Tag Archive | gardening blog

Pharmacy in your Garden?

Xi'an_traditionnal_medecine_market_(20)

Traditional Medicine Market in China

There is no doubt that many plants are useful medicinally, just as there is equal certainty that many of them are poisonous. The problem is that these are often the same plants. The vast array of widely available herbal supplements and the equally huge assortment of books on herbal healing reinforce a general sense that natural products are safer than manufactured ones. But the truth is a resounding “sometimes yes and sometimes no.” Herbal medicine is a huge and complicated subject, well worth investigating but by no means something to plunge into incautiously. Things to bear in mind:

  • Very few scientifically rigorous studies have been done, largely because almost all such studies are underwritten by drug companies, and herbs, which cannot be patented, could never return the investment involved.
  • There is no way for the home gardener to standardize dosage: plants produce different amounts of active chemical agents depending on how and where they are grown, when they are harvested, and the variety characteristics of the particular plant.
  • Herbs may interact badly with other drugs, rendering them less effective or more toxic, in unpredictable ways.
  • Like other drugs, many herbal toxins are cumulative. Small doses may produce no adverse symptoms but become dangerous in the aggregate.

The don’t-mess-with-in list. A sampling of herbs that have historic reputations as medicinals but are potentially deadly: aconite (Aconitum napellus), deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), lobelia (Lobelia inflata), May apple (Podophyllum peltatum), and pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides and Mentha pulegium both go by this common name, and the oils of both are toxic). Note: for an interesting literary exploration of some of these poisonous plants, check out our upcoming August 9, 2016 blogpost on the natural poisons found in Agatha Christie’s books.

In addition, many well-known herbs appear to be carcinogenic (sassafras, coltsfoot, and comfrey); cause abnormal heart rhythms and/or violent gastrointestinal symptoms (tansy, broom, and blood root); or have other downsides that make freelance experimentation unwise.

The give-it-a-whirl list. A sampling of herbs that are very unlikely to hurt you and may well do some good, assuming you use only small amounts: agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), catnip (Nepeta cataria), chamomile (Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile), echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium), garlic (Allium sativum), hops (Humulus lupulus), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), and valerian (Valeriana officinalis). Be careful with Borage as it absolutely deserves its reputation as a natural laxative; a few leaves go a long way!

In addition, there are herbs that emphatically should NOT be ingested but do have strong healing properties when used externally. First and foremost is aloe, most commonly Aloe vera, which deserves its high reputation as a healer of burns. [Personal side note: I incurred a really, really bad sunburn on my lips in late June of this year — I’m talking second degree burns. Since I have a lovely pot of Aloe growing in my house, I thought I’d smear a little on my lips to make them heal. I have NEVER tasted anything worse in my whole life!! I couldn’t wipe it off fast enough and it took forever for the taste to go away.]

Another healing herb to be used externally is arnica (Arnica montana) which is right up there as an easer of aching muscles, and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) does seem to promote the healing of wounds when applied as a poultice.

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Saving Seeds, Saving Memories

By Master Gardener Tammy Borden

My first experience with saving seeds began with a beautiful hyacinth bean vine that I planted from seed during my classes to become a Master Gardener. I can still recall our entire class lined up with Styrofoam cups and starting mix while Larry and Kay Herried rationed out the seeds, eager to be an agent in allowing life to come into existence. Even the seeds looked intriguing with their matte black surface and white edging.

Within days, they sprouted and it wasn’t long before they overtook a small trellis. The seedpods eventually appeared following the delicate flowers, and it was easy to simply collect the encased seeds and store them until spring. When spring finally came, it brought so much gratification to know I was a part of continuing the cycle of life as the seeds from one plant soon became sev- eral dozen more that I could share with family and friends.

Saving seeds, in general, is not too difficult, and it can save you a lot of money. Here are a few basics that need to be followed for most varieties, whether they’re a vegetable or flower.

STEP ONE

In general, select seeds from heirloom variety flowers and vegetables. As a rule of thumb, do not waste your time trying to save seeds from hybrid plants or exotic species. The offspring will most likely look nothing like the parent plant, be weak, or may not sprout at all. My mother told me how she painfully came to realize this rule when she saved seeds from a hybrid cucumber… the following spring she planted the seeds; they sprouted, grew vigorously and had promising blossoms. But when the fruit began to set, every single tiny cucumber shriveled and fell off the vine, leaving her to resort to roadside stands and tasteless produce aisles.

