Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wicked Plants!

In the seed saving post, below, if you enlarge the picture with the beans (by clicking on it), you’ll notice that one of the plates is labeled castor bean plant. Bill D. gave me those seeds last week at the garden tour after I admired and asked about the strange, large-leaved plants growing along the fence.

Not only are these the source of the old health tonic, castor oil, but also, the source of the deadly, full of spy-induced intrigue, compound ricin. From the Cornell site:
In 1978, ricin was used to assassinate Georgi Markov in 1978, a Bulgarian journalist who spoke out against the Bulgarian government. He was stabbed with the point of an umbrella while waiting at a bus stop near Waterloo Station in London. They found a perforated metallic pellet embedded in his leg that had presumably contained the ricin toxin.
Reading that, reminded me of this NY Times article from earlier this summer, about a Brooklyn Botanic Garden exhibit dedicated to growing horrible, poisonous plants. It’s the subject of the book Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, by Amy Stewart.

This passage in an interview with the author intrigued me:

Abe - Who’s going to read the book? Gardeners or people who like weird twisted stuff?

Amy Stewart - “Actually, I am really pleased to see that it’s making its way into the hands of people who like weird twisted stuff. I’m getting a lot of very, very interesting emails. There is definitely a sort of horticultural underground out there of people who are into dark and dastardly plants. But it’s also finding its way into the hands of murder mystery readers, and I love that! Those people love a good villain as much as I do!”
I’m a gardener who also likes weird twisted stuff, so I seem to fit the demographic perfectly!

Any others out there? I know of at least one.

Pictures from the book here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Seed Saving

We recently put the John Brown’s House garden to bed, and saved some seeds for next year in the process. Saving tomato seeds is easy. Squeeze seeds into a class of water, let it sit and ferment for a few days, strain, and dry. I like to dry them on paper plates where I can write the variety on the plate. Paper towels work well, also, but the seeds have a tendency to stick. Peppers and beans are even easier. With peppers, allow the fruit itself to dry, then break open and save the seeds. The same procedure works with peas and beans – allow them to dry on the vine until they rattle, then harvest and allow to dry. Paper envelopes are best for storage, then putting them in an air-tight jar and placed in the refrigerator or freezer. Here’s a fact sheet from the University of Minnesota.

Remember that saving seeds from hybrid varieties, or from plants that easily cross-pollinate (like cucurbits), is not recommended.

Seed saving is not limited to vegetable gardening, of course.

The National Gardening Association’s recent regional newsletter, pointed me to this site. It’s all seeds all the time. There are sections on plant ID, based on its seed, or seed pods. Saving seeds. Links to other seed sites. It's an excellent resource. I’ve added it to the sidebar.

We are always looking for seeds from native plants to add to the wildlife area. Echinacea, Rudibeckia, Ratibida, Cosmos, Cleome, Helenium, Asclepias, Digitalis, Larkspur, Lobelias, and Lupines are all welcome. If you grow any of these, consider not dead heading, and letting them go to seed to collect and spread in the wildlife area.

You can sign up for the regional National Gardening Association Newsletter here. Here is their home page.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Garden Professors

Ginger Pryor forwarded a link to a new blog (since July) by some PhD horticulture professors and Extension specialists at various Universities. From their promotional email:

We are university professors with expertise in the science behind various aspects of urban horticulture, arboriculture, gardening, and landscaping. Every weekday one of us posts a commentary on something we feel passionately about - and sometimes it's controversial. Follow our debates, and leave your own comments as well!

The professors are:

Bert Cregg, an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticulture and Department of Forestry at Michigan State University

Holly Scaggins, an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech and Director of the Hahn Horticulture Garden, a 6-acre teaching and display garden on campus.

Linda Chalker-Scott, an associate professor in the department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State University and an Extension Specialist in Urban Horticulture

James Nienhuis from the University of Wisconsin (no introduction, yet)

and Jeff Gillman, an associate professor in the department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota.

I like the way they've approached the blog - having fun, debating with each other, and providing lots of science-based information in the process.

I've added a link to their home page on the side bar. The Garden Professors.

Friday, September 18, 2009

An Autumn Stroll

This Sunday, September 20th, 12:00 to 5:00PM, the Franklin County Master Gardener Fall Garden Tour. Here is a preview:

Bill D.'s vegetable garden and greenhouse is also on the tour.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Delayed Gratification

OK. This has nothing to do with Horticulture, or Franklin County, but I had to share:

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

Pollinator Class

Don’t forget Saturday’s Pollinator Class 10:00-12:00 at the Clubhouse. Here are some pictures sent in by Laurie C., taken in the Wildlife Area on September 1st to whet your appetite.

Scolia dubia, digger wasp. Not only beneficial as a nectar-drinking occasional pollinator, but a parasite of Japanese Beetle grubs.

St. John's Wort, growing behind the Compost Demonstration Area.

You’d think there’d be flowers, other than the invasive Canada Thistle Bull Thistle weed, she could be pollinating in our Wildflower Meadow. Stoopid bee.

