Tag Archive | Master Gardeners

Garden Conference Success!!

Brian Hudelson, UW-Wisconsin Extension, brings his extensive knowledge of plant diseases

This past Saturday (April 1), our Master Gardener group (Outagamie County Master Gardener Association) hosted an annual Garden Conference. As always, the Conference was a huge success — even the weather cooperated by sending us a sunny day with temperatures near 60 degrees!

Guest speaker Jim Beard shares information about Straw Bale Gardening

Every year, we sell out our Conference as seats are filled by those eager for Spring, excited to hear from our guest speakers, and interested in visiting with our many vendors! This year was no exception as 200 people filled the room and enjoyed the discussions about Straw Bale Gardening, Plant Diseases, Garden Planning/Photography, Incorporating Edibles into your garden, and fun Garden Tips and Tricks.

Author Stacy Tornio talks about her new book “Plants You Can’t Kill” with OCMGA member Chris Frederickson

Gorgeous varieties of Hostas for sale

Every year, the number of vendors who join us

increases and the variety of products continues to astonish our attendees. This year, we had garden decorations, jewelry, organic herbal soaps, lotions, and scrubs, batik scarves, tree charms, stone-cast garden leaves, wood furniture, live plants, garden tools, and much, much more.

Join us next year!

The Conference is always held at the end of March or early April each year. Make a note to check our website (www.ocmga.net) next year for details!

 

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

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.

Drying Herbs

herbs-478060_960_720

Herbs and flowers drying in a warm, dry spot

All herbs can be dried, but not all of them are worth the trouble. Parsley, chervil, chives, and coriander, to name four popular favorites that are widely marketed in dried form, taste more or less like hay that way, no matter how carefully they have been processed. Most of the others, including basil, dill, thyme, rosemary, sage, and tarragon, come through very nicely — changed, to be sure, but still useful.

I’m a bit of a romantic so I like to dry my herbs the old-fashioned way: hanging them in bunches in my dry basement. The scent is heavenly when several different bundles of herbs are drying together.

Most herbs have the strongest flavor right before they start to form flower buds. They should be freshly picked, preferably in the morning as soon as the dew has dried. (Basil, however, is an exception. It’s more flavorful at the end of the day.)

If the herbs have long stems with sparse foliage at the bottom, you can hang them in bunches. Use rubber bands or twine to tie loose bundles of eight stems or so. Hang them in the chosen spot (dark, dry, warm area that gets plenty of air circulation), and keep checking on them. If the herbs have tightly packed leaves (or flowers) that might rot before they could dry, strip them from the stems and spread them on screens. Prop the screens on piles of books or bricks so air can circulate.

Over the past several years, many methods of drying herbs have arisen (including spreading them on a towel in the back seat of your car when it sits out on a hot day). I found a website that details six methods of drying — depending on the amount of time and money that you want to spend. Visit Mother Earth News for some ideas.

No matter which way you dry them, the herbs are ready to store when they are brittle and should be removed from the drying area as soon as this happens. Strip the leaves from the stems, but leave them whole. Store in air-tight glass jars in a cool, dark, dry place for up to a year. Color is a clue: a pale look probably means a pale taste.

 

Try Freezing your Herbs

Drying herbs is pretty commonplace and, for me, there’s nothing better than the fragrance of herbs drying in my basement. However, herbs that have been frozen taste fresher than dried herbs, but only for the first 4 months or so after freezing. After that, flavor declines rapidly, so freezing should be an addition to drying.

To freeze lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, and tarragon, use whole leaves (discard stems). To freeze dill, fennel, and thyme, use tender sprigs. Basil discolors when it is frozen, so if you want it to stay bright green, dip branches in boiling water, just for a second or two, then remove, discard stems, and gently dry the leaves.

Whatever you’re freezing should be completely dry. Spread it out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer. As soon as the herbs are frozen, usually in no more than an hour or two, pack them in heavy plastic freezer bags and put the bags in freezer-safe glass jars (canning jars) for storage.

Chives don’t freeze well; they don’t dry well, either. Use them fresh or substitute green onion tops.

Another popular method for freezing herbs involves chopping them and adding them to liquid (water or olive oil), freezing them in ice cube trays, and pulling out just what you need to add to soups, sauces, gravies, etc. There are many places on the web with instructions on how to freeze herbs in liquids.

Remember: freezing herbs won’t help you any if you forget to use them, something all too easy to do. As a reminder, post an inventory of frozen herbs where you will see it when you reach for the seasonings.

 

Next time:  Drying Herbs

Bringing the Asparagus Harvest to a Close

640px-Wild_asparagus_cutOh, those delicious spears are one of the great harbingers of Spring in Wisconsin, and it’s a bit heartbreaking when it’s time to draw the harvest to a close! From Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension in Wisconsin, comes the following advice for caring for your asparagus patch.

“You should stop harvesting when the emerging spears are about the diameter of a pencil; this will give the crowns time to rejuvenate for next year’s harvest.

When harvesting is over, fertilize according to soil test results, or with a complete fertilizer such as a 10-10-10, to replenish nutrients used during the harvest season. Let the ferns grow to collect sunlight and restore the root system. In fall, once the ferns have yellowed, cut them back and dispose of them to prevent overwintering of asparagus beetles and rust, two of our most common asparagus pests.

Top-dress your patch with compost or another mulch to reduce weeds. You can eliminate perennial weeds such as quackgrass, with glyphosate (Roundup). For a small patch, put on a rubber glove, then a cloth glove over that. Wet the fingers of the cloth glove with glyphosate and wipe it on the grass blades, avoiding contact with the asparagus. The herbicide will go into the blade and down to the roots, killing the weed, but not harming the asparagus. Tedious, but very effective. If you have a large patch you can try spraying glyphosate in late fall after you’ve cut back the ferns, or in early spring before spears have emerged.”

Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension, teaches the master gardener program and is a frequent speaker throughout the region about gardening and sustainable landscaping. She is a regular guest on WEAU-TV and teaches landscape design at UW-River Falls.