29 October 2012

Nature's Doctor - Mammals and Insects Self Medicate

The Scientist http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/32966/title/Natural-Born-Doctors/ reported that animals and insects self-medicate when they have the need.

Michael Huffman
CHIMPS " More than 30 years ago, Michael Huffman, who studies evolution of social systems at the University of Kyoto, noticed that wild chimps were treating themselves by ingesting foods with special properties that fight intestinal worm infections." 
. . .
"Huffman first encountered self-medicating chimps in Africa in the 1980s. He recalls watching a sick chimpanzee suck juice from the bitter leaf plant. A traditional healer, Mohamedi Seifu Kalunde, told Huffman that bitter leaf was used medicinally by the local people, the WaTongwe. The plant didn’t provide nutrients to the chimpanzee, and is rarely used by healthy chimps, but sick animals are commonly observed ingesting the plant, and their symptoms usually resolve soon after. Huffman’s later work identified several compounds in bitter leaf and other medicinal plants used by the chimps with activity against parasitic nematode infections."

More about Huffman's work

SHEEP "Sheep, for example, are known to regulate their energy and nutritional balances by modifying their food choices. Additionally, they learn to choose food rich in tannins—astringent plant compounds that can kill parasites and relieve infections—when suffering from gut nematode infections."


Monarch butterflies "Scientists recently discovered, for example, why monarch butterflies are so picky when it comes to choosing the milkweed plants on which to lay their eggs. “The females often taste a plant, reject it, and fly away,” explained Jacobus de Roode of Emory University. It turns out that this choosiness is regulated by the monarch’s health. De Roode found that butterflies infected with the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha seek out milkweeds containing high levels of cardenolide, a plant steroid that interferes with parasite growth in monarch caterpillars."

Fruit flies also self-medicate, but instead of consuming plants, they turn to alcohol.

Click on the link above to read the entire article in The Scientist.

In 2010 Carol Clark reported in the Emory University newsletter, EScience Commons, that Emory U received a $500,000 grant to conduct the research.

“We believe that our experiments provide the best evidence to date that animals use medication,” says evolutionary biologist Jaap de Roode, who led the research.

If you are a butterfly enthusiast, don't miss this 5 minute video from 2010

and here's The Butterfly Pharmacist from 2011

Clark wrote about Monarch migration in May 2012

"Biologists have long been fascinated by the innate and learned behaviors underlying animal migrations. When monarchs are breeding, for instance, they can live up to four weeks, but when they are migrating, they can live as long as six months.

“As the day length gets shorter, their sexual organs do not fully mature and they don’t put energy into reproduction. That enables them to fly long distances to warmer zones, and survive the winter,” de Roode says. “It’s one of the basic lessons in biology: Reproduction is very costly, and if you don’t use it, you can live much longer.”"

28 October 2012

Self-watering planters - how to build and where to buy

Here's an update to my still-popular 2008 post on how to build your own self-watering planters, sometimes called Earth Tainers -

Complete plans are at Tomato Fest under earthtainer

John Reinhardt at Technorati
There's a variation on the theme at   
http://beclecto.com/tag/earth-box/ and

If you'd like to see it on video, Kansas State has a Master Gardener presentation at

After you go to the click, look at the list on the right - there are another 20 methods using a variety of container sizes, styles and materials.


If you prefer to purchase self-watering containers, remember Lechuza - gorgeous, functional solutions to watering inside and out.

25 October 2012

Fall Foliage Photos around D.C.

Our friend Harry Pfohl has taken spectacular photos of the scenery around D.C. and his home in MD.

Most of us visualize huge structures and concrete when we imagine the  D.C. environment and I thought you'd enjoy his views of that part of our world.

Dogwood leaves and berries.

Last November, several of Pfohl's D.C. nature photos were in the Washington Post and you can see them here - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/post/washington-dc-fall-scenes-from-weather-gang-readers/2011/11/18/gIQAlP6hYN_blog.html

Dogwood leaves in all their fall splendor.

Master Gardener classes offered in Muskogee OK

The Oklahoma State University Master Gardener program is coming back to Muskogee in January or February 2013. The new Extension Educator, Mandy Blocker is taking names of the people in our community who would like to be on the email list to hear more about the program.
Msukogee County OSU Extension Educator Mandy Blocker

Blocker spoke at Muskogee Garden Club last week and said that there are three questions interested students should ask themselves: 1) Do you want to learn more about the culture and maintenance of many types of plants?; 2) Are you eager to participate in a practical and intense training program?; and, 3) Do you have enough time to attend the trainings and serve as a volunteer intern?


The Master Gardener program is a volunteer training program with the purpose of developing community volunteers. In most areas of the state (and around the country) Master Gardeners are a vital resource for their communities.


The program is designed for anyone who has a genuine interest in horticulture, who would enjoy sharing their experience as well as the OSU research-based information with others. The program covers the latest discoveries, based on OSU horticulture research results, techniques, and practices.


The training consists of 45 to 60-hours of classroom presentations by OSU Extension Educators from around the state, plus Master Gardeners and plant experts. The days, dates and times of the meetings have not been established since it will depend on what works for the Extension office and the potential participants.


In my experience, the best part of the program was learning in a relaxed setting and the friendships that developed. The training leads to life-long learning with others who have a shared interest in gardening as you attend follow-up programs together.


