cultivars are being called Meadowbrite. For example, Mango Meadowbrite and Orange meadowbrite.

Whether you prefer a mass of native coneflowers or a bed of assorted hybrid colors, shapes and sizes, there are several carefree choices for every gardener’s taste.

02 July 2009

July Chrysanthemum Care

July seems like an odd time to think about your fall blooming Chrysanthemums. However, you will benefit from pruning and fertilizing them before the middle of this month.

In mid-July, mums form their fall flower buds. The hours of dark that increase as fall comes, trigger the flowering. Pruning them after mid-July reduces the flowers.
Photo: Viceroy butterfly on Chrysanthemums from Texas Aggie-Hort - (Texas A & M Extension) -
a great resource for all things gardening. The main page of their site is here.

When summer pruning your mums, cut just above a leaf node, leaving at least one set of leaves on each stem. Think of the letter Y as a leaf node and snip just above that.

Ohio State University has a fact sheet on mums here.
And the National Chrysanthemum Society has growing tips here.

If your weather does not include rain in for the next two months, be sure to water your mums. They will reward you with fall color when the rest of the garden is beginning to fade.