Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Becoming a Friend of Penn State

Access to some software applications that the University provides requires creating a “Friends of Penn State” account. This is a totally free account with privacy assured, that will provide a modicum of security control and some demographic data about who is using the application. It’s essentially just an on-line identity for PSU applications, very similar to registering for on-line access to free content from Newspapers and Magazines.

The process is easy. Go here. Click on "Create an Account". Answer the information (First Name, Middle Name, Last Name, Address) and create a password (must be at least 8 characters long and contain both letters and at least one number). You will be given a userid, based on your initials (if you don’t provide a middle initial, one will be assigned) and numbers. So, my userid is rce11, for example. Linda S. is lbs112. Linda H. is lmh19, etc. You’ll also need to fill out some basic demographic data.

Eventually, all Master Gardeners (and other Extension volunteers, including 4H’ers) will need to open a “Friend of the University” account because sometime after the first of the year, the system for reporting our volunteer hours will be changed, and the new application will require folks to use this registration process in order to gain access to the new system.

We'll know more after the training session in Gettysburg that Linda and I will attend on November 12, so stay tuned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shelob in the Lavender

I reached down to collect some calendula seeds in the Herb Demonstration Garden on Monday, and came up close and personal with this beautiful spider.

Laurie C. was kind enough (and brave enough – given her confessed arachnophobia) to come in and get pictures.

The web is right in the middle of the lavender patch at the center of the Herb Garden.

We’ve narrowed the ID down to Argiope aurantia (Yellow Garden Spider), or Argiope trifasciata (Banded Garden Spider) and asked Alex to confirm.

Argiopes, like other orb-web spiders, weave an additional pattern of white silk in their webs (visible in the center of the web in the first picture), called stabilimenta. Scientists are unsure of the purpose of the stabilimenta, speculating that they provide an additional attractant for prey, that they can be used to scare off predators, or that they provide a visible means for birds and mammals to notice the web and leave it undisturbed. One of the common names for aurantia, is writing spider, for the resemblance of the stabilimenta to writing. Charlotte must have belonged to this family.

The Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet, Commonly Encountered Pennsylvania Spiders, is an excellent resource to hand out to the public when you're covering the help desk and you're asked about a spider specimen.

Check out this battle between an aurentia garden spider and a huge cicada-killer wasp.

UPDATE: Alex says A. trifasciata and sends this picture of A. aurantia that he took in Delaware County, PA.

UPDATE II: Alex went back to the Herb Garden and took these pictures:

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Way to Garden

Angela W. sends this link to another garden blog, "A Way to Garden" hosted by Margaret Roach, a former garden editor at Newsday in New York, and, more recently, Martha Stewart Living, where she was the magazine’s first garden editor and until 2008 was editorial director over all of the company’s content: magazines, books, and internet. I've added a link in the sidebar.

Friday, October 9, 2009

An Albino Wooly Bear?

Nancy M. sent in a picture of a wooly white caterpillar that was eating her oak trees. Alex was able to identify it as a hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae). Those long hairs are defense mechanisms that can cause stinging rashes.

From the OSU fact sheet:

Caterpillars or larvae of certain moths possess stinging hairs. These sharp hairs or spines are either hollow, connected to poison glands (venom flows on contact), or similar to glass fibers (hairs break off in skin easily) sometimes causing pain like a needle prick. Depending on the individual, reaction to the sting ranges from mild, with local reddening, swelling, burning and itching to severe pain. Hypersensitive persons may experience severe swelling, nausea and generalized systemic reactions, occasionally requiring hospital treatment. In severe cases, entrance of hairs into the eye can cause blindness.

This caterpillar is basically white with a black head and when fully grown is about 1-1/2 inches long. Symptoms are usually a skin rash (poison ivy-like) and sometimes severe itching followed by a painful burning sensation.
Here’s the Wikipedia entry.


I was really looking forward to growing some Scarlet Runner Beans next year, based on the ones we saved from the John Brown’s House. (Close up at right). They are simply gorgeous. I was imagining some redone bean dish with that purply, mottled appearance, paired with some contrasting color combination to wow fellow MG’s and folks at Church potlucks. No such luck.

Barbara Damrosh, who writes a weekly (every Thursday) “Cook’s Garden” column for the Home Section of the Washington Post has this to say:

…the anthocyanins that account for the gorgeous pinkness dissolve when cooked, and the beans, though still fine to eat, fade to a lavender-gray
How disappointing. I think I'll grow them anyway.

The Home section is also host to a weekly column by Scott Aker, a horticulturalist at the National Arboretum, who this week has some advice about preventing spindly mums.

He's also doing his part to overcome the "secret" part of the "Best Kept Secret", known as Cooperative Extension. From the same column:

Names vary slightly from place to place. Sometimes it is the Cooperative Extension Service, sometimes Cooperative Extension, and other times simply Extension. Whatever the name, it is always associated with the land-grant university system in each state and the District.

The Extension Service's Master Gardener program provides trained volunteers to advise home gardeners across the country. There are active Master Gardener programs throughout the Washington area, providing