31 August 2014

Bean picking and canning

Each year we do less and less canning but some things are a must for our pantry to keep the flavors of summer on our table.

In the past our friends Jan and Richard gave us quarts of canned field peas but not last year. So, what's a gardener to do but grow their own?

What we learned this year is when to harvest them. Only the beige colored ones are easy to pull out of their bean shells. Anything greener is way too much work. Live and learn.

Another lesson? They are about the easiest crop to grow - no bugs bother them, no diseases attack them AND they add nitrogen to the soil just by being there. Win Win Win

Here are those peas in their jars already making my mouth water for the taste of them this winter. There are still enough on the prolific, healthy vines out there for us to eat a bunch this fall.

This ends the tomato canning for this year, also. 
These dozen quarts of tomatoes contain six heads of our garlic, herbs from the garden, peppers and tomatoes from the Farmer's Market.

We learned from Richard and Jan to can outside in an adapted turkey fryer to keep the heat out of the house. We also sterilize the jars out there for the same reason. 

I'd show you a photo of the green beans we grew but we just ate them all as they became available.

posted from Bloggeroid

30 August 2014

Plant Database Online from USDA

Here's the link to the USDA Plant Database http://plants.usda.gov/java/ - where you can find information about plants, mosses, etc. that from all over the US and its territories.

The plant names include distribution, species information, characteristics, images, links to more information and references.

The site is focused on land conservation and provides information intended to provide an information exchange throughout the world.

The PLANTS site is a collaboration between USDA NRCS National Plant Data Team (NPDT), the USDA NRCS Information Technology Center (ITC), The USDA National Information Technology Center (NITC), and many other partners. 

Pollinator conservation has its own link full of references to other resources. 

Also, click over to the Fact Sheets & Plant Guide at http://plants.usda.gov/java/factSheet

There is a lot to explore and discover!

27 August 2014

Master Gardener Classes - Muskogee County

Master Gardener Certification Classes Cost $100
Start Sept 25 at 1, Muskogee County Extension Office, Muskogee Fairgrounds
Information: Mandy Blocker, Extension Educator ag/4-H, 918-686-7200, mandy.blocker@okstate.edu
Facebook: Muskogee County Master Gardeners

If you like to work with garden plants and help people, becoming a master gardener might be just
the thing for you. Master gardeners are trained volunteers who help the public with their gardening
questions, work on community gardening projects, assist with hosting public classes and volunteer in
the Muskogee County Extension Office.

From the first class in September to the last class in December, participants receive in-depth training
in gardening from Oklahoma State University Extension specialists.

All classes will meet from 1 to 5 on Thursdays. The schedule of classes includes
September - 25 Basic Botany taught by Mandy Blocker
October 2 – Woody Ornamentals taught by Dr. Mike Schnelle
October 9 – Plant Diseases taught by Jen Olson
October 16 – Soil Fertility taught by Regents Professor Dr. Hailin Zhang
October 23 – Pesticide Safety taught by Charles Luper
October 30 – Herbaceous Ornamental Plants taught by David Hillock
November 13 – Vegetable Gardening taught by Ray Ridlen
November 20 – Fruit and Nut Production taught by Becky Carroll
December 4 – Entomology (Insects) taught by Dr. Eric Rebek
December 11 – Turfgrass – lawns, meadows and fields

So far, Mandy Blocker has facilitated two master gardener series in Muskogee with 19
graduates out of 33 participants. The upcoming series could add another 25 to the collective
wisdom available to serve as a resource for beautifying our community and teaching citizens to
grow their own food while getting valuable family time.

Participants learn the basics: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, perennial and annual flowers, trees and
shrubs. In addition they learn which are the good bugs and which are the bad bugs, how to
control plant diseases with minimal chemicals, building soil and efficient irrigation methods.

When the training classes end, the fun begins for graduates. The volunteer hours you put in
after course completion are required to earn the title of master gardener. The hours can be
anything from sitting at the master gardener table at the Farmer’s Market, to maintaining beds
at Honor Heights Park, helping at the Extension Office, volunteering at one of the community
Mandy Blocker
gardens, attending continuing education classes and helping at workshops.

The first year required volunteer workload is 50 hours. In subsequent years, in order to keep
the certificate up to date, master gardeners put in 20 hours of volunteer work and participate
in 20-hours of continuing education through meetings and conferences.

Mandy Blocker said, “We have almost 30-recent and experienced master gardeners in
Muskogee now who contribute to a wide variety of projects around town.”

One of the many benefits of becoming a certified master gardener is being able to participate
in master gardener conferences in OK and other states. For example, the TX master gardener
conference requires a copy of your certificate for registration.

One of the proposed upcoming projects for master gardeners is introducing children to gardening
through extension, school, and Parks Department Programs.