After the classroom training is completed, participants have to volunteer 40 to 60 hours in order to receive their certification. Volunteer hours can be earned answering questions that local gardeners ask, helping put on future trainings, assisting with community gardens, and other projects that Blocker and the interns come up with.


The class that Blocker will be offering in Muskogee will have 30 students. Applications are taken and interviews are held. The interviews are not a test of the applicants’ knowledge. They are to make sure that participants understand the time commitment for classes and volunteering.


The subjects covered in the 45-hour training vary somewhat, but generally include topics such as: Lawns, vegetable gardening, ornamental and flowering plants, tree and shrub identification, harmful and beneficial insects, disease prevention and treatment, weed identification and control, soils, fertilizers, plant nutrition, vegetable gardening, fruit production for the home gardener, water conservation, wildlife gardening, etc.


Some of the many gardening questions that are answered in the program: The difference between acid and alkaline soil; how to identify aphid damage and what to do about it; what to plant in a fall vegetable garden; what Boron deficiency is and how to fix it; how to plant and prune a tree; when to use a cold frame and how make a simple one; why to disbud flowers; how to set up an irrigation system that conserves water; why and when to fertilize; the various types of propagation to make more plants; and, more.


The Tulsa Master Gardener program has a thorough and educational website at http://tulsamastergardeners.org/ and Oklahoma County Master Gardeners have a website at http://mastergardener.okstate.edu where you can explore more details about the program and what it has to offer.


The fee for the program is around $100 and includes a binder about 5-inches thick with resource materials made up of OSU Fact Sheets and supplemental information sheets that participants will use as a reference for years. Payment is made after the interview and acceptance into the course.
For more information about the 2013 Master Gardener Classes
Contact Mandy Blocker 918-686-7200 and mandy.blocker at okstate.edu

24 October 2012

Fern Genus of 19 Species Named for Lady Gaga

gaga and fern
From Duke Today

Graduate Student Fay-Wei Li at the moment he discovered Gaga germanotta
alive in Costa Rica.
Durham, NC - Pop music megastar Lady Gaga is being honored with the name of a new genus of ferns found in Central and South America, Mexico, Arizona and Texas. A genus is a group of closely related species; in this case, 19 species of ferns will carry the name Gaga.

At one stage of its life, the new genus Gaga has somewhat fluid definitions of gender and bears a striking resemblance to one of Gaga's famous costumes. Members of the new genus also bear a distinct DNA sequence spelling GAGA.

Two of the species in the Gaga genus are new to science: Gaga germanotta from Costa Rica is named to honor the family of the artist, who was born Stefani Germanotta. And a newly discovered Mexican species is being dubbed Gaga monstraparva (literally monster-little) in honor of Gaga's fans, whom she calls “little monsters.”

"We wanted to name this genus for Lady Gaga because of her fervent defense of equality and individual expression," said study leader Kathleen Pryer, a Duke University biology professor and director of the Duke Herbarium. "And as we started to consider it, the ferns themselves gave us more reasons why it was a good choice."

For example, in her performance at the 2010 Grammy Awards, Lady Gaga wore a heart-shaped Armani Prive' costume with giant shoulders that looked, to Pryer's trained eyes, exactly like the bisexual reproductive stage of the ferns, called a gametophyte. It was even the right shade of light green. The way the fern extends its new leaves in a clenched little ball also reminds Pryer of Gaga's claw-like "paws up" salute to her fans.

The clincher came when graduate student Fay-Wei Li scanned the DNA of the ferns being considered for the new genus. He found GAGA spelled out in the DNA base pairs as a signature that distinguishes this group of ferns from all others.

Celebrity species abound in science. There's a California lichen named for President Barack Obama and a meat-eating jungle plant named for actress Helen Mirren. In January, an Australian horse fly described by its discoverer as "bootylicious" was named for singer Beyonce.

But those are just individual species. This is an entire genus that so far includes 19 species of ferns.
Except for the two new species, germanotta and monstraparva, the rest of the Gaga ferns are species that are being reclassified by Pryer and her co-authors. They had previously been assigned to the genus Cheilanthes based on their outward appearance. But Li's painstaking analysis of DNA using more than 80 museum specimens and newly collected plants showed they're distinct and deserving of their own genus.

New tools for genetic analysis are reorganizing the family tree of ferns, said Pryer, who is currently president of the American Fern Society, and president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the scientists who name and categorize plant species.

Like most ferns, the Gaga group is "homosporous." They produce tiny spherical spores that drift to the ground and germinate into heart-shaped plants called gametophytes. These independent little organisms can be female, male or even bisexual, depending on growth conditions and what other kinds of gametophytes are around. When conditions are right, they exchange sperm between gametophytes, but when necessary they sometimes can also self-fertilize to produce a new fern.

"The biology of these ferns is exceptionally obscure and blurred by sexual crossing between species," Pryer said. "They have high numbers of chromosomes and asexuality that can lead to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant."

Pryer freely admits that she and her lab are big Gaga fans. "We often listen to her music while we do our research. We think that her second album, 'Born this Way,' is enormously empowering, especially for disenfranchised people and communities like LGBT, ethnic groups, women -- and scientists who study odd ferns!" Pryer said.

"What a remarkable, unexpected, perfect tribute to name a genus of ferns for Lady Gaga," said Duke faculty member Cathy N. Davidson, who was involved in the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Initiative that helped Lady Gaga to create the Born This Way Foundation, a national anti-bullying initiative. "Encouraging her fans and kids everywhere to be brave, bold, unique, creative and smart is what Lady Gaga is about," Davidson says. "It's rare that a celebrity so young gives back so much to society."

