Archive | October 2017

Pruning Isn’t Always Pretty – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

When my husband and I bought our first home, it needed some attention in the landscaping department. Among the items that needed particular help was an old grape vine that grew behind the garage. Needless to say, it had been neglected by the previous owners and was terribly overgrown. Next to the garage was a tall pine tree and the vine had actually began climbing the tree and had grown to the very top, nearly 50 feet in the air. From the earth below you could see one or two clusters of grapes way up in the tip of the tree. For all appearances, the vine looked really healthy and lush and it obviously was very vigorous. But for all practical purposes, it was useless. It wasn’t fulfilling the purpose for which it was created: to produce fruit.

Each of us has a purpose, but like that grapevine, sometimes our lives become too far reaching. We spread ourselves too thin, filling our schedules with more than we can handle, reaching for heights in a career that may very well take us to the top, but leave us unfulfilled. Or maybe we look impressive from a distance, but when someone gets close, they struggle to find the fruit and purpose. Maybe it’s time for some pruning.

Pruning isn’t always pretty, and it’s not pretty in our lives either. Have you ever seen a freshly pruned grape vine? It’s bare and exposed, with only a few stems left to hold on. But it’s the only way you’ll get a full harvest of fruit. Pruning is a very painstaking and traumatic experience, requiring the removal of most of the growth and just leaving the best canes to focus their energy on fruit production. Bottom line: without proper pruning, you won’t get much fruit.

If we want to produce fruit in our lives, to truly have a life of purpose, of meaning beyond ourselves, beyond the outward appearance that may look good from a distance, we may need to be willing to allow things to get ugly too; to have those unnecessary things in our lives that we cling to be stripped away and be exposed for who we truly are underneath. We may need to cut away the branches so that the vine of our lives can spend its energy doing what it was created to do… to produce fruit and have a life of purpose and meaning. Often we think of the big things that need to be pruned… Maybe a violent temper, addictions, or overt stuff like stealing or cheating on your spouse. Yes, those things should be pruned away. But those are just behaviors, the symptoms of deeper underlying issues. To experience real life change, it requires deeper pruning of the stem of those problems. Maybe it’s a heart of resentment or pride, unforgiveness or a victim mentality. It could be any host of issues, but there’s only one solution to them all. Pruning.

Pruning is painful. It hurts. It exposes. It can shock us. But when things are cut away, take heart, because there’s still a foundation that’s deeply grounded that can carry us through and be the source of new life. I struggled with hatred and resentment for past offenses in my own life, and it left me reaching for more and more, yet feeling more and more empty and unfulfilled. I tried pruning away the dead wood and unproductive showy growth on my own, but always fell short. I couldn’t remove the hatred on my own. I couldn’t forgive on my own. I needed the help of others and a power greater than mine to do it with me. And I wish I could say that pruning is a one-time deal. But it’s not. With each season, it seems like something new crops up and needs attention once again.

But when we produce fruit for a purpose greater than our own, a life that impacts others and isn’t just in it to impress others with a showy display, we find that the pain of pruning… it’s worth it after all.

 

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Mushrooms: Grow your own?

a04ae0d805d61dfc083f01cf06ba6aca--science-puns-food-humorMushrooms have no chlorophyll and do not use sunlight or the process of photosynthesis to make their own food. Most of these fleshy, spore-bearing fungi are saprophytes, which means they derive their food from dead or decaying matter, but some are parasites, which feed on living hosts.

Mushrooms appear outdoors naturally from spring to late autumn, but because some of the wild ones are highly poisonous, it is essential to learn from an expert before attempting to harvest them.

Fortunately, there are a few cultivated types, such as shiitake, that do not pose the danger of wild ones and that can be started indoors from kits sold in catalogs, at garden centers, and over the Internet.

059-cartoon-mushroom-jokeCommercial button mushrooms require complete darkness, but most of the gourmet mushrooms grown indoors need some indirect light, says Paul Stamets, author of Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. Regarding how much light is enough, Mr. Stamets says, “If there’s sufficient light to read the instructions on a mushroom kit, there’s enough light to grow them.”

474a524eae6c55c22fc9dbea5198a69eThe growing medium of choice is wood or straw, which must be kept evenly moist. Air temperatures typically range between 50º and 80ºF. With a bit of luck, mushrooms from kits will appear in about two weeks.

Watching the process can be a lot of fun, and most kits will yield a small crop, but growing your own is not a way to save money on mushrooms. If you plan to eat them often, you’ll still be buying most of your supply.

Make Your Own Gin

Tired of the same old fruits and vegetables? Looking for a new challenge? Maybe you could try making your own gin. The plant you need is the common juniper, Juniperus communis. Although the drink is a Dutch invention — the word ‘gin’ is a corruption of the Dutch name for juniper — the British embraced it with great enthusiasm in the eighteenth century and turned it into a major business.

Juniperus_communis_conesAlthough common juniper is a single species, this shrubby evergreen varies widely in its growing patterns, from a ground cover to a tree that tops 36 feet. The growing needs of the cultivars are equally various, but almost all of them are tough customers that will adapt to a wide range of soils and climate zones.