“I am excited for the expansion into our school system of a fun, multiple-intelligence (http://hort.li/
1wpC ) activity that can be blended with physical exercise, science, math and other topics,” said

Upcoming events for master gardeners include continuing to maintain the flower beds at Papilion at
Honor Heights Park, community gardens, Muskogee Farmer’s Market, and monthly meetings and seed-
plant swaps with other master gardeners.

Next year on March 28 during Daffodil Day at the Thomas Foreman Home the master gardeners are
selling the plants they grew over the winter in order to raise money for a bus tour to a local garden
such as the Tulsa Garden Center.

Blocker said that she is ready to talk to anyone who thinks they might be interested in taking the classes that begin in Sept. Please call Blocker at 918-686-7200 or send an email to mandy.blocker@okstate.edu.

24 August 2014

Our Garden in Late August - Zone 7

Swallowtail nectaring on Phlox Victoria
The end of summer is coming whether or not we are ready for the tasks ahead. You know, the pruning, digging and dividing. Then there's the transplanting this year's plants to their better, new, location because trees grew and now it's too shady where they were or it's too dry where they are .....

Fewer flowers are blooming by late August but there are enough to keep the butterflies and skippers happy. The upside is that weeding takes less and less time as fall approaches.

Swallowtail caterpillar on parsley
This year we've had more dragonflies than ever, probably because there was some rain this summer unlike previous years.

Lots of projects present themselves at this time of year and although we spend 5 hours a day out there, we can't seem to get it all done.

The parsley did better this year than usual and since we plant it for the Swallowtail butterflies to raise their babies on, whenever there is one it's cause for celebration.

Pumpkins suffer in 100F temps
The pumpkins and squash seem shocked by the heat this week. We've harvested and eaten several zucchini. The dozen or so acorn squash we harvested we shared with friends and also baked a few.

I love to have baked and pureed winter squash in the freezer all winter. It becomes soup, cookies, tea cake and a thickener for casseroles. What I do not enjoy about growing squash is squash bugs.

Field peas

Many of my gardening experiments fail and we have nothing to show for the pack of seeds, carefully grown seedlings, water and fertilizer. However, the field peas are doing quite well for us. When to harvest them? I'm not sure and informational websites vary in their opinions - light green to grey/brown is the best I can surmise.

Squash vine borer 
Hope your garden is making  you happy!

21 August 2014

Two New Must-Have Books

Two new books, “Native Plants of the Southeast” and “The Living Landscape” written by garden writers from the east coast of the US focus on their part of the world but definitely pertain to zone 7 northeast Oklahoma in the Ozark Plateau.

Book authors and publishers always forget about us because they still think of OK as being the landscape they saw in dust bowl movies even though only the OK panhandle was in the central part of that tragedy.

With our normal rainfall at 44-inches annually, and our lowest temperature recorded at zero, the climate zone is the same as many eastern states covered by these two beautiful books.

“Native Plants of the Southeast: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 460 Species for the Garden” by Larry Mellichamp was published by Timber Press this year. It is a 384-page, 8 by 10-inch hardback with 542-color photos. The list price is $40 (www.timberpress.com) and $25 at online retailers.

The author, Larry Mellichamp is a botany professor at the University of NC at Charlotte and director of the University’s botanical gardens. His 2010 book, written with Paula Gross, was “Bizarre Botanicals: How to Grow String-of-Hearts, Jack in the Pulpit, Panda Ginger and Other Weird and Wonderful Plants”.

The photographer for the book was Will Stuart whose photography will make gardeners crave all 460-native plants described by Mellichamp.

In the 30-page introduction, readers will be reminded of why we love native plants so much: They are well-adapted so less fussy, rarely escape and become invasive in nearby fields, plus provide food for birds and insects while imported plants do not.

Each plant described and illustrated is rated by a star system. MO wildflowers Nursery (www.mowildflowers.net) rates their seeds and plants using a similar system. One star means the plant is useful but not particularly ornamental. Two stars means good plant with at least one great feature, but it may be difficult to find or grow.

The best selections are rated 3 or 4 stars. These are valued for their garden appeal and have no negative traits. The four-star ones are must-have plants that are easy to grow, attractive enough for flower gardens and worth the trouble it is to find.

Doug Tallamy’s latest book, “The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden” is also a 2014 Timber Press publication. It is a 352-page, 8 by 10-inch hardback with 500-color photos of flora and fauna. The list price is $40 and it is $25 online.

Tallamy’s award winning “Bringing Nature Home” put his writings on the nature map around the world and this will enhance that reputation.

Photographer Rick Darke is a landscape designer from PA who worked at Longwood gardens for 20-years. Both of these avid gardeners are committed to helping us create life-filled landscapes with beautiful plants, habitats for birds, caterpillars, and both food and cover for wildlife.