Moths on the Sedum 'Autum Joy'
Update: The antenna look more butterfly than moth. Can anyone confirm?

Road Trip: Gourds, Native Plants, (and Bees)

Angela W. sends these pictures from yesterday’s Road Trip where ten MG’s visited Meadowbrooke Gourds in Carlisle, PA, and Meadowood Nursery in Hummelstown, PA.

Speaking of gourds. Have you wondered what all those vines spilling over the fences over in the Hort Trial Garden are all about?

Hoping for some Winter Squash from another of Steve’s trials?

Sorry, no. They’re the vines for various large-sized gourds: Swan-necked, Bird House, and Basket gourds. It turns out Alex S. is continuing his research in native bee shelters. As you know, for the last two years, he’s been experimenting using various bee box designs to provide shelters for native bee populations. Growing gourds is another potential way to accomplish the same thing, cheaply and sustainably. Alex will be talking to us about the subject at our next MG general meeting on Tuesday, September 22nd. So come for what’s sure to be an informative meeting.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pomodorians? Lycopersiconiphiliacs? Tomatamorati?

Got a good name for the group of folks helping Steve rate the flavor and texture of this year's tomatoes?

Vote at the poll, or suggest another name in the comments section.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Camera Finds - Pink Lady Slipper

I emptied my partner's camera of all pictures that had been taken and stored in order to free up memory space, and came up with these from back in April. These were taken behind the old log cabin that I use to store old pots and garden stuff for the winter. Here's a fact sheet from the University of Wisconsin on Cypripedium acaule, Pink Lady Slipper. I found this part on how they get pollinated interesting:

Bumblebees are lured into the pouch of the labellum through the slit in the front, attracted by the bright color and sweet scent of the flower. Once inside, they find no reward, and discover that they are trapped--with only one point of escape. Inside the pouch, there are hairs which lead to a pair of openings, one beneath each pollen mass. First, however, the bee must pass under the stigma, so if it bears any pollen from a visit to another flower, it will be deposited before picking up a fresh load, thus preventing self-pollination.
Unfortunately, the bees quickly learn from their experiences and soon avoid C. acaule flowers. Thus, like several other orchids in our flora, they are dependent on naive bees, and generally experience very low pollination rates (Davis 1986).
I'm not sure if it's the seeming cunning of the flower, or the learning process of the bee that impresses me more.

I hope that sometime in the future, we'll establish a Spring Native Ephemeral Garden in the Wildlife area when the trees get large enough to create the right habitat.
UPDATE: Here's a scientific paper on the learning ability of honeybees. Google "naive bees" for more fascinating reading.

Monday, September 14, 2009


At the first new Master Gardener class last Thursday, Ginger Pryor introduced us to the eXtension web page. I’ve added the Horticulture home page to the sidebar. Here’s the Master Gardener page. Think of it as a kind of Wikipedia for Land Grant Universities and Cooperative Extension across the U.S. and Canada. It's chock full of interesting articles and pictures. Here's one about Pollinator Gardens.

If you use the "Ask the Expert" feature and ask something about mosquitoes in South Central Pennsylvania, it might even get routed here.

So who's gonna be the first to try that out?

Tomato Day Pictures - Evelyn

Proud Grandpa

Ask the Plant Doctor

Dang, these are good!

Denise L.'s arrangements are wonderful.

Ready to Go.

Dead animal preparers
A window view

Bill D. with a 3 lb Orange Strawberry. Yum!


Laura at the Punk Rock Garden blog informs us that there is going to be a pawpaw tasting this weekend (9/19 and 9/20) in York County at the Gardener of the Owl Valley Nursery. Pawpaws are a native fruit tree, with a fruit tasting something like a cross between a banana and a mango. Here are some fact sheets on growing them. From Purdue, and from Virginia Tech. Our friend, Mike McConkey of Edible Landscapes in Virginia sells them on-line. You’ll need two different varieties for cross-pollination purposes, and they like moist, well-drained soil. They are the larval host plant for the zebra swallowtail butterfly, so great for attracting them to your property.

Tomato Recipes

Some recipes for all those tomatoes coming in:

Oven Baked Semi-Dried Tomatoes (from Peg B.):

Peel, core and slice tomatoes onto a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt. Season with crushed garlic. (Can also add other favorite herbs -basil, oregano etc. sprinkled on midway during the baking process). Bake in 400 degree oven for 30-60 min or until liquid is absorbed, which will depend on the variety of tomato used. Roma, plum, or paste tomatoes do well with this recipe, and will take less time than the juicier slicer, or beefsteak tomatoes.

Freeze in a zip lock freezer bag. Use with pasta, in soups, etc., or any recipe calling for tomato paste, or dried tomatoes.