Various parts of the pungently aromatic plants have long been used medicinally and are mentioned in countless legends, primarily as aids for warding off evil spirits. But it is the plant’s berries that provide an essential ingredient in gin (as well as providing flavoring for marinades and sauces).

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Juniper with both ripe and unripe berries

Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, so you must have both if you want berries. The 1/4-inch fruit take two years to ripen, turning from green to bluish purple. Both the immature and mature berries may appear on the plant simultaneously, so take care when you gather your harvest.

Junipers grow easily as long as the soil they are in is well drained. While at their best in dry, sunny spots, they will tolerate light shade. Nobody’s perfect, though, and junipers are favorite prey for a number of pests and diseases. Before you buy one that catches your fancy, ask the nursery about its ability to fight off these afflictions.

Harvesting juniper berries: Juniper berries should be harvested when they have ripened to a handsome, dark purple-blue. Ripe and unripe berries may be on the plant at the same time, but harvest only the ripe ones. Before you add the berries to your soups or stews, air-dry them until they shrivel and turn black.

Voles

by Vijai Pandian, UW-Extension

The meadow vole can nest in a variety of habitats.

vole JCFreezing nights and shortening daylight in the fall tranquilizes the landscape — not counting the insatiable meadow vole that remains active throughout the year. The vole, also called a meadow mouse, is a ground dwelling rodent with a chunky grayish brown appearance, tiny ears and short tail.

Commencing in late fall and continuing through winter into early spring, voles cause a variety of damage to landscapes. Runways and seemingly endless tunnels in lawns, shaved tree bark and roots, and the mysterious disappearance of flowering bulbs and tubers in spring are classic blueprints of vole damage. Under snow cover, voles can venture safely to any part of the landscape, and quite often homeowners do not notice the damage until the spring melt.

Vole DamageMowing and cleaning up the yard can limit destruction and being vigilant and taking proactive steps in the fall is the key to controlling voles.

Ponds, stream banks, orchards, old fields, fence rows, pastures, hay fields, grassy weeds and ground covers are ideal habitats for voles. Backyard logs, undisturbed compost piles, tall ornamental grasses, bushy evergreen shrubs and debris in the urban landscape can also provide a nesting place for voles.

Trapping or any other control strategies when the snow is on the ground has proven ineffective. Here are a series of tips for managing this pest.

The landscape should be scouted in fall for voles. Sightings of fresh grass clippings, tunnels, droppings around large grasses, nests, and chewed fruits are telltale signs of their abundance in the landscape.

Trees and Shrubs

by Sharon Morrisey, horticulture agent in Milwaukee County

Tu-BShevat-tree-planting-by-Canopy-Photos-jpgFall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Warm soil encourages root growth and the cool air reduces the demand for water. It is said that the planting is the most important 10 minutes of a tree’s life. Years of scientific study have produced improved techniques, so follow these instructions closely.

  1. Find the root flare first. It’s that place at the base of the trunk where it widens before going into the soil.
  2. Remove soil from the top of the root ball, if necessary, until the flare can be seen.
  3. Measure the depth of the root ball after finding the flare.
  4. Dig the hole no deeper than this, trying not to disturb the dirt at the bottom, so the tree will not settle later and become too deep. Make the hole two to four times wider than the ball and gently sloping.
  5. Cut off the container, if there is one. Cut away the wire basket if it’s a balled-and-burlapped plant.
  6. Gently roll it into the hole without holding it by the trunk. Now, cut away as much burlap as possible without letting the root ball fall apart.
  7. Fill the hole halfway with the same soil that came out of the hole. Do not amend that soil. Otherwise, the roots will stay in that soil, growing around and around, instead of moving out into the surrounding soil.
  8. Do not stomp on the soil. Instead, fill the hole with water and allow it to settle before continuing to fill the hole.
  9. Water again.
  10. Form a rim of soil around the outside edge of the hole to hold the water.
  11. Cover the rim and root ball with 2 inches of shredded bark or wood chips. Do not allow the mulch to touch the trunk or the bark will rot and kill the tree.
  12. On slopes or windy sites, use one or two stakes pounded into the undisturbed soil beyond the root ball. Loosely secure the tree trunk to the stakes using webbing with grommets made especially for this purpose. Do not use wire or rubber hose, since these will damage the bark. The tree should be able to sway back and forth because this actually strengthens the trunk.

 

Pumpkin Seeds

pumpkin-seeds-1375500_960_720It’s the time of year to start carving out those pumpkins in any number of fantastic designs and shapes — even just plain jack-o-lanterns. When you’re sitting on the floor with your arms up to the elbow in pumpkin guts, remember to separate and keep those seeds! Fixed properly, they’re a low-calorie, high-mineral snack that’s just irresistible and recommended by the World Health Organization as a tasty way to get your zinc!

