Straight Scoop: A Clean Driveway is a Joy Forever

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lynne Finch

Hardly has the last leaf tumbled from the trees when my husband starts waiting for the snows. That wouldn’t be surprising if he liked skiing or other snow sports. It wouldn’t be surprising either if he owned a winter resort, a plowing business or a tow truck. Or even a riding snowblower. What he does have is a long driveway, a lot of sidewalk and an obsession with keeping them immaculate. His only tools are a batch of shovels and some strange inner drive that makes him glow with pride when he finally leans on the handle to survey his cleared domain.

After a recent blizzard, as we both leaned on our shovels, he turned to me and said, “There’s nothing like a shoveled driveway.” He swung his arm to include all the snow-blown driveways along the street. “Notice how a snowblower leaves an untidy surface.” He gazed dreamily down the 100-foot drive leading to our garage, “But a shoveled driveway is neat and clean. Definitely a thing of beauty, wouldn’t you say?” I failed to appreciate the esthetics of shoveling. I was glad it was done–he was glad it was beautiful.

In all other respects he’s quite a normal fellow. He growls in the morning, fusses about taking out the garbage, and complains that there are never enough apple pies in the house. He refuses to wash the ceiling and does windows only under protest. It’s when Mother Nature plays the flip side of summer that he goes berserk. I began to suspect something when he gently caressed the handle of our first snow shovel and leered at its broad, steel-reinforced edge. From there his habit progressed to pushers, then on to chippers and brooms.

The path to our door was always immaculate. When we lived in apartments, he cleared whole parking lots, single-shoveled. Now he commands a motley collection of snow equipment that includes a hand-made wooden pusher, a grain scoop and a manure scraper. The steel-edged pusher that came with our old house scrapes a path as wide as the sidewalk. The grain scoop is lightweight and swoops easily through deep snow at amazing speeds down our 100-foot driveway and 130 feet of sidewalk.

My husband also is not one to let a puddle lie. He disperses them quickly with a broom; if one freezes he approaches it, ice chipper in hand, and smashes it to bits. He works carefully, never overexerting himself. Before shoveling he does warm-up exercises in the house. His shoveling form is flawless. A perfected swing and follow-through produce a smooth, steady rhythm of lift and toss. Knees bent to a precise angle relieve stress on his back. When he returns to the house, he is refreshed of body and spirit, glowing with accomplishment.

He is not one to wait out a storm before swinging into action. While other driveways may wait quietly beneath eight inches of fresh snow, ours may have already undergone two or even three strippings. Sometimes he even shovels in the dark of night, tossing snow that reflects the silvery moonlight. As the snowy walls grow taller, he treats them to occasional trimmings, much as a summer man shapes leafy hedges. But eventually they begin to shrink and the snow he so valiantly conquered sneaks into the ground or runs down the street. After all is said and shoveled, he’s a handy man to have around in the winter. He doesn’t need gas and never has been delayed at the repair shop.

Now if I could only convince him that a well-kept yard is a beautiful as a shoveled driveway, I’d have it made in the shade.

– Reprinted with permission. Copyright Lynne L. Finch.

 

 

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Aloe Vera: First Aid in your Kitchen

wikihow1-e1449629575242One of the easiest and most helpful houseplants to grow: aloe vera. It is also known as Barbados aloe because it is widely grown on that island, even thought it is believed to be native to the Mediterranean and South Africa. In warm climates, the plants grow outdoors and reach immense sizes.

The plant’s fleshy, somewhat spiny leaves contain rows of enlarged cells that are filled with a translucent yellow mucus. As early as the first century A.D., the Greek physician Dioscorides wrote of the benefit of using this substance as a healing herb for burns. The practice, which continues to this day, entails snapping off one of the spiky-looking leaves, slicing it down the middle with a fingernail, 7049539727_326b3dc25a_band spreading its gelatinous interior over the burned skin. [Personal story: I severely burned my lips last summer while using lip balm without SPF protection. Knowing of aloe’s properties, I used the gel on my lips. NEVER, EVER do that — it’s absolutely the worst tasting thing I’ve ever had the displeasure to encounter and it took forever to get it out of my tastebuds. I don’t even know if the healing properties worked because I was too busy trying to rid myself of the awful taste!]