STEP TWO

Once you’ve selected the plants you would like to save seeds from, allow the flower or fruit to mature on the vine so the seeds can fully develop. Choose from the healthiest and finest produce or flower heads. For most peppers, allow them to go beyond the green stage until they’re red. For cucumbers, allow them to get over ripe and turn yellow on the vine. For flowers, herbs and vegetables that set seed (lettuce, radish, etc.), let them get to that unsightly brown stage or allow them to set seed pods.

STEP THREE

Harvest the seeds. For fruits and vegetables, like melons, it caseed-saving.jpgn be as easy as slicing them open and scooping out the seeds. For flowers, like zinnias, pull the seeds from the center cone that forms. For others like nicotania (flowering tobacco), hold the seed pod inside an envelope and burst it so the thousands of miniscule seeds fall inside. After harvesting the seed, allow them to fully dry out of direct sunlight on a paper plate.

STEP FOUR

Fermenting… Huh? Fermenting is not required for most seeds. However, if you want to save seeds from that mystery tomato that your uncle’s been growing for years, you’ll need to read this part! Tomatoes require an extra step that will bring back memories of growing cultures in Petri dishes in your high school biology class. Tomato seeds are enclosed in a gel-like substance containing growth inhibitors that needs to be removed through a fermentation process. Remove the seeds and place them in a glass dish. Add a small amount of wa- ter to help separate the seeds from the pulp. Then set the bowl of tomato seeds and pulp in a warm spot and allow 2-4 days for the fermentation to take place. As with most fermentation processes, don’t be alarmed if the slimy mixture develops an odor. Wait for a layer of mold to form on top of your seeds & pulp, and for the seeds to fall to the bottom. Finally, remove the mold and rinse the seeds well in a strainer, removing any remaining pulp. Spread the seeds onto a paper plate or glass dish to dry.

STEP FIVE

Storage should take place in a cool, dry, dark place where temperatures remain fairly stable. Glass jars work well, as do paper envelopes. Make sure that seeds being kept in sealed containers are completely dry so that moisture doesn’t cause molding. Clearly label your containers with the variety name and date.

STEP SIX

Some seeds require cold stratification to germinate. Most hardy perennials fall into this category. Baptisia and milkweed are two examples. Cold stratification simulates a winter freezing period and can easily be accomplished by placing these seeds in the freezer for a couple months. Research on-line or use a good reference book to determine if your seed needs this cold treatment.

Saving seeds is fun and easy. There are many seeds that may require a slightly different method for harvesting, so I suggest searching on-line for your particular variety. Or you can purchase a book to help you sort through it. “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth, available through Seed Savers Exchange, is one suggestion. Happy harvesting!

Of course you can grow Roses!

I’ve tried and tried to add roses to my garden. I’ve put them in sun, I’ve put them in shade, I’ve planted them all together, I’ve interspersed them with other plants, I’ve tried hybrids, I’ve tried tea-roses — nothing ever grows properly! Several years ago, I was having moderate success buts, after a hard winter, I went out to find that my rose bushes had been eaten to the ground (thorns and all) by very hungry rabbits.

How can you not want that beautiful color and fragrance, though, so I keep trying! For help, though, I’m now turning to the experts for advice.

One of the most beautiful rose gardens in our region is located in what you might call a difficult rose growing area. The Leif Erickson Public Rose Garden in Duluth, MN is a zone 3 or 4. The rose garden features many different varieties, from species rugosa to hybrid tea roses. Hardy rose hedges line walkways, and a planting of hardy shrub roses near the entrance welcomes the 100,000-plus yearly visitors to the garden.

2504-1271616438ho6hBasic rules for growing roses:

  • Select hardy roses
  • Plant in an area that gets plenty of sun — at least six hours of sunlight a day
  • Make sure you’re planting in soil that provides excellent drainage. Roses don’t like wet feet. [Note: a good planting companion is lavender that also doesn’t like wet feet. Refer to our blog post regarding these garden companions here.)
  • Water regularly, especially during hot summer days. Most experts recommend about 1 inch of water per week. When watering, make sure to soak the base of the plant, keeping water away from the leaves.
  • Feed your roses using an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer, or a fertilizer specially designed for roses. Be sure to follow label directions.
  • Roses can thrive in a large container. Be sure to keep the planter evenly moist and fertilize regularly.