The research was funded in part by National Science Foundation, grant DEB-0717398.

Butterflies of the World

Bryan Reynolds of the Butterflies of the World Foundation in Oklahoma, has updated his webpage to include new photos.
Highlights include some Phaon Crescents, Great Purple Hairstreaks and a Southern Cloudywing Egg, most photographed at the Pontotoc Ridge Preserve and the Oka'Yanahli Preserve in Pontotoc and Johnston Counties respectively. "

Go to http://www.botwf.org/index.html
Click on "butterflies" to see Butterflies by Family - photos and narrative.
Click on "slide show" to enjoy a lovely photo show of Bryan's pics.
Click on "links" to go to reference links, see Reynolds' choice for binoculars, books, etc.
Click on "programs" to see Bryan's workshop list and his speaking schedule.

22 October 2012

Castor Beans - harvest the seeds this fall for next summer

At Gurney Seeds, regular green leaf castor bean seeds, Zanzibariensis, are
10 for $4.00 plus shipping - 40-cents each.
At Johnny's Seeds the green leafed variety is 50 seeds for $25.
The Carmencita Bright Red seeds are aslo 50 seeds for $25.00.
Dust Bowl Seed www.dustbowlseed.com sells them
$2.49 for 20 seeds.
These gorgeous tropical looking plants originated in East Africa, probably Ethopia but
they were also found in Egyptian tombs dating from 4,000 B.C.

Lots of information about these unique plants are at
 Wayne's Word. palomar . edu which is an online natural history textbook.

The oil was part of my growing up years - my mother and grandmother tried to
disguise the horrible taste of castor oil with sugar but it really never took with me.
Better the oil should be used for its ancient use - as lamp oil.

Castor Bean - male stamen clusters - white flowers
Castor beans are monoecious, each plant has male and female parts.
  The female flower is the little spiny ovary that becomes the fruit or seed capsule. The bright red bits with feathery branches are the stigma lobes that receive pollen from male flowers. The male flowers are a cluster of many stamens.

Castor Bean ovary

The seed pods drop their feathery red coating as
they dry. Watch for them to become brown and ready to

pop open so you can collect enough seeds for next year's mole prevention.

Castor Bean - seed capsules

21 October 2012

Superbells (Millionbells) Calibrachoa Lemon Slice from Proven Winners

Superbells Lemon Slice has been amazing at the rocky edge of
my herb bed this year.

It was one of the garden writer trial plants that Proven Winners sent out at the beginning of the summer.

This sweetie pie has bloomed on the rocky edge of my herb bed
all summer through record breaking heat and drought. Even when
it was 107 and we were gone on vacation (not watering) it kept blooming.

Talk about a Proven Winner.

There are bunches of other Calibrachoa colors from Proven Winners and I have planted them whenever PW has sent them to me. But, Lemon Slice has bloomed the best, survived it all and has a permanent place in my heart.

Check out the Blackberry Punch and other colors on the PW website

20 October 2012

Water is Gold - award winning video by Greg Harriott

Landscape Architecture Magazine posted the winning videos http://landscapearchitecturemagazine.org/2012/10/19/water-wise-winners/ -
" water conservation screened in Beverly Hills, California, this week as part of the 5th annual Intelligent Use of Water Film Competition. The top prize went to Isla Urbana, a documentary film by Greg Harriott about a nonprofit in Mexico City that is working with people who have poor access to water to harvest rainwater from their rooftops. (You can watch the video above).

The audience choice award went to “The Wash,” a racy public service announcement by Carla Dauden http://vimeo.com/carladauden aimed at homeowners who wash their cars in their driveways. The competition was sponsored by the Rain Bird Corporation, which provides irrigation products and services. (Watch “The Wash”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBE6sXoPlHA.)

Also on Youtube is this video (in English) from the New Cities Summit in Paris, May 2012
"A low cost, easy-to-install rainwater harvesting system which is installed on individual households. The system creatively addresses the common problem of urban water shortages in Mexico City and is an example of urban ingenuity at its best."

The speaker is Enrique Lomnitz, Co-founder and executive director, Isla Urbana

The Isla Urbana FB page is in Spanish

Many states in the U.S. are engaged in water wars now that we are collectively in a 2 year drought and continuing heat wave that is predicted to last through next spring and summer.

In OK there are 2 lively battles: clean streams protected from chicken farm runoff into our rivers and the constant drum beat from Texans who are lobbying to buy OK water. The OK politicians are weak on this issue and TX politicians and the lobbyists are strong.

Clean water is a worldwide issue and it's a good idea to pay attention to it. Talk about the economy and employment issues all you want. Without clean water the U.S. is a third world country.

18 October 2012

Make worm compost for a healthy garden

Making compost for our gardens is as simple as finding a shady place to make a pile of leaves, plant trimmings and grass clippings.

Left alone, a heap compost pile will produce a soil additive that builds plant-protective beneficial micro-organisms and encourages worms to till the soil for you.

A compost pile that is turned and watered will produce finished compost more quickly but the quality of the finished product will be about the same.

Our compost pile is surrounded with a stack of cinder blocks to hold the contents in place. Other frames can be made of discarded pallets, a wire cattle panel, or chicken wire.

The easiest method, incorporation, or composting in place, uses no pile or bin. Holes are dug in the garden and non-protein, non-fatty kitchen and food waste is buried. In a month or more, the waste breaks down and contributes to the soil, fertilizing future plantings.

