Tag Archive | gardening blog

Too Many Tomatoes?

by OCMGA Master Gardner Mary Learman

This is a fantastic recipe for the glut of tomatoes in the summer. I like to use it for that last crop of the year, when there isn’t enough for a big canning session but too much to eat.

Untitled1Passata is such a useful store cupboard item to use in all sorts of savory dishes. You can use it as is for a quick pasta dish, pizza sauce, add it to premade tomato sauces and soups for an authentic taste. If you are all canned out, simply pour the finished passata into containers and freeze to use in the winter. Add some to risottos, gumbos, soups, stews and polentas for a rich undernote of harvest.

Roasted Tomato Passata.

To make two 16-oz jars, you will need:-

4 ½ lb. ripe tomatoes
7 oz. shallots
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
a few sprigs of herbs of your choice – basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary
1 t. sea salt
½ t. black pepper
1 t. sugar
2 fl. oz olive oil
2 T. commercial lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut the tomatoes in half and place then cut side up in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Scatter the shallots, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, sugar and oil over the top. Roast for about 50 minutes to one hour, until the tomatoes are well softened. Remove from the oven and puree using a food mill.

Put the tomato puree into a pan, add the lemon juice and bring to the boiling point. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal. Water bath for 35 minutes.

Use within one year. Once opened, refrigerate and use within a few days.

Always practice safe canning – http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html will answer all your questions.

Transplanting Peonies

Autumn is the best time to plant peonies, whether they are newly purchased or simply being moved. You can start whenever the weather cools but should stop at least six weeks before the expected date of frozen ground. (Newly planted peonies won’t mind early fall’s icy mornings because the soil below the surface is still warm, but they must have plenty of time to make new roots before growth sops for the winter.)

Start by choosing a location where they can grow undisturbed for the foreseeable future. Peonies are long-haul plants, not at their best until they have been in place for some years.

Test the soil in the planting spot to be sure it has a pH of at least 6, although 6.5 to 7 is better; amend it with dolomitic limestone if necessary. If you’re moving the plant, cut off the discard the spent foliage. Dig up and handle the roots carefully as they are quite brittle.

Peony_zpsce6b6354Dig planting holes roughly twice as deep and wide as the peony roots. Prepare the soil by working in a few shovelsful of compost. Set the roots in the prepared holes, making sure the budlike eyes are no more than 2 inches below the ground. Backfill gently; don’t tamp down around the plants. Water them in, then top off with additional soil if necessary.

After the ground is frozen 3 or 4 inches down, add a protective blanket of straw, shredded leaves, or bark mulch. Do not fertilize until spring, when a generous application of compost will be welcome.

Note: there is an old wive’s tale that says you shouldn’t cut more than a third of your peony blooms or you’ll have fewer flowers the next year. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Plants get nourishment through roots and leaves and use it to make flowers and fruit. The flowers are takers, not givers, as far as the plants resources are concerned, and you could cut every one without hurting the plant at all. In fact, when flowers are removed, perennials can use the strength that would have gone into making seeds to do things like fight disease, put out replacement foliage, and build up their underground resources. 

The one-third business probably got started because peonies have short stems. When you cut them for the vase, you usually take a lot of the foliage, too, and a plant does need its leaves to stay healthy. So, leave the leaves, take the flowers, and don’t forget the “get rid of it” rule: even healthy-looking peonies usually harbor fungus spores that should not stay nearby or be composted. Send all peony flowers to the landfill, bury them a foot deep, or burn them.

peony-bud-111910_960_720And one more thing: don’t attempt to eliminate the ants that crawl all over your peonies!! Peonies have tiny nectaries, specialized tissues that secrete nectar, at the edge of their bud scales (delicate leaf-like structures covering the bud). The nectar is a highly nutritious blend of sugars, proteins, and amino acids and it attracts the ants to the flower buds. In exchange for the nectar, the ants provide protection for the buds. Any bud-eating pest is attacked by the ant who make formidable foes since some of them can bite from one end and sting or spray from the other end. Don’t spray the ants with poisons or water — the peonies know what they need better than you do!

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.

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.