Saturday, October 18, 2014

Herbs #103: Harvesting, Preserving and Overwintering Workshop

by Carol Kagan, Penn State Master Gardener, Franklin County

Although it was a crisp autumn start at this October 18 workshop, 17 attendees and 7 (yes, 7) Master Gardeners had a fun and informative (according to the evaluations) session.
At their seats attendees found peppermint cuttings that Jerry Lewis brought in.

Carol Kagan talked about air drying herbs and Trey Gelbach showed his dehydrator, putting in some herbs which he brought out near the end of the morning to demonstrate how quickly and thoroughly they dried. Barb Petrucci passed around samples of roses and other flowers she either air dried or dried with a desiccant. The difference in the colors and shapes were evident.

Barb, Jerry, Trey and Sue McMorris led the group over to the herb garden with baskets and shears where attendees were able to harvest a variety of herbs and flowers to take home. Popular take-aways were lavender and gomphrena.

Jean Schlecht and Maria Giles set out the refreshments and Maria put materials at each seat for a hands-on activity to prepare herbs to dry in the refrigerator.

When everyone returned from the gardens, refreshments were served and the hot mulled cider was popular. In addition there was cold cider, lemon-grass infused water, Apple Sage cake and Lavender Tea Biscuits (recipes below), as well as Trey's homemade dip of smoked jalapeno with homemade crostini and Sue's dill dip with chips.
Sue shared more methods of drying herbs including freezing and screen drying and reviewed the best way to preserve a variety of culinary herbs for later use.

Maria went over preserving herbs by drying in the refrigerator and had everyone folding up their thyme into neat little envelopes.

Trey, self-proclaimed "chili-head," showed off a variety of home-grown peppers, some of which were air dried and some smoked, passing these around along with some of the chili powders he made from them. Here he pulled some of the herbs from the dehydrator to show how fast they dried.

Carol reviewed the three methods to overwinter herbs: Protect outdoor perennials, bring plants inside, and create an indoor garden from seed, plant division or rooting cuttings. She also demonstrated pruning a winter savory (or perhaps a thyme plant, as there was a bit of pleasant dissent among the Master Gardeners as to which it was) and tips for rooting.

Along the way our students asked many good questions and among the seven Master Gardeners answers were found and sometimes explanations and cautions mentioned. Some of the participants attended all three of this year's Herb Series and received "Herb Enthusiast" certificates.

The session ended as Jerry shared some of his tips, especially about seed saving, and Jean Schlecht distributed the parsley and honey-melon sage she brought to share.

Honey melon sage (Salvia)
As per request, here are the two recipes for refreshments served at the workshop.

Lavender Tea Biscuits (Makes 6 doz. little 1” biscuits)
½ C. softened butter (1 stick)
½ C. sugar
1 egg
1 C. self-rising flour
1  ½ Tbsps. lavender buds
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Cream the butter, sugar and egg. Add flour and lavender buds and mix well. Wrap and roll the mixture into 1" tubes (about 4 or 5 tubes) and refrigerate for 1 hour. *
Spray a mini-muffin tin with non-stick spray. Spoon marble-size (small) pieces of dough into each cup. Gently press with a wooden pestle dipped into water or sugar or use the back of a small spoon.
Bake 10-12 minutes. Remove while warm.

* Alternately you can freeze the tubes of mixture to use later. Cut 1/4" or smaller slices from the tube and place on a parchment covered baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Apple Sage Cake (9”x13” pan)

3 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ C. sugar
¾ C. vegetable oil
1/ ½ C. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 C. Granny Smith apples, peeled and shredded (about 3 apples)
½ C. fresh sage leaves, minced fine
Preheat the oven to 375° F.
Butter a 9”x13” baking pan and line it with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil. Add in flour, baking soda and salt. Mix until well combined. Stir in apples and sage and mix well.
Pour into baking pan, releasing the air bubbles. Bake approximately 30 minutes, until the cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let cool and serve as a cake or cut into small bites.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Yellow and Brown Needles Among the Green

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

Looking out my dining room window into the backyard I noticed that the Eastern white pine tree was getting brown areas from top to bottom. Oh, no. Another casualty of last winter?