Any area that is not being used to grow plants can be put into service. The hole has to be large enough to bury the food waste 8-inches so animals leave it alone.

Food can be mixed with soil. Avoid digging near tree roots that will be damaged.

Most of our non-protein kitchen scraps go into a worm bin where red wiggler worms stay busy year round making worm manure (castings) to fertilize the garden. 

Setting up a worm bin is easy using a plastic box, adding moistened newspaper strips, and some starter worms. Worms are alive so they need air, moisture, food, warmth and darkness. We put into the bin: Shredded junk mail, scraps and peelings of vegetables and fruit, banana peels, tea bags, coffee grounds, leftovers, paper towels, etc. Never add fats, meat, bones, or plastic.

Worms eat their bedding so it has to be replaced frequently. Give them plenty of moist newspaper strips and leaves. Paper bags do not break down quickly enough to be useful but cardboard and shredded paper seem to be eaten almost as quickly as their favorite foods such as baked squash. Avoid putting in large amounts of citrus peels and onions.

Worms are good at making more worms. In fair weather, with food and moisture their numbers double every 90 days.

Vermicomposting bins need red worms or red wigglers, Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus respectively.

When deciding what size your worm bin should be, consider the volume of kitchen scraps you will have available. A 5 to 10 gallon box, 24 by 19-inches and 8-inches tall would be a good start. Red wigglers live in the top 6-inches so a deep box is unnecessary. Drainage holes in the bottom are important.

An old aquarium could be put into service or a wooden box can be built from untreated wood.  Whatever you choose, thoroughly clean the container and half fill it with damp strips of newspaper.

Your worm bin will need a cover that provides a dark environment but allows air in. For example, drill holes in the top of a plastic bin, use a moistened burlap bags, etc.

Their preferred temperature is between 50 and 77 F. During the summer we keep our worm bin outside under a tree and when the temperatures drop below 40 F we move it into the garage.

When feeding, check to be sure the torn newspaper is damp and the food is being eaten. Too much uneaten food creates insect problems.

Misch Lehrer at Soilutions.net composting site in Alubquerque NM USA

My brother, Misch Lehrer, operates Soilutions (http://soilutions.net/), a composing company in Albuquerque NM. He said, “Worms have been eating organic material for millions of years so it is unnecessary to be fussy about them. Just avoid feeding them non-plant materials such as plastic, glass, metal, synthetic fabric, etc.”

16 October 2012

Make a bulb centerpiece for the holidays

Here's what you'll need to know to make arrangements of blooming daffodil bulbs for gifts or a holiday centerpiece. This is a wonderful activity to share with children.

Select bulbs that grow in warm climates since cold climate bulbs from Holland require chilling. In order to force bulbs from cold climates such as tulips, you'll have to pot and chill them before bringing them into the house. Amaryllis are also from a warm climate and need no chilling period.

This year's daffodils are in small gravel and
gold garland. The containers came from local
antique/junk stores - $1 or under.
Over the years, I've eliminated most of those bulbs from my forcing routine because warm weather daffodils are the easiest, and therefore the most reliable for me.

(If you want to know all there is to know about bulb forcing, get this incredible book, “Bulb Forcing for beginners and the seriously smitten” by Art Wolk, $24.95, AAB Book Publishing, www.gardenlunacy.com. The University of Missouri has easy to understand charts for forcing a variety of bulbs at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6550.

In the daffodil world, no-chill bulbs means buying Tazettas, Paperwhites, Soleil d'Or or Canaliculatus miniature narcissus. This year I ordered Canaliculatus from Touch of Nature.com. These miniatures mature at 6-inches tall so they are practically guaranteed to not fall over like Paperwhites which often are tied up.

Here's my illustrated blog post from November 2011 when I was forcing Paperwhites in water and stones for Christmas bloom.

Here's my illustrated step by step for planting/forcing bulbs in potting soil

Canaliculatus narcissus
From Pacific Bulb Society
"Narcissus 'Canaliculatus' (Division 8). This cultivar was introduced by the English bulb merchants Barr and Sons in the early 20th. century. Peter Barr is quoted in 'The Garden' in 1927 saying it originated in 'Mentone' which is the Italian spelling of the town of Menton near the French Italian border; the Riviera was a popular destination for the British upper class in this period. It is distinguished from the species Narcissus tazetta by being smaller and having grooved leaves from which its name derives (think canals). It has multiple scented flowers at right angles to the 5 inch tall stem."

To force warm weather daffodil bulbs in water -
- Select a container without holes.
- Fill container 1/2 or 2/3 full with stones, gravel, marbles, beads.
- Set bulbs on top of fill and put water in the container up to the bottom of the bulb
- Add more filler until the round base of the bulbs is under gravel but the collar or shoulder of the bulb and tip are above the filler.
- Put the container into a cool, dark place such as a bathroom or porch corner.
- Check daily for roots and shoots and to be sure the water remains at the bottom of the bulb.
- When shoots emerge, bring containers into bright light, not direct sun.
- Buds will show in a few weeks.
- Keep the containers on the cool side, meaning not under a heat vent, not on a radiator, not near a fireplace, etc.
- They will never need direct sunlight but bright light is good throughout their growing and blooming time.

Want to see a 3-minute instructional video from Lowe's on how to do this?
Here's the click - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKbi4qhfqHI

Purdue has a great write up of this topic http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/ho-19.pdf

Go get some bulbs. Don't miss out on this wonderful fall/winter fun.