This sculptural-looking, easily grown plant prefers full sun but also tolerates as much as a half day of shade. Since the plant is a succulent, designed to withstand dry conditions, watering should be on the spare side, particularly through the winter, and well-drained soil is essential. Small aloe plants are frequently available at garden shops as well as dime stores, florists, and some supermarkets.

The Learning Garden “Seed Tapes”

by OCMGA Master Gardeners Becky Hengel and Linda Adams

We started out by planning various beets and their companion vegetables and/or herbs. Another goal was to do successive plantings. Next, we made seed tapes from newspaper strips and alternately planted a lettuce/ radish and a type of beet, spacing the beets 6” apart, with some nasturtiums and marigolds for eye candy. The rationale was to pick the lettuce and let the beets get larger. The seed tapes were time consuming but easy to furrow a line and cover the tape. Overall, the seed tapes are not worth the trouble. The arugula got too big, some seeds fell off the tape and some did not germinate leaving gaps. The first beets were good but few. The corn lettuce was mild and interesting. The cylinder beets never got too big and the gourmet beets also were small or did not mature. What went wrong? As you remember the winter was brutally cold and long. Linda, not having lived in Wisconsin for 40 years decided that she would put something already growing immediately in the garden and as soon as possible. She planted four tiny marigolds and four small Brussel sprouts. They looked nice while nothing else was coming up, BUT took over and instead of going straight up, laid down and covered the second plantings. Ugh!! Well, it’s a learning garden. The cherry bell radishes were particularly good. We also had many friendly tomato plants emerge from previous years which also shaded the garden. So many plants, so little space; but it was fun!

Reprinted from the OCMGA member newsletter from the winter of 2014

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Color

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

Who says gardening has to wait until spring? By forcing bulbs you are convincing a 5af4ee4d3b54cd5096b5ab4cfa505ee1--indoor-flowering-plants-indoor-flowersspring bulb that it has slept through the winter months and are encouraging it to bloom early. It’s wonderful to have bright blooms and sweet scents during the grey and drab days of winter.

Forcing bulbs is not too difficult. It just takes time, patience, and a little advance planning. It may be a little late to start forcing some types of bulbs for this winter, but some bulbs are ready to go and need no advance planning! Here are some easy steps to getting your own beautiful indoor blooms.

Step #1 – Select Your Bulbs

Many bulbs require pre-chilling in order to grow indoors (35-40ºF is recommended – like in your refrigerator!). The catch here is that many ripening vegetables and fruits, especially apples, release ethylene gas, which can kill or damage the flowers, so if you store produce in your refrigerator, try a partially heated garage instead or use bulbs that do not require pre-chilling. Here are some suggestions for bulbs that work well for indoor forcing:

  • Amaryllis (requires no chilling)
  • Hyacinth (12-16 weeks of chilling)
  • Tulip and daffodil (12-16 weeks of chilling)
  • Crocus and grape hyacinth (12-14 weeks of chilling)
  • Paperwhite narcissus (Requires no chilling)
  • Autumn crocus or Colchicum autumnale (Requires no chilling)
  • Dutch Iris or Iris reticulata (Requires no chilling, but should be fed every 2 weeks)
  • Bluebells or Scilla (Requires no chilling)

Step #2 – Prepare Your Bulbs

There are several methods for growing bulbs indoors. Here are the most common:3d91d4169f8171f5f69d4648f30c4da9--amaryllis-bulbs-tulip-bulbs-in-a-vase

Pebbles & Water: Simply take a clear glass bowl, fill it with gravel or decorative stone. Firm the base of the pre-chilled bulbs into the pebbles until they stand firmly on their own. Next, fill water up to the base of the bulbs, but not high enough that it touches them (about 1/8 away). Keep it in a cool, dark location for a few weeks until they’re ready to bloom to help maintain strong stems and encourage root growth.

Water Forcing: There is an hourglass-shaped vase you can buy called a ‘Hyacinth Glass’. Simply fill the container with water, up to the tapered neck, set the pre-chilled bulb on the widened mouth of the container and it’s ready to grow. Again, do not let the bulb touch the water. Place bulbs in a dark, cool place for a few weeks before blooming.