Lotsa Spaghetti Sauce:

½ Bushel Tomatoes (16 quarts)
1 pint Olive Oil
3 pounds of onions, chopped into ½ - ¼ inch dice
5 or 6 Bell Peppers, chopped into ½ - ¼ inch dice
1/3 Cup salt
1 ¼ Cup sugar
60 ounce tomato paste (or use Peg’s recipe above, instead)
1 Cup of Fresh Basil Leaves, chopped
2 Tablespoons Oregano
3 Cloves Minced Garlic (or more, to taste)

Saute onions, peppers, and garlic in olive oil. Separately cook tomatoes until soft. Strain through a foley mill to remove seeds and skins. Add to cooked peppers and onions. Add seasonings and herbs. Cook down to right consistency. Can in quart jars and follow directions for processing and sealing. Makes 15 quarts.

We tasted the spaghetti sauce at the Victory Garden class this morning and it's a winner!

Upcoming Classes

Two classes coming up in the area in nearby counties Cumberland and Adams. In Cumberland, this Saturday, September 19th a Fall Garden Day will have classes in Growing Garlic and Shallots by our own Steve Bogash, as well as classes on Growing Fall Lettuce, hands-on Salsa making, and a presentation on Green Roofs. Directions on the brochure (pdf), or contact the Cumberland County office.

In Adams County, on Saturday, October 24th, there will be a Rites of Fall day with classes on Food Preservation, Building Cold Frames, Garden Photography, Herb preservation, weather proofing your garden, pruning, and flower conditioning for arrangements. Contact the Gettysburg office for details.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Labor of Love

14 quarts of tomatoes and tomato juice and 3 half-pints of preserves. There's nothing like a sip of your own preserved tomato juice in January to bring back the rich goodness of your Summer harvest, so well worth the effort. I threw in a couple of Steve's mushroom peppers in the juice batch, and I'll be harvesting horse radish in a month or so, so it looks like a home grown Bloody Mary mix is in the offing.

Now, if I learn how to distill vodka from the potatoes I grew, I can be totally sustainable!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Final Tomato Pruning

We're about 6 weeks away from the average last frost-free date (October 15) in Franklin County. Since that's about how long it takes to go from fertilized flower to ready-to-pick fruit, now's the time to prune back your tomato plants. Cut the growing tip of all vines, and snip off any new flowers. This will redirect the plant's energy toward existing, ripening fruit and reduce the number of green tomatoes at the end of the season.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Final Tomato Day Results

Linda S. and Barb P. completed the last of the data entry. We had 212 valid score sheets with the following results. George Weigel's column in the Patriot News will appear on Thursday.

UPDATE 9/3/09: Here's a link to George Weigel's column.

And more from Laura at the Punk Rock Blog.


1 Y Brandy Boy 821.50
2 W Blosser Pink 798.50
3 ZG Paul Robeson 760.00
4 A Grandma’s Garden 748.00
5 H Mountain Magic 742.50
6 I Cabernet Hybrid 704.50
7 P Sweet Mojo 692.50
8 D Super Bush 692.00
9 F Napa Grape 690.00
10 ZC Sweet Seedless 684.50
11 M Black Velvet 681.50
12 T Ramapo 670.00
13 J Solid Gold 667.50
14 U Black Brandywine 665.00
15 C Hillbilly/Flame 656.00
16 ZA Pineapple 653.00
17 ZE Orange Blossom 639.50
18 G Fabulous 628.00
19 V Fletcher 617.50
20 O Sweet Tangerine 609.50
21 Z Conestoga 608.00
22 N Moreton 605.50
23 R Valencia 605.00
24 S Black Truffle Hybrid 604.00
25 ZD Tomande 592.00
26 L BHN 876 589.00
27 ZF Legend 572.50
28 Q BHN 641 568.00
29 X Mountain Glory 562.50
30 ZB Scarlet Red 559.00
31 B Primo Red 543.00
32 E Patio Princess 488.00
33 K Tangerine Mama 467.00


1 W Blosser Pink 803.50
2 Y Brandy Boy 795.00
3 V Fletcher 787.50
4 ZE Orange Blossom 787.00
5 D Super Bush 786.50
6 H Mountain Magic 784.50
7 P Sweet Mojo 781.00
8 G Fabulous 771.00
9 L BHN 876 769.50
10 T Ramapo 768.50
11 I Cabernet Hybrid 762.00
12 A Grandma’s Garden 759.50
13 J Solid Gold 756.50
14 F Napa Grape 754.50
15 ZF Legend 748.50
16 ZC Sweet Seedless 732.00
17 ZA Pineapple 731.00
18 ZG Paul Robeson 730.00
19 O Sweet Tangerine 725.50
20 ZB Scarlet Red 725.50
21 C Hillbilly/Flame 717.00
22 B Primo Red 715.50
23 Q BHN 641 711.50
24 N Moreton 700.50
25 U Black Brandywine 691.50
26 Z Conestoga 677.50
27 R Valencia 675.50
28 M Black Velvet 673.50
29 X Mountain Glory 656.50
30 K Tangerine Mama 639.50
31 E Patio Princess 634.00
32 S Black Truffle Hybrid 610.50
33 ZD Tomande 603.50