12 October 2012

Spring Blooming Flower Bulb Planting Depth and Spacing

We are often told that the basic rule is to plant flower bulbs twice the diameter of the bulb. Well, except when we are told to plant them two to three times the height of the bulb.

Maybe a general rule is sufficient since most bulbs are pretty hardy. Here are the general rules -

Tulips are planted about 8 inches deep
Small bulbs such as crocus and hyacinths are planted 4 inches deep

The planting depth is measured from the bottom of the bulb. So, 4 inches deep means make the hole 4 inches deep rather than put 4 inches of soil on top of planted bulbs.

Bulbs are planted nose up and basal root plate - the flat part on the soil. If you have sticky clay, you can add a bit of drainage material under the bulbs. I've used gravel from our driveway though I've read that sand works as well.

Bulb trench - Rochestergardening.com
Also, it is recommended that you dig a bed or trench to plant all the bulbs rather than using one of those bulb planters and putting them in one at a time. When we plant 100 tulips or daffodils at a time, we use an auger attachment on the battery operated drill. 

Unless rain is expected within a couple of days after planting, water the bulbs to settle them into the ground. That way the roots can get started.

It is also a good idea to add some mulch to stabilize the soil temperature so the bulbs are cozy. Three inches of pine needles or other loose material is good. Do not use un-chopped tree leaves since they compact over the winter and could make the bulbs rot. If you can run the lawn mower over leaves, they are less likely to cause problems.

The exception to the mulching rule is the really early bloomers such as our February blooming crocuses.

As for spacing, it depends. Most tulips are annuals here so you can plant them as close together as you want to. Bulbs that will survive and multiply like hyacinths and daffodils, should probably be spaced a few inches apart so they have room to do their thing.

Here's are a couple of charts from BHG.com - visual aids help!

If you prefer words to pictures - click on this handy
chart from Tulsa Master Gardeners

Usually bulbs come with instructions but if you have
any questions not answered there or here, ask away.

landscaping suggestions needed

Thomas Foreman Home
How would you rehabilitate the landscaping at this historic home?

Fenceline in front of historic utility building
Thomas Foreman Home - sideyard and trellis
Thomas Foreman Home - sideyard looking into back yard

Thomas Foreman Home side view from street


11 October 2012

Plant Spring Bulbs Now in Pots or Plots

Nothing says spring like a pot or plot of tulips, daffodils, crocus and hyacinths. They are in the stores now because spring blooming bulbs are planted in the fall. Plenty of sun and good drainage are all they need.

Though they have been grown in Holland since 1590, tulips came from the near east originally. Because of their formal appearance, tulips look great in rigid beds in lines of color.

Purple, yellow, red and parrot tulips can be blended together or planted in banks/stripes of color. Plant early, mid-season and late blooming varieties in separate groups so you have flowering blocks of blooms rather than blotches.

While most hybrid tulips are annuals here, the small, non-hybrid (called species), tulips may return. Look for these Species tulips: bakeri, clusiana, kaufmanniana, saxatilis, sylvestris, tarda and whitallii.

Daffodils or Narcissus can bloom early, mid-season or late. They are reliable and will multiply. The variety of daffodils grows relentlessly and now includes miniature to large, short to tall, scented, pink as well as yellow, orange, white and bi-colored. Some are single, some flower in clusters and others are double. Poets bloom last, multiply, and naturalize.

Daffseek (daffseek.org), sponsored by the American Daffodil Society, is maintained by Nancy Tackett and Ben Blake. At the site, any daffodil name can be entered in order to get the details of its height, bloom time (early season (E), mid-season (M) or late season (L), and flower size/color.

Minor bulbs are ideal to plant in beds and to naturalize under trees and around shrubs. Because they have short leaves and tiny flowers, plant at least 25 or they will not be visible.

Minor bulbs include Chionodoxa, snowdrops, grape hyacinth (muscari), squill, crocus, anemone, fritillaria, Iris reticulata and species tulips.

Snowdrops (Galanthus) are planted 3-inches deep and apart. Chiondoxa, Muscari and Scilla will colonize, re-seeding to fill a bed. Chionodoxa can have up to 10 flowers per stem.

Species crocus such as Crocus chrysanthus, flavus, Sieberi, and angustifolius bloom early. Tomasinianus (Tommie) Ruby Giant can naturalize, perhaps because the squirrels do not prefer them. Crocus vernus Negro Boy is a durable historic variety.

 Crocus bulbs naturalize best in part-shade and in thin lawns where the soil is not treated with chemicals of any kind.

Grape hyacinths (muscari) vary from 6 to 12 inches tall and their white, blue, or violet flowers always edge a bulb garden nicely.

Hyacinths are favored for their scent. Spanish Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica Excelsior, are critter resistant.

If the local stores do not have the bulbs and advice you are looking for, here are a few of the dozens of companies where you can shop -

Breck’s, http://brecks.com, 812-260-2147
Single and double tulips, Green Pearl Daffodil, Ornithogalum, hyacinths, muscari, etc. Check out the Deals link – 120 tulips or daffodils $67, 80 windflowers (anemone) $27.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, https://store.brentandbeckysbulbs.com, 804-693-3966
Known for good quality bulbs. The online catalog has plant descriptions, suggested companion plants that bloom at the same time, planting tips and whether the flower is deer resistant.