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Fresh pumpkin soup garnished with pumpkin seeds

Everywhere on the internet and in health magazines you can read about the benefits of eating pumpkin seeds, and it’s easy to incorporate them into your diet:  in cookies, on salads, as a snack. While pumpkin seeds are available year-round in the grocery and health food stores, why not take advantage of making your own? It’s easy to do, and the aroma in your house will almost be reward in itself.

Directions

Seed the pumpkin: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Using a spoon, scrape the pulp and seeds out of your pumpkin into a bowl.

Clean the seeds: Separate the seeds from the stringy pulp, rinse the seeds in a colander under cold water, then shake dry. Don’t blot with paper towels; the seeds will stick.

Dry them: Spread the seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet and roast 30 minutes to dry them out.

Add spices: Toss the seeds with olive oil, salt and your choice of spices (see below). Return to the oven and bake until crisp and golden, about 20 more minutes.

Sweet Toss with cinnamon and sugar (do not use salt in step 4).

Indian Toss with garam masala; mix with currants after roasting.

Spanish Toss with smoked paprika; mix with slivered almonds after roasting.

Italian Toss with grated parmesan and dried oregano.

Barbecue Toss with brown sugar, chipotle chile powder and ground cumin.

 

Beyond the Blooms

by Jess Wickland

When you think of landscaping or putting together a small flower garden, many people don’t think past the flower colors and bloom times. However, there are many different aspects that plants provide that will increase interest in the garden, whether it’s seedheads, or different leaf textures, or (my favorite) fall berries and fall color. When the green foliage bursts forth in spring and gives life to the boring winter landscape, I often breathe a sigh of relief. And while flowers do provide plenty of color in the landscape and often leave me giddy with excitement over their blooms, nothing can compare to the breathtaking yellow, orange and red hues of a sugar maple tree in the fall.

Speaking of blooms, there are two shrubs that wait to hold their flowers until almost everything else has gone dormant for the season: witchhazel and seven-son flower. Witchhazel is a native shrub that grows quite large — almost 15 feet tall — and waits until October to send out its spiderlike yellow blossoms. Many times, the blooms occur as the shrub’s foliage has changed to the bright yellow color, or has dropped off already. Seven-son’s fragrant flowers blooms white in late September or early October, but perhaps the best show isn’t the blooms, it’s the pale red calyces that appear after the flowers have dropped off. This is also a fairly large shrub, growing to 15 feet tall and wide as well, and grows best in part shade conditions.

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The bright red berries of the Hawthorn stand out against the frozen branches

Many shrubs get berries as well, clinging to the branches and giving the landscape splashes of color throughout the fall and winter seasons. I always enjoy watching the hawthorn berries develop and change color in late summer. The red berries aren’t often eaten by birds in summer (they’re too busy devouring the serviceberries), and persist into the winter. After a fresh snowfall, I enjoy photographing the vibrant red berries blanketed by the glittering snow. An added bonus: hawthorn trees have a variable fall color, ranging from orange to red to maroon. Another fantastic red berry is found on Ilex shrubs: holly and winterberry. While holly are a little more finicky about growing conditions (though it can be done!), winterberry are tough shrubs that wait until the rest of the landscape is dormant for their moment to shine. In fall, clusters of bright red berries cling to the upright branches. They are offset by the yellow fall color of the shrub. Both holly and winterberry look like a picture off of a Christmas card after a new snowfall.

Chasing fall color throughout the state used to be my grandparents’ favorite thing to do in October, and I think I inherited that gene from them as well. I can’t believe the different shades of red, orange and yellow that erupt as the daylight hours get shorter. I can’t wait to go outside to see what I might capture on my camera’s memory card. Perennials aren’t just for flowers anymore, either. Gillenia trifoliata, a native perennial commonly known as Indian Physic, isn’t very showy throughout the summer. The green foliage set underneath the star-shaped white flowers may cause a passerby to glance at it a second time. In autumn, however, the foliage changes to a pale orange that gives the plant a whole new look. Mukdenia rosii also changes from emerald green to dark red and even maroon, rivaling its cousin, Heuchera, in color wars.

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Fothergilla blazes it’s colors during Fall

My favorite shrub for fall color is Fothergilla. While the fragrant white spikes of flowers and robust foliage (tinged just a hint in blue-green) are attractive, I haven’t met someone yet who didn’t fall in love with it in the fall. The foliage is much the same as a sugar maple, keeping us guessing as it changes from yellow to orange to red. It’s like watching a 4th of July fireworks show; many people “ooh” and “ahh” at the beauty cast by this wee shrub (the dwarf species only reaches 3 feet tall and wide).

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The familiar sugar Maple leaves

As you may have guessed by how much I’ve brought it up, my favorite tree for fall color is the sugar maple. Serviceberry isn’t far behind because although the berries are long since picked off by hungry robins and cedar waxwings, the fall color still rivals the maple in terms of orange and yellow coloring. An interesting plant for fall color is the larch, or tamarack. It’s a deciduous evergreen, meaning it has needles, but sheds them each year. The golden yellow needles in fall are gorgeous, especially near the end of the day when the sunlight hits them just right.

I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond the blooms, and try to plant a few trees, shrubs or even perennials