Before I had a chance to scoot down to the Extension Office and look this up, the Garden Professor’s Blog topic caught my eye: “What’s Wrong with My Pine Tree? Nothing”

Inquiry: “My pine tree looks like it’s dying. It’s dropping all its needles!” Reply: “White pine trees often grab homeowners’ attention as they begin to drop their needles in the fall.”

You can go to their blog for more scientific information but here’s the basic scoop.

Usually the tree is an Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and this is normal needle shed. Since white pine needles usually last only two years, they turn a bright yellow as they die and begin to shed in the fall.
The Professors bottom-line: “If it’s fall and your pine is starting to drop interior needles, chances are it’s normal needlefall and nothing to worry about.”
Garden Professor

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Autumn Blogs Revisited

By Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

Working in the garden this crisp autumn morning, severely pruning back tomato plants in hopes of getting the last few Mortgage Lifters to ripen up – they are sooo big, I was reminded of a few Blog entries that might be revisited this time of year.

Paperwhites are the easiest bulbs for beginners
Trick Bulbs Now for Winter Treats has planting information for forcing bulbs to bloom for the holidays or to brighten winter days

Are these green tomatoes ready?
Frost, Freeze and Green Tomatoes includes how to tell if green tomatoes are ready and a recipe for green tomatoes

Check out colorful autumn blooms and jot down a few that you’ll want to try. Keep the list nearby as the catalogues start coming in – and don’t forget the spring plant sale – May 16, 2015.

Helianthus in the Perennial Garden
Fall Into Gardening shows what was blooming in the Demo Gardens in early September

Fall Blooms at Kathy Engle's House
Colorful Autumn Garden entries have four parts, posted by Kathy Engle they show beautiful fall blooms. Go to Part 4 and it has links to the others at the bottom.

Rosemary plants outdoors need special care in our zone 6B
Overwintering Rosemary might be good to check as you start preparing the garden for winter

Garlic is easy to grow but plant it now
Growing Great Garlic reminds us that autumn is the time to plant garlic for next summer's crop

A follow-up Penn State information page: It is planting time for garlic growers

Coral Embers Willow creates a flame of beauty in the winter landscape
Look for Winter Blogs Revisited soon or if you are planning or planting this fall for winter interest, check out the Winter Interest series now. It's a 12-part series focusing on a wide variety of plants.


Spider Webs Everywhere

I was surprised this week by the number and variety of spider webs I found everywhere - so decided I should take some pictures and then figure out how they get there.

There are lots of kinds of spiders and lots of kinds of webs they spin…but here are the basics.  The spider has several spinneret glands near its abdomen that the spider spins into a silky thread.  There are up to eight different kinds of silk the spider can produce - non-sticky silk that spiders use to get around on, sticky silk to capture prey, even fine silk to wrap prey up in.

Spiral orb web

The classic circular spider web (spiral orb web) we see has sticky silk to capture prey, and non-sticky silk to let the spider get around it.

Spiders are predators, and feared in the insect world like sharks or lions are feared in the sea or grasslands.  Some hunt or lay traps for prey, but many build webs to catch their prey.

Cobwebs or tangle webs

Other kinds of webs are the classic cobweb (something prey will just get tangled up in), a funnel web that the prey will fall into and get stuck in, and even communal webs made by many spiders all linked together.

Funnel webs

The stickiness of the silk decreases over time and with exposure.  A spider will often eat its web to ingest the protein and start over again, often in the same place.

Communal web - this one stretched over several feet

Its an interesting subject, but I'll let you do some more research if you wan to find out what happens once something gets stuck in the web…

Happy Halloween!!!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Coffee Revs Up Your Morning and Your Compost Pile

Stopping by the Master Gardener compost pile I noticed a large plastic bag which turned out to be full of coffee grounds. Why are these here? This prompted me to see what’s up with coffee grounds and compost.

Composting is the process where natural materials are broken down by microorganisms to form a nutrient rich, soil-like material call humus or compost. Compost uses two different materials:  Green matter, such as vegetable scraps, grass clippings and, yes, coffee grounds, and brown matter like dead leaves, straw, shredded paper and non-diseased plants. Composting is an easy way to reduce waste and create a valuable gardening supply.