Mitsch Daffodils, www.mitschdaffodils.com, 503-651-2742
Garden and exhibition daffodil bulbs with many new hybrids and introductions including mineatures, standards, tazettas, pendants, scented, etc.

Old House Gardens, www.oldhousegardens.com, 734-995-1486
Heirloom bulbs that thrive in southern gardens, including fragrant, double, large cup, trumpet, and wild daffodils plus species, single, parrot and double tulips.

Southern Bulbs, www.southernbulbs.com, 888-285-2486
Bulbs for the south, including: Species tulips, spider lilies, Spanish bluebells and others.

Touch of Nature, www.touchofnature.com, 770-237-0993
Bulbs for gardens and large projects. Selections: Alliums, anemones, chiondoxa, hyacinths, crocus, daffodils, tulips, etc. They offer Bushels of Bulbs for large plantings, fundraising and collections.

10 October 2012

Pinch It to Make It Perfect

Here's a 4.5 minute video from Greenhouse Growers on how to correctly pinch plants to make them full, grow correctly, well, make them perfect!

The video was put together, edited and produced by Floricast, Purdue University, Cornell University, Kansas State University and North Carolina State University.

Click and learn!



08 October 2012

Vermicompost making with red wriggler worms

I'll be cleaning out my worm bins soon. If you are in the Muskogee area and have some interest in  starting a worm compost bin, let me know and I'll give you some starter worms.

Here's my 2008 article about one of my compost worm projects.

Here's the Texas extension service info on compost worms

Here are some interesting sites about composting with red worms:

Red Worm Composting

Earth Worm Digest

Uncle Jim's Worm Farm

Urban Agriculture

Allied Waste Company has good basic how to info on their site and they aren't selling anything either. < ; - )

Here are their basic instructions on Start a Worm Bin
- Find or build a shallow container (about l6-l8 inches deep), wooden boxes, plastic storage containers work well. Drill drainage holes.
- Fill your worm bin with moist bedding - brown leaves, shredded paper or cardboard, straw or peat moss -work well. Add a handful of dirt.
- Add about one pound of-red wriggler composting worms (will consume about 1/2 pound of food a day)- check in friend's compost pile or call a worm supplier
- Rotate the burial location of food scraps throughout the bin.
- Every 3 to 6 months push the old bedding and decomposing scraps to one side of the bin, re-bed the empty side and start burying food waste in the fresh bedding
- After allowing the older scraps to finish for another month or so, remove the compost and add more fresh bedding

Another idea from my brother who has done this before, was to put 4-bales of straw in a square, put in the moistened bedding and previously rotted food scraps or composted manure. As the worms multiply they will move into the straw bales.

As the bales collapse, put two of them onto the garden and use the other two to start the next round.

By the way, compost worms cannot survive in the garden where earthworms thrive.

07 October 2012

Free Butterfly Guide App released 10-3-12

117 adult butterflies and caterpillars are illustrated and described on this brand new app for iphone, ipod touch, and ipads with IOS 5.0 or later.  The application " draws on three decades of data compiled by Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis."

Screenshot of Butterfly Guide app
"The app can be used to look up butterflies by common name, scientific name, family and color. The app also allows users to enter their own notes and photos and record sightings. Whitaker hopes that the app will ultimately be able to collect users' observations and photos into a publicly accessible "citizen science" database."

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation-sponsored Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship in Rapid Environmental Change, or REACH-IGERT, at UC Davis.

From Melissa Whitaker on iTunes, http://itunes.apple.com/,
 "The Butterfly Guide provides an interactive field guide to over 100 butterfly species in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento Valley & San Joaquin Delta. This app is meant for students, scientists, amateurs, educators, nature-lovers, and anyone who wants a tool for understanding and recording the entomological beauty of our region."

David Waetjen, a Web developer with the UC Davis Information Center for the Environment will work on the second phase of the app, in which users will be able to upload photos and notes to the public database.

Whitaker's site is

Pretty exciting, eh?

Best Methods for improving your soil

Fall and winter are an ideal time to shift our focus to improving the soil for next year's garden. You want to improve soil texture, friability, water retention, beneficial bacteria/insects and fertility.

Here are some possibilities -

Plant alfalfa seed now and dig in the plants early next spring. Or, purchase bales of alfalfa hay and mulch the garden 3-inches thick. Alfalfa meal and pellets are available from feed stores, too. For use in a non-manure farm setting  - https://www.mda.state.mn.us/en/protecting/sustainable/greenbook/~/media/Files/protecting/sustainable/greenbook2012/cropfernholtz.ashx

Blood meal from the slaughterhouse provides nitrogen. Alternatives for the squeamish include cottonseed meal and soybean meal from the feed stores. Bone meal is an old-fashioned slaughterhouse product that gets mixed reviews these days. Bone meal and blood meal are usually combined and added 2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden. See http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1191.html

Worm castings are harvested from our worm bins a few times a year. If you don't have worm bins, please consider adding one to your garden. We feed our red crawlers non-protein kitchen scraps, torn newspaper, shredded mail and water to get gallons of this black gold every year. Worm manure is sold as worm castings in stores. Learn how to vermicompost - http://www.umass.edu/umext/jgerber/wormpowerpaper.htm

Epsom salts are another old-fashioned bloom promoter that adds magnesium to the soil. Not everyone supports their value - http://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~Linda%20Chalker-Scott/Horticultural%20Myths_files/Myths/Epsom%20salts.pdf

Fish emulsion, fish meal, kelp and seaweed are often sold in combination. Fish byproducts provide 5% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus and 2% potassium. Most organic greenhouses use it as a foliar spray at half the recommended strength. Seaweed provides valuable micronutrients.