Types of roses:

  • Hybrid Teas: showy, most popular
  • Floribunda: shrubby with bloom clusters
  • Grandiflora: tall, ideal for cut flowers
  • Miniature: only 6 to 18 inches
  • Shrub: large and full; some are fragrant
  • Climbing: use with trellises, arbors and walls

Master Gardener Marilyn Davis teaches the “Roses” portion of our training classes for new Master Gardeners each year, and has created a list of cultivars recommended for Wisconsin:

Rose_yellow2

Knock Out Shrub Rose (yellow)

 

  • Hybrid teas:
    • Strike it Rich (yellow bloom) – 5ft high
    • Miss All American Beauty (hot pink) – 4ft high
  • Floribunda
    • Betty Boop (white/red) – 4ft high
    • Ice Berg (white) – 4ft high
    • Honey Perfume (apricot/yellow) – 4ft high
  • Grandiflora
    • Prima Donna (deep pink) – 4ft high
    • Love ( red blend) – 3ft high
    • New Year (tangerine) – 3 to 4ft high
  • Miniature
    • New Beginning (orange/red) – 2ft high
    • Debut (red/white/cream blend) – 2ft high
  • Shrub
    • Knock Out series (yellow) – 3ft high
    • Parkland series (red/pink) – 2ft high
    • Bonica (pink) – 4ft high
    • Austin English (apricot to crimson) – 4ft high
  • Climbing
    • New Dawn (pink) – 18 to 20 ft.
    • Winner Circle (red) – 18 to 20 ft.
    • Autumn Sunset (yellow double) – 8 to 12 ft.
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Miss All American Beauty

To keep roses blooming throughout the growing season remove spent flowers (deadheading). This transfers the plant’s energy back into creating stronger roots and even more blooms. Trim down to the first or second five-leaflet leaf.

 

Lucy’s Corner

 

Middle_Eastern_Kimchi_Vegetables_(8629557191)Our friend and Master Gardener Lucy Valitchka has been successfully growing vegetables longer than many of our members have been gardening. Each year, we ask Lucy to teach our new class the section on Vegetables, and she also graciously supplies an article for our Summer Newsletter. Because that information is too valuable to keep to ourselves, we’re reprinting it here.

“During the growing season gardeners know that timing of jobs in the garden impact the final produce harvested. That is the reason behind these calendar jobs listed in each newsletter. Maybe some people remember it easily, but I need a reminder just to make sure the job gets done in time. For new readers of this column, I try to include a calendar of garden tips for each month. This is taken from Madison Area Master Gardener’s Association garden journal no longer published.

June Week 1

  • Control anthracnose and other disease problems by staking plants, maintaining optimal plant spacing and using mulches.
  • Tie tall crops, such as tomatoes, or cage them, to support as they grow.
  • Before setting out tomato cages, disinfect them with a 10% bleach solution or spray cages with rubbing alcohol. (I do that before I store them for the winter.)
  • Start seedlings of brussels sprouts to transplant in mid July.
  • Plant peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes and late potatoes.

June Week 2

  • Plant successive crops of beans, beets, carrots, kohlrabi, corn, turnips, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
  • As soil warms apply a mulch after deep watering or heavy rain.
  • Control leaf blight on tomatoes by disposing of diseased foliage or plants immediately or planting disease-resistant varieties.
  • Control cabbage worm and cabbage looper on cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

June Week 4

  • Thin vegetables for proper spacing.
  • Plant rutabagas, late cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.
  • Mulch tomatoes and water them, if necessary.
  • Stop harvesting asparagus. Weed asparagus bed carefully after harvesting to avoid damage to roots.

July

  • Renew mulch if it starts to decompose.
  • Make daily inspections for pests, and treat, if necessary.
  • Control garden weeds to prevent them going to seed.
  • Harvest onions, garlic, and early potatoes when tops begin to shrivel.2593250285_343710da83_b

July Week 1

  • Plant lettuce and spinach for fall crop. Pre-germinate seeds on moist towel, or plant deeper than spring planting. Mulch thinly.
  • Watch for squash vine borer. Remove floating row covers from cucumbers and melons as soon as they begin to bloom so that they can be pollinated. Use a reflective mulch such as aluminum foil to repel squash vine borers.
  • Plant collards, kale, bunching onions and cucumbers for fall harvest.

July Week 2

  • Plant beets, Chinese cabbage, rutabagas and turnips for fall harvest.
  • Fertilize asparagus beds. Mulch with straw.
  • Keep tomatoes mulched and watered to prevent blossom end rot.

July Week 3

  • Transplant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower seedlings for fall crop.
  • Plant chard for fall crop.

July Week 4

  • Plant fall crop of peas. Keep plants picked to maintain productivity.