Coffee grounds are the granules that are left after brewing coffee. These are considered green matter in the compost pile. Checking Penn State Extension sources as well as Extension Services in other states revealed that coffee grounds are a good addition to compost as part of the green matter. They can be added to vermicomposting or worm composting. This is a natural method using worms to help compost food and organic scraps. It can be done year-round, indoors and outdoors.

What’s in Coffee Grounds?

The Brooklyn Feed Website reports “Starbucks commissioned a study in 1995 to better understand the make-up of the organic matter we call coffee grounds.” See the chart for the information provided.
In addition to adding your daily grounds and filter you can get coffee grounds from Starbucks here in Chambersburg. They certainly have plenty and as part of Starbucks recycling/reuse mission they provide them free of charge. If they aren’t outside at the back of the store, wait your turn and ask a barista if any are available.
Applying coffee grinds directly to your garden: Coffee grounds can be applied directly as a top dressing/mulch to acid loving plants like blueberries, hydrangeas, and azaleas. Adding brown material such as leaves and dried grass to the mulch will help keep a balanced soil pH.

More information about composting for the home garden is available at:
Penn State: “Lasagna” Gardening – Composting in Layers
Penn State Extension: Starting Composting
Oregon State Extension: Coffee Grounds and Gardening

Saturday, September 27, 2014

One Last Look

Oh what a beautiful morning!  It's that time to carve some time out of your schedule and go take one last look before its gone...



Cranberry Viburnum



Irish Bells

Clara Curtiss Daisies
Purple Runner Beans

Our Hummingbird

Castor Bean
Love Lies Bleeding

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

October Programs: Wild Ginseng, Preserving Herbs and Beginning Beekeeping

by Carol Kagan, Penn State Master Gardener

All programs are held at the Franklin County Ag Heritage Center, 185 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg. More about each listing below

Wednesday, Oct 8 at 7 PM - Wild Ginseng Program – Free & open to the public. Call 717-263-9226 for more information.

Saturday, Oct 18 from 9 am – Noon – Herbs 103: Harvesting, Preserving and Overwintering. Cost $10. Call 717-263-9226  to register.

Thursday, October 23 at 7 PM - Would You Like to be a Beekeeper? Free & open to public. No registration required. For information contact Randy King at 717-328-9256.

Wild Ginseng Program: American ginseng is a native North American herbaceous plant which has unique chemical properties that make it economically useful. It has a rich history of being collected, cultivated and traded for centuries in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. Cumberland Woodland Owners’ Association meeting welcomes featured speaker Dr. Eric Burkhart, Plant Science Program Director at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, discussing wild ginseng.

Because of its rarity, wild ginseng is a very valuable commodity with dried roots routinely selling for $500+/pint. Because ginseng has been widely collected over the last 200 years it is regulated both internationally and in each US state.
Herbs 103: Harvesting, Preserving and Overwintering: This Master Gardener workshop will provide information on various ways to preserve herbs including drying and freezing. Cost: $10. Call 717-263-9226 to register. We now accept credit cards to make phone registration easier.
Would You Like to be a Beekeeper? Have you ever wondered what is involved in being a beekeeper and working with honeybees?  If so, plan to attend this informational meeting The Franklin County Beekeepers Association is sponsoring this introductory meeting for the general public.  In particular, it is for those who may be interested in starting their own hives and learning a little bit more about what is involved.
The meeting will include a brief introduction to the honey bee, beekeeping information resources and time requirements for managing hives. A brief overview of tools, equipment, start-up costs, and ordering bee packages will be presented.  Free & open to public. No registration required. For information contact Randy King at 328-9256.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

When the Frost is on the Pumpkin

By Carol Kagan, Penn State Master Gardener, Franklin County
Three on a hay bale (C.Kagan)
School’s back in session and the “back to school” items have been pushed to the rear shelves. Halloween, harvest time, Thanksgiving and, yes, Christmas and all the other mid-winter holidays have taken over.
Heels over head in the pumpkin bin (C.Kagan)
If you grew pumpkins this year and they survived any groundhogs (the nemesis in the 4-H Achievement Garden this year), squash bugs, squash vine borer, cucumber beetles, or aphids, you have the makings for not only Jack-O-Lanterns but pumpkin seed snacks and pumpkin flavored foods.