Green manure is a crop you plant in the fall and dig under in the spring. Most of the recommended ones pull nitrogen from the air over the winter and literally plant the nitrogen into your garden soil. It's amazing. Seeds include hairy vetch (I do not like hairy vetch!), crimson or white clover, cow peas, fava beans, winter rye (rye is allelopathic and retards seed germination), rape, oats, winter wheat, etc. Hemp, sorghum and rye can help prevent destructive nematodes -  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh037

Gypsum is an inexpensive calcium and sulphur source that is applied every 3 years. It may be unnecessary though - http://www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/Gypsum11.htm

Mycorrhizae are those beneficial fungi that everyone is talking about. They make your plants healthy. Buy them or make your own worm and leaf compost to get them free.

Rock powders - Ground phosphate rock, granite dust and greensand are considered organic necessities. Apply 8 pounds per 100 square feet every 5 years. The jury is still out on rock powders - http://www.pmac.net/rockdust.htm

Wood chips grow Basidiomycetes fungi that turn the wood into humus and most gardens benefit from more humus.  OK to apply yearly.

Wood ashes from wood burning fire places that are not chemically treated will create an alkaline soil loaded with calcium, potassium, phosphorous and magnesium. Avoid putting around holly, yew, azalea, potatoes, blueberries and other acid-loving plants. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/woodash.html

Compost piles provide an uncomplicated, free way to feed your soil. You can just pile up all your fall garden trimmings, grass clippings and leaves and cover them with a tarp anchored by rocks or cinder blocks. Or, you can build a structure of cinder blocks, cattle fencing, wood pallets (you see the broken ones with free signs on them everywhere!). Put the pile or structure under a tree or near a fence for shade and close to a water source in case it just sits there and you decide to water it to speed up the process.

06 October 2012

Sweet Alyssum is a mustard or Brassicaceae

Well, who knew? Or, remembered? Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is in the same plant family as the Brassicaceae that make it to our table at mealtime, including chard, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.

They are cold hardy in zone 9 and above which makes them an annual in most of the U.S. and indeed most of the Northern Hemisphere. Native to the Mediterranean, Turkey and Southern Europe, we usually plant seeds in pots in late early March to put out in April after last average frost.

Alyssum murale is Yellow Tuft, native to Canada and cold parts of the U.S.
Alyssum Carpet of Snow
Propagate by seed in the garden or indoors 4 to 6 weeks before last frost. Do not cover the seeds - they need light to germinate.
Germination temperature: 55 F to 75 F  Days to emerge: 14
The name Lobularia means "small pod" for the miniature fruits or seed pods.

Even more amusing is that Alyssum (190 species by the way) means "not madness" from when Alyssum was an herb taken to cure rabies. At one time is was called Madwort.

The maritima part of the Latin name means of the seaside. The sweetest of the common names is Carpet Flower.
Alyssum Easter Basket
Butterflies and syrphid flies love them; deer do not. 

Because I'm considering growing them as a groundcover for spring bulbs, I researched seed vendors

Alyssum or Lobularia maritima seed resources
Landreth - 1/4 pound $27.
Everwilde 1/4 pound $7.36 (Everwilde advertises on Amazon 1/4 lb for $8.83 - what?)
American Meadows 1/4 pound $7.95 (Seeds per lb 1,133,980 - exactly?)
Outside Pride 5,000 seeds $7.99
Wild Seed Farms1/4 pound $9.00 (Seeds Per Pound: 1,270,00)

Alyssum Easter Bonnet lavender
  Lots of vendors sell the seeds online at EBay and Amazon and the like, but I'm never sure about those supplies. Do you buy from online seed vendors? Are the seeds viable and reliable?

And, I bought one of those 1,000 wildflower seedpacks from an unknown online vendor and there were nowhere near a thousand seeds in that packet. Shipping price was not cheap.

There is a pdf from Harvard that contains much more Alyssum information if you enjoy digging deeper http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1628.pdf

From Cornell
Varieties come in different shades of purple and pink, varying heights and spreads, some with double flowers (on varieties that florists use) and some with larger flowers.
Alyssum Snow Princess
'Snowdrift': white flowers are larger than traditional alyssum. Grows from 3 to 6” tall. (note - all the photos of Snowdrift are from the UK) ‘Easter Bonnet’ Series: blooms earlier in the season and retains its mounded shape and attractive appearance longer into the growing season than traditional alyssum. White, purple and pink shades for flowers. ‘Basket’ Series: these plants spread quickly, and are grown especially for hanging baskets. Flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, yellow and peach. ‘Aphrodite’ Series: white, yellow, peach, purple and pink shades for flower colors. One of the few annual alyssum varieties with yellow blooms. ‘Wonderland’ Series: purple, white or pink flowers on compact (3 to 6” tall) plants. ‘Snow Crystals’: flowers are white and larger than traditional alyssum flowers. 'Rosie O’Day': early blooming, 4” tall plant with spread of nearly 1’. Rosy red flowers hold their color long into the growing season.
Alyssum Trailing Rosy Red
‘Trailing Rosy Red’: rosy pink flowers on long, trailing plants. Excellent for hanging baskets.