The first chapter describes the layers of a landscape from canopy and understory through wet edges and ground layer. Then, the photos are interspersed with an explanation of the importance of growing communities rather than plants.

Several plants are listed as including bird food for wintering birds, spring migrant birds, and breeding birds. Other distinctions are plants for screening, groundcover, cooling shade, human edible food, fragrant plants, seasonal flowers, evergreens, etc.

The photos include plants, birds, insects, landscapes, hardscape ideas, winter scenes, design, water features, There is a 75-page plant guide with Latin and common names, ecological function and landscape use.

Both of these books make important contributions to understanding how critical it is for gardeners to think in terms of supporting nature in all seasons as they add to their landscapes.

14 August 2014

Horseradish is Armoracia rusticana

Growing horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, is a timehonored tradition for vegetable and medicinal gardeners. Native to southeast Europe, the Egyptians were known to use it in their cooking as early as 1500 B.C. In Europe it was used medicinally as a rub for sore joints as well as being rubbed on foreheads as a headache and sinus-pain treatment.

During the Renaissance, horseradish root became a staple of German diets as a meat relish, spreading from there to Scandinavia and Britain where it was eaten with beef and oysters.

In the North American colonies it was called a radish. Perennial horseradish plants were grown as a useful root vegetable that was stored in the root cellar with the roots of parsley, parsnips, turnip, carrots, beets and skirret which is another perennial root crop.

The strong flavor of horseradish is due to the same oil found in all the other mustards and brassicas. In 1700, one American author wrote about preparing shaved horseradish root, mixed with sugar and vinegar to use as a sauce served with meat.

Elixir of horseradish, or horseradish mixed with vinegar, was marketed in the 1870s as a diuretic, tonic, and stimulant. It was also used to treat intestinal worms, used in plasters to treat sciatica and gout, and taken to treat scurvy and malaria.

Scientists have found that the health claims have some merit since the chemicals in horseradish kill a wide range of bacteria, including the ones that cause dental plaque.

In St. Louis during the mid-1800s horseradish became a cash crop grown in the Mississippi River bottomland where the soil was rich in potash. Today more than half the commercially available horseradish is grown in the St. Louis and Chicago areas.

Horseradish roots are planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. The plants are hardy at least in zones 5 to 9 and are grown as an annual plant in hotter areas.

Viable root crowns are 6 to 8 inch cuttings about the thickness of a pencil.  Plant the roots in a sunny spot where it can live for decades. Dig a hole dug deep enough to allow the root to stand up. Hold the root in place while you back fill the hole until everything but the crown is buried.

Deep soil that drains well is best for growing root crops. Top dress the planting area with compost every year; fertilizer is not necessary.

The roots can be harvested after the first year. When the roots are dug in the spring or fall, the largest root is peeled and grated for kitchen use and the smaller ones are returned to the garden, making a perennial crop.

Horseradish can spread aggressively after several years but it can be controlled by growing it in large containers.

Another plant with similar flavor and use is Wasabi, Wasabia japonica, which is Japanese horseradish. It also is known for growing along the side of streams and rivers. In Japanese cooking it is grated and used within 4-hours of cutting to ensure its best flavor.

To make prepared horseradish, grate a cup of the root and add one-half cup vinegar and one-fourth teaspoon of salt. Refrigerate until used.  Creamy herbed horseradish dressing for seafood or meat is made by combining 2-tablespoons of the prepared horseradish, one-half cup crème fraiche, one-third cup chopped fresh herbs, salt and pepper.

To make crème fraiche combine one-cup whipping cream and 2-tablespoons buttermilk. Let it stand covered for 8 to 24 hours until thickened and then refrigerate until needed.

Freshly prepared horseradish has a different flavor than commercial products.

There is more information available at the Horseradish Information Center (http://horseradish.org), Tom Clothier (http://tomclothier.hort.net/page22.html) and the New York Times (http://tinyurl.com/o4sr3g4).

11 August 2014

On the back fence - habitat plants

All along the north part of our 2.5 acre fence, we have planted habitat for turtles, pollinators, birds and whomever else wants to seek shelter from the summer heat. There are vines for butterfly caterpillars to munch, small and large flowers to provide pollen for daytime and nighttime eaters (moths, skippers, butterflies, bees, wasps, etc.) The native peach trees drop fruit for fruit seeking butterflies and the peaches are munched by small mammals. Here are a few snaps from the north fence.

07 August 2014

Gardening Myths - your money and time

Every year more garden articles, blogs and books are written filling our heads and bookshelves with new discoveries, methods and ideas. As it turns out, just as in any field, some of it is junk, a lot of it is myths that have been repeated for generations and the much of the rest incorrect information distributed by well-meaning but inexperienced writers.