Potting in Soil: Shallow pots are usually used for forcing, but you can use most anytp6kchcx1mts4wbeafa0 container, if it has holes for drainage. Fill the pot about 3/4 full with a peat based potting mix. Squeeze in as many bulbs as you can fit. You can use all one type or mix and match, but choose bulbs with a similar bloom time. Plant the bulbs flat side down and cover with potting mix. Leave the shoot tips poking out slightly above the soil line. Water until it comes out of the drainage holes. Next, chill the pot and all for the recommended time (above). You can do this by burying it in the ground outside, placing it in your garage, or in a refrigerator. When you bring the pot indoors, keep it in cooler temperatures for a few weeks until it’s ready to bloom.

Step #3 – After the Bloom

Unfortunately, forcing takes a lot out of a bulb so it may not bloom again for many seasons. Still, bulbs can be planted outside when the weather permits just as with any perennial. Do not remove the foliage until it has turned yellow. The bulbs should never be forced a second time, always start with new bulbs.

Have some fun this winter and give forcing a try!

You might also enjoy our previous blog posts on Forcing Amaryllis and Forcing Hyacinth

 

Natural Fabric Dye

Do you sometimes lament the lost “arts” – those talents from bygone days mastered by our ancestors before modernity made things easy? I’m reading a book called Corsets and Codpieces: A History of Outrageous Fashion, from Roman Times to the Modern Era, and it contains information about the use of plants to dye fabrics. For those of you who might want to resuscitate this lost art, I offer the following:

Wool_skein_coloured_with_natural_dyes_indigo,_lac,_madder_and_tesu_by_Himalayan_Weavers_in_Mussoorie“A mastery over the art of dying meant that up until and beyond the High Middle Ages English men and women were clothed in colours of almost every hue… One ancient work for dyestuffs is ‘ruaman’; the word ‘ruam’ meaning red, a colour obtained from the madder plant, indicating that most dyes were sourced from plants, roots and vegetables. Yet no fibres, thread or fabric would keep its depth of colour if not ‘fixed’. This was done with a ‘mordant’, a French word meaning ‘to bite’, which helped the dyes penetrate the fibres instead of simply lying on the top and being easily washed off. In order to fix and ‘brighten’ colours the favourites were burnt seaweed or kelp and lastly urine, which was readily available and collected by women in the mornings and left to grow stale to increase its strength and potency.

Natural_dyes_(2636803607)Colours themselves were taken from the roots, leaves, flowers or bark of plants with different parts of the same plant often yielding different hues… Yellow, with a mordant of alum, could be obtained from the barks of birch, ash and crab-apple trees. Wood and leaves of the poplar, the young roots of bracken, bramble and broom, onion skins, nettles, moss and marigold were just as effective in creating yellow, as were heather, dogwood and common dock leaves… A plant called weld yielded a light, clear yellow, as did meadowsweet sorrel, gorse blossoms and mare’s tail.

blue was commonly produced by fermenting woad leaves. Blackthorn, privet and elderberries could also be used, while bilberries and the roots of the yellow iris if fixed with iron also produced blue. Mud boiled in an iron pot would produce a very colourfast dull, black dye, the mixture able to produce a glossy black if oak chips or twigs were added. Brown could be obtained by using birch, bog-bean, briar and bramble roots. Dulse, otherwise known as seaweed, also produced various shades of brown, as did hops, larch needles, speedwell and lichens mixed with iron in a dye-pot. If green was required then foxgloves, flowering rush, the crumpled buds and leaf fronds of bracken, horsetail, nettles and privet berries would work. If a really dark green was desired then mixing weld with sheep dung gave a good depth of colour not to mention smell. Pinks and reds were derived from madder roots and a dyer could produce a whole spectrum of shades from coral to rust by skillfully raising the temperature of the dye vat by a few degrees. Blackthorn in a mordant of alum produced orange. Lady’s bedstraw and cudbear lichen mixed with ammonia [from properly aged urine] was the means of getting crimson.