05 October 2012

Save Monarch Butterflies by planting milkweed in our gardens - USDA

Trapping Weevils and Saving Monarchs USDA

By Dennis O'Brien October 1, 2012

Ensuring the monarch butterfly's survival by saving its milkweed habitat could result from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) studies initially intended to improve detection of boll weevils with pheromone traps.

Charles Suh and his colleagues at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Areawide Pest Management Research Unit in College Station, Texas, have found a pheromone formula that is attractive to a major milkweed pest, the milkweed stem weevil.

The discovery stems from research originally designed to help improve pheromone lures used in Texas to monitor the boll weevil, a major pest of cotton. The lures haven't always been effective, so the researchers worked with the pheromone manufacturer to improve the pheromone lure used in the traps.

The researchers set up traps along roads in Texas to compare the standard and experimental lures for attracting boll weevils. They checked the traps once a week from mid-May to mid-June, replacing the lures every other week.

They soon found that the experimental lures were attracting a type of weevil distinctly different from boll weevils. The weevils were identified as milkweed stem weevils, Rhyssomatus lineaticollis. The researchers initially discounted the number of milkweed stem weevils found in the traps, but it soon became obvious that more milkweed stem weevils were being captured than boll weevils. Overall, four times more milkweed weevils were captured in traps with the experimental lures than with standard lures.

Monarch butterflies are often admired for their eye-catching wings and transcontinental migrations. Conservationists concerned about the potential loss of milkweed habitat have recommended planting milkweed in yards and gardens. Adult monarch butterflies feed on the nectar of various wild flowers when they migrate from the Midwestern United States to the mountains of central Mexico. But their larvae feed on milkweed, making the plant a necessity for the butterfly's lifecycle.

The discovery, reported in Southwestern Entomologist, could be used to develop a trap-based system for detecting milkweed weevil populations, monitoring their movements, and helping conserve rare types of milkweed.

Read more about this research in the October 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/oct12/weevils1012.htm

04 October 2012

Fall is for planting garlic 2012

Worldwide, 2.5 million acres of garlic are grown to meet the needs of our kitchens and natural health pharmacies. Most of that garlic is grown in Asia, specifically China. CA has the largest growing area in the U.S. It is one of the easiest fall-planted crops you can grow in a kitchen garden.

Garlic can be planted from the seeds of the flower but only under special conditions so most garlic growers just use cloves of garlic as seed. When you buy a head of garlic at the produce stand or farmer’s market, you break it apart into cloves before cooking with it. Each of those cloves has the potential to produce a head of garlic.

Garlic planted now will be harvested next June. You can tuck seed in any flower or vegetable bed or in a deep container where it will mature over the winter and next spring.

Sharon Owen at Moonshadow Herb Farm plants by the moon and will plant her garlic Oct 8. We usually plant ours between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Select seed from recommended garlic varieties to ensure the best crop next summer. Look for the flavor and amount of heat you prefer, of course. Some varieties have small or large heads; some are long keeping cultivars and others are best eaten fresh out of the garden.

For pickle making and roasted garlic we prefer large cloves. The small, flavorful, clove varieties are great to chop for pizza, tacos, salad dressings, stir-fry and soup.

Garlic seed = clove of garlic
  When you order garlic seed, you order not only by size and sharpness or mildness of flavor but also how long the harvested heads will keep.

The Rocambole garlics have the best flavor, according to the experts. Their names include: Carpathian, Killarney Red, Russian Red and Spanish Roja. They do not store well so they are grown for eating in the fall.

Purple Stripe and Glazed Purple Stripe Rocambole varieties store a little longer and have a more intense flavor. Those varieties include: Samarkand, Shatili, Shvelisi and Vekak.

Asian varieties such as Pyongyang and Asian Tempest also store well.

Artichoke garlics resemble what grocery stores call giant garlic, which is a leek or mild onion. Those include: Kettle River Giant, Lorz Italian and Tochliavri.

If you enjoy large clove garlic, try these varieties: Leningrad, Music, Romanian Red, Rosewood, Zemo, Bai Pi Suan, Bogatyr and Siberian.

Creole garlic stores well for many months and growers like the flavor. Varieties include: Burgundy, Creole Red, Manuel Benitee, Pescadero Red, Roja de Castro, and Ajo Roja.

Silverskin varieties store longest. They can be hot rather than complex in flavor, so they are recommended for sauté rather than fresh use. Some of the names include: Locati, Nootka Rose, Rose du Var, S & H Silver, Silver White and Wedam.

The early maturing varieties include the Turbans: Luster, Shandong and Uzbek

Garlic scapes June 2011
Sellers also refer to garlic as hardneck or softneck.  Hardnecks are more cold-hardy and best for northern gardeners. Softnecks grow well in mild climates such as ours, store longer, and braid more easily.

Plant the seeds in prepared soil, in a sunny location. Spacing is 6-8-inches apart, in 10-inch-wide rows. Plant cloves deep enough to cover with an inch of soil. Fertilize lightly with 10-10-10 or an organic equivalent, then water, and mulch. Keep the area completely weed-free and the soil moist to prevent shriveled heads. Fertilize again in the spring.

For more information: Online check out www.wegrowgarlic.com or the book, “The Complete Book of Garlic” by Ted Meredith, 2008, $40, Timber Press (timberpress.com) and $22 at Barnes & Noble (barnesandnoble.com).

We purchased garlic seed from Keene Organics (http://keeneorganics.com) in WI.  Their online catalog is informative and easy to use.