Some gardeners believe that all bugs are bad despite books and programs describing the important and positive impact of earthworms, lady bugs, damsel bugs, beetles, green lacewings, assassin bugs, praying mantids, minute pirate bugs, spiders, hover or syrphid flies, predatory stink bugs, and big-eyed bugs. Yet, bug poisons continue to be applied with abandon in the form of sprays, granules and dusts.

Another myth, the results of which can be observed in every neighborhood, public garden and planting strip, is that applying mulch around the trunks of trees is beneficial. In fact, mulch applied any closer than 6 to 8 inches around any woody plant is likely to lead to its demise as insects and rodents make their nests next to the woody stem and chew on it all winter long.

Purchased microbes improve soil. Soil is alive and every gram of soil, about the weight of a paperclip, contains from one-hundred-thousand to one-million living microbes essential to the health of the plants in that soil. The relationship between the microbes and the plants is ongoing and ever-changing. Microbes around plants in the bean and pea family are different from those around zinnias or tomatoes. With rare exception gardeners do not have to purchase and add microbes to make their soil healthier.

On a similar topic, making and pouring compost tea onto the ground or spraying it onto plants will do little to change the conditions the well-meaning gardener is trying to improve. In order for compost tea to have a desired effect, the nutrients in any particular compost would have to be scientifically analyzed for its components and then be matched up with the condition being treated. http://hort.li/1thD

Reputable magazines and books recommend adding significant amounts of phosphate to the planting hole when putting in roses despite the fact that science disagrees. If the garden soil was tested and shown to be short of phosphate, a recommended amount will be in the report and it will likely be much less dumping than a cup-full. In addition, rose roots establish relationships with beneficial microbes in order to have self-protection against plant diseases and to get nutrients from the surrounding soil. The artificial condition created by unnecessary phosphate makes artificial soil that threatens the health of the roses. http://hort.li/1thC

The application of layers of cardboard and newsprint to suppress weeds for new planting areas is the best method. Well, yes and no. Thick layers of newsprint and cardboard can also harbor insects if the ground is not worked as the paper deteriorates. Paper can also become a barrier to rainfall if it are ignored and allowed to dry out and remain dry. http://hort.li/1thB

Cornmeal and cornmeal gluten have long been touted as everything from fertilizer to weed killer to microbial food and fungicide. Cornmeal simply does not contain helpful organisms of any kind. Microbes can grow on it but healthy soil does not benefit from cornmeal being dug in, sprayed on in tea-form or circled around tree roots. http://hort.li/1thA

The garden practices that seem to work best include: Apply compost to garden beds. Add an inch or two of hardwood mulch to perennial beds.  Pick off damaging insects, encourage a wide variety of good insects by planting a diverse garden, provide water sources for beneficial birds and bugs, and rotate garden crops to improve the soil.

04 August 2014

Anise Agastache is Agastache foeniculum and Anise Hyssop or Blue Giant Hyssop

This beautiful native plant, Agastache foeniculum is often grown as an edible though originally we bought the seeds so pollinators would have more to eat in our garden and mosey over to the fruit and vegetables.
Agastache foeniculum flowering
This one is hardy in zones 4 to 9 and can grow to 4 feet tall. Ours are in part shade so they max out at about 3 feet tall. Covered with bumble bees, this wonderfully scented member of the mint family is a delight to brush by and weed around as it release its yummy licorice scent into the air.

Plant the seeds outside in the ground or in flats this fall and they will reward you for years to come as they self-seed a little every year but never so much that you regret planting them.

Plants for a Future describes its edible qualities "Leaves and flowers - raw or cooked. They are used as a flavouring in raw or cooked dishes. Excellent raw, they have a sweet aniseed flavour and are one of our favourite flavourings in salads. They make a delicious addition to the salad bowl and can also be used to flavour cooked foods, especially acid fruits.The only drawback to the leaves is that they tend to have a drying effect in the mouth and so cannot be eaten in quantity A pleasant tasting tea is made from the leaves."

01 August 2014

Pollinators love Joe Pye Weed - plant seeds this fall

Joe Pye Weed with Monarch butterfly
Joe Pye Weed is an all American native plant that is loved by every pollinator that visits our garden. The plants are rarely sold commercially but it is well worth purchasing and starting seeds if you like to watch butterflies, skippers and bees.

The post I wrote about it last year is here.

It's best to start seeds in the fall and there are a few Eupatorium varieties to choose from. Here's a bit more about that from a 2009 blog entry when I planted these original plants from seed that are still providing nectar today.

Anyone who wants what is called a butterfly garden should have some Joe Pye but it is a weed, er um wildflower, in enough places that gardeners shun it. Also, it's big, tall and a bit coarse compared to lilies and roses.