And so it goes on to describe getting the royal shade of purple from whelk mucus, honey, salt and water. All things being equal, I think that some of the “old arts” might be better left lost to history!

 

The Learning Garden “Asian Garden” and “Herb Garden”

Asian Garden by OCMGA Master Gardeners Anne Anderson and Tom Wentzel

Tom and I did the square garden with Asian veggies. What I learn from the square garden is how much you can plant in one square. It’s amazing if one is limited on space how square gardening would be beneficial. The only problem was after the garden started to grow I was not sure what were weeds or the growing vegetable. Asian vegetables to me, looked like weeds or maybe they were! LOL!!! What I would do different is if there is more than one square with the same veggie, I would not have put them next to each other. Lastly, I should have brought my cats to clean up since watching them chase the mice would have been so entertaining!

Herb Garden by OCMGA Master Gardeners Mary Learman, Sue Mings, and Maureen Flanagan-Johnson

We continued the original theme by planting the more common herbs used in Greece, France, Italy and England. Since most herbs do not like wet feet, it took a little while before we saw any real growth. Then they did not stop. We framed each of the four plots with marigolds and made a Marigold Henge in the center. A couple of notes for next year will be to not to over-plant, plus to harvest more often. It actually needed little upkeep apart from the occasional pruning. But with schedules and the vagaries of the weather, they were not harvested often enough. One unexpected problem turned out to be that the voles had built a metropolis under the herb garden and it collapsed in several places. They also ate some of the roots. Ninja tactics will be employed next year.

Reprinted from the OCMGA member newsletter from the winter of 2014

My Small Corner of the World – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

It was a perfect fall day in mid-November with a sunny sky and unusually high temperatures approaching 60 degrees. I walked along a road with majestic oaks bordering one side and a glassy lake on the other. It felt like I had the serene world to myself with only an occasional car passing by. As I continued on I came upon an older gentleman with pitch fork in hand standing near a pile of leaves that stretched to the edge of the woods. As I approached more closely I saw smoke rising from the dry leaves. He had set them on fire.

downloadSomewhat concerned, I stopped and exchanged pleasantries, then casually asked, “How will you keep it from spreading into the woods?” “I want it to go into the woods,” he said. Surprised, I asked why. His response: “Buckthorn. ” I had noticed the abundance of this invasive non-native plant and how it covered the entire forest understory. I had walked several miles on the trails of this particular property and it had clearly taken over. It was everywhere.

The gentleman began explaining how he had begun burning the forest edges and portions within the woods last year and had seen a marked improvement already. “It kills the young saplings and destroys some of the seeds and fruit,” he said. “Each year we’ll do a little more and hopefully one day we’ll get it under control. I suppose we’ll never get rid of it all, but that won’t stop me from trying. ” It seemed pretty overwhelming to me. The day I was there it looked like he had only burned a little less than an acre, and it bordered more than 500 acres beyond that.

It didn’t stop there; I had noticed on my drive to this little retreat that the unwanted undergrowth lined the forest edges for miles around. Appearing to be in his late 50’s, I imagined the day of no more buckthorn might not even happen in his lifetime at the rate he was going. Even if he could one day get a handle on his little corner of the world, the bordering landscape would continually press in and encroach on this beautiful place. Yet, as he plaintively leaned against his pitch fork watching the smoldering flames like a mesmerizing campfire, he spoke with a sense of hope and ambition. I admired him. He faced an impossible mission, yet he wasn’t discouraged or defeated. He wasn’t going to give up. He was determined to do what he could to impact his little part of the world.

I think of the times when I’ve faced what seemed like an impossibility in my own life and have been tempted to give up. Sometimes, without invitation, the outside world invades mine and I feel overwhelmed to do anything about it. There have been seasons when I’ve let things get too far out of control to the point of choking out all that’s good. And at other times when I’m faced with the needs and injustice in the world, I feel too insignificant to make an impact. This man’s determination reminded me that no matter how overwhelming a circumstance may seem, there’s always hope. I suppose I’ll never get rid of all the injustice in the world, but that won’t stop me from trying. I may not be able to change the whole world, but I can change the small part I call home. And maybe, just maybe … someone may stroll along someday and see me fanning the flames, only to realize they can change theirs too.