August

  • Sow cover crops in garden areas not in use.
  • Pick herbs just before blossoms open for best flavor.
  • Inspect corn regularly. Corn pests become abundant in mid-August.

August Week 1

  • Keep eggplant and peppers picked so younger fruit develops.
  • Plant late crops of radishes, lettuce, spinach and beets.

5835401559_94b5856885_oSome parting wisdom taken from an article about Gardening in Grandfather’s Time by Jerry Minnich in the 2012 Wisconsin Garden Journal: Connections Through Time “Sometimes it’s true: The more things change, the more they stay the same. And despite all the new wrinkles in gardening, our greatgreatgrandchildren will probably be planting potatoes just as we do, hill by hill, row by row, eyes always up. Through the generations, gardeners will always be connected.” Jerry Minnich is the author of several gardening books, including The Wisconsin Garden Guide, published in 2010. “

Exotic Alliums

by Master Gardener Tammy Borden

The vase sat on my desk holding a few hosta leaves and only a single flower. But as coworkers passed by, each one couldn’’t help but comment. ““What is that? I’’ve never seen one of those before. It’’s gorgeous,”” one person exclaimed. Another stopped in their tracks. ““Is that a flower? It’’s huge! It looks like something from outer space!””

The single flower stood out on its own and didn’’t need an entire bouquet to make a statement. Why? The flower head measured nearly a foot wide and resembled a floral fireworks display.

It was an Allium. Not just any Allium, but a Christophii Star of Persia. As oohs and ahs continued, I heard someone say, ““Oh, I could never grow something that exotic. I can’’t grow anything.”” I asked if they had tulips or daffodils in their yard and they said, ““Yes, that’’s about the only thing I can grow because I don’’t have to do anything with those. They just come up every year on their own.”” ““Well then,”” I said. ““You have the qualifications for growing Alliums.”” When I began explaining that a package of five bulbs that produced the beautiful stems of starlike florets were purchased for under $10 from a local home improvement store and planted last fall, they found it hard to believe.

Not only are they beautiful in a bouquet, but they make a bold statement in the garden. When in full bloom, Alliums are always the first flowers to get noticed by guests who visit. Even after they have bloomed and their color fades, the dried flower heads still add interest and texture. It is nearly fall, yet I still have the dried heads of several varieties of Allium dotted throughout my landscape, even though some bloomed as early as May.

Like tulips, the strap-like foliage of Alliums pushes through the cold earth early in spring. Unlike tulips, however, deer and other critters will shy away! Most are hardy to zone 3 or 4, but check individual varieties to be sure. When planting Alliums in your garden, try to position them behind low growing plants or garden sculptures because the foliage fades quickly once the flowers bloom. Once the foliage has turned completely brown you can remove it, but allow green foliage to remain so it can provide nutrients for next year’’s bloom.

When planting Allium, follow the same routine you would with other spring flowering bulbs. In fall, select a site that will receive full to part sun. Dig your hole three times the dimension of the bulb. Note: bulbs can vary from as small as an acorn to as large as a baseball. The package should also give an indication of planting depth. Add some organic matter to the hole, and if you choose, you may also add some bulb fertilizer. Like other bulbs, Alliums don’’t like wet feet, so provide good drainage. Plant the bulb pointy side up, cover with dirt, water, and wait until spring!

Most Alliums will tower to three feet or more, so they add beautiful vertical interest to your garden. Plant in groups of 3 or more. With the larger varieties, a group of only three bulbs properly placed can stop traffic. The flower heads are actually made up of hundreds of tiny star-like flowers that when clustered together, form a stunning display. They are considered an ornamental onion, related to garlic and chives. There are nearly 400 hundred varieties of Allium to choose from, each with different flower forms, color, size and bloom time. Here are the top five favorites from my garden, which are readily available:

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Star of Persia

Allium christophii ‘‘Star of Persia’’

The huge wispy volleyball-sized flower heads stand atop 2’’ stems. Silvery purple flowers. Blooms in mid to late May.

Allium sphaerocephalon ‘‘Drumstick’’ Intensely deep purple 11⁄2”” compact flowers atop thin, sturdy 30”” stems. Blooms late June to early July. Inexpensive and makes a great display. Beautiful in bouquets.

Allium aflatunense ‘‘Purple Sensation’’

Deep rosy purple blooms the size of a softball. Sturdy 30-36”” stems. This is among the only Alliums I recommend dead-heading because of its tendency to reseed itself, producing hundreds of seedlings next spring that generally do not develop into viable plants. One of the earliest to bloom.