Harvesting Pumpkins

Although a light frost is not damaging to pumpkins, they should be harvested before a hard freeze. To see if a pumpkin is ready to harvest check the stems. The stems should be dry and the skin should not break when pressed by a thumbnail.
Don't carry pumpkins by the stem (WikiCommons)

To harvest, cut the fruit from the vine with pruners or loppers. Leave a long section of the stem attached. Avoid breaking the skin and bruising fruit when handling. Penn State Master Gardener Emelie Swackhamer, Lehigh County, also cautions not to pick the pumpkin up by the stem as it can snap and a falling pumpkin can get broken or even hurt your foot. Until you are ready to use them, pumpkins will store for two to three months with temperatures above freezing and below 65° F.


Swackhamer posted tips online for picking the best pumpkins for carving. In choosing a pumpkin look for one without rotten spots or scrapes, with a green stem (handle) firmly attached, and that sits solidly on the ground. Lighter orange pumpkins tend to be easier to carve because their walls are thinner, but they also may not keep as long. Darker orange pumpkins tend to have thicker walls and are often harder to carve, but they often last longer because their rind is harder.

Cut out a lid (Christine S)

Use one of the serrated pumpkin-carving knives instead of a sharp kitchen knife. Younger children should always be supervised but more importantly, this is an ideal activity for the family – parents and children. Cut a circle around the stem at the top and remove it. This is the lid. If you plan to use a candle and put the lid back on, be sure to remove most of the pulp and cut notches in three or four places around the edge of the lid.

Scoop out the "stringy stuff" (WikiCommons)
Scoop out the seeds* and stringy stuff, scraping the sides. This is easily accomplished with a metal spoon. Now carefully carve designs through the walls of the pumpkin, cutting from the outside. Use a glow stick to light your pumpkin so you will not have to worry about fire.
The West Virginia Extension Service suggests, after carving, dipping the pumpkin in a large container of bleach and water (use a 1 tsp: 1 gal. mix). Bleach will kill bacteria and help your pumpkin stay fresh longer. Once completely dry, (drain upside down), add 2 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to a quart of water. Brush this solution onto your pumpkin to keep it looking fresh for weeks. Another suggestion is to cover the carved areas and inside with petroleum jelly to keep if from drying out.
Pie is one way to eat pumpkins (WikiCommons)

Pumpkin Eating

Pumpkins are an especially hardy crop, dark orange in color and loaded with both alpha and beta carotene. These micro-nutrients are the phytochemicals, or “plant chemicals,” needed to form vitamin A. An essential component in our daily diet, vitamin A promotes the formation of a strong immune system, healthy skin and clear vision.

Pumpkins come in many varieties and are cultivated and used for a multitude of reasons. One example is the “pie” pumpkin, specifically developed for baking and/or cooking purposes. Ideally, pie pumpkins should exhibit a deep orange color. After halving, remove the seeds* and stringy stuff then cook this pumpkin, either in the oven for 30 -60 minutes at 350°, or microwave on high for 15 minutes. Now you can peel the pumpkin and cut or puree it for use in soup, muffins, pudding or pies.

*Pumpkin Seed Snacks Preheat the oven to 250°F.

It’s icky but fun to pick through the stringy stuff and pull out the seeds to make snacks. Discard any broken seeds and clean off all the stringy stuff. Follow the recipe below for 2 cups of seeds.

1 Qt. water
2 Tbsp. salt* (may be omitted)
2 C. pumpkin seeds, cleaned and dried
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil or melted, unsalted butter
Bring the water (and salt) to a boil. Add the seeds and boil for 10 minutes. Drain the seeds, spread on kitchen towel or paper towel and pat dry.
Put the seeds in a bowl and toss with oil or melted butter. Stir in salt or any other herb or seasoning desired. Try onion or garlic salt before roasting. Like spicy food? Try a Cajun or Mexican mix of dried spices.

Spread evenly on a large cookie sheet or roasting pan. Place pan in the preheated oven and roast for 30-40 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Remove and cool the seeds. Shell and eat them or pack them in plastic bags and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Cool the seeds, then shell and eat or pack in air-tight containers or zip closure bags and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Visit these links for more information:
PSU LehighMaster Gardeners: Picking a Great Jack O Lantern  by Emelie Swackhamer: Horticulture Educator, Lehigh & Northampton Co. Cooperative Extension