Allium ‘‘Globemaster’’

Large, densely packed florets form a silvery purple flower head 8-10”” across. Many consider this the best of all Alliums for its impressive display. Stands 30-36”” tall. Highly sought after and a little more expensive than those noted above, but worth a spot in your garden.

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Mount Everest

Allium ‘‘Mount Everest’’

White 4”” flowers top 3-4’’ stems and bloom in late May and early June. The white blooms contrast beautifully with other purple varieties.

Planting Companions

Companion-PlantingThe interactions between garden plants have not been extensively studied in carefully controlled trials, so there isn’t much hard scientific data on the abilities of different species to help (or hurt) each other when they’re grown close together. But over the years, gardeners’ observations have formed a body of advice that’s impressive enough to be worth some consideration.

A lot of the tried and true is just common sense. Plants with strong odors — such as basil, rue, marigold, scented-leaf geraniums, and garlic — repel or confuse many insects that rely on smells to find their targets. Herbs and flowers loved by bees — such as borage, thyme, and bee balm — help attract these pollinators and thus improve fruit-set on many vegetables, including summer and winter squash, tomatoes, peppers, and beans.

There are also many specific combinations that are famous, at least in folklore, though as the diet advertisements say, “results may vary.” Much will depend on climatic conditions, the nature of the soil, and the overall health of the plants in question. Nevertheless, more than a few gardeners swear by rules like these:

  • Plant parsley near asparagus to improve vigor
  • Radishes grown near lettuce are more tender
  • Petunias help repel bean beetles
  • Beets interplanted with onions will help stifle weeds
  • Carrots will grow larger if interplanted with chives
  • Dill or caraway will help repel cabbage moths
  • Tomatoes hate fennel; keep them apart
  • Beans don’t do well near alliums (garlic, onions, chives)
  • Nasturtiums attract aphids and deter cucumber and bean beetles

In nature plants are gregarious, living in complex communities. Short, early bloomers share space with tall species that leaf out and flower late; shallow-rooted types cozy up to deep-rooted neighbors. Heavy feeders benefit from association with plants that make more nutrients than they themselves need.

And because each piece of ground hosts a diversity of species, pests and diseases (which tend to target particular groups of plants) are naturally limited; there’s never enough of any one thing to support major infestation.

Vegetable gardens can’t be as intricate as the natural patchwork, but they can take a lesson from it, and the more diversity they support, the more productive they will be.

  • Plant vining crops like squash in the corn patch; the sprawling vines will provide a living mulch that conserves surface moisture (corn has shallow roots) and keeps down the weeds. Don’t plant the squash until the soil warms and the corn is about a foot tall. Corn likes toasty toes, and baby plants will be smothered unless they get a head start.
  • Plant heavy feeders like squash, cucumber, corn, and celery next to — or right after — peas and beans, which fix nitrogen through their roots, improving the fertility of the soil under and around them.
  • Once summer heat strikes, plant greens like lettuce and spinach on the shady side of tall pea and bean rows. The soil will be cooler there, and the extra nitrogen in the soil will help the leaves grow swiftly.
  • Instead of planting a large bed of one crop, consider planting alternate rows. Bush beans work well with members of the cabbage family, for instance, and carrots get along well with determinate (short-vined) tomatoes.

Rotate those Crops!

Garden-Crop-Rotation-1Do you often wonder if it’s really necessary to rotate your vegetable crops, or is it ok to continually plant the same things in the same spots? Rotation is useful for two reasons: it helps prevent the buildup of pests and diseases specific to particular plants or plant families, and it maximizes the use of soil nutrients.

Although there are some equal-opportunity scourges — slugs come to mind — that will attach everything in the garden, they are in the minority. Many of the nastiest mosaics, for example, attack legumes (peas and beans) but have no interest in nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants). Similarly, earworms are a real problem in corn but couldn’t care less about lettuce. By moving their favorite targets around, you make it harder for these bad characters to establish themselves.

While you’re foiling the pests, you’re also managing the soil. Corn and squash require a lot of nitrogen; peas and beans make nitrogen (or, more accurately, fix the nitrogen from the air into a form that roots can use). By alternating one with the other, you can reduce the amount of supplemental fertilizer you’ll have to add.

Unfortunately, corn will always be a lot taller than beets, so where space is at a premium and crops must be closely planted, it will always be wise to put the tall crops to the north of short ones so they don’t cause shade problems. One more reason people who have large gardens in full sun have an advantage over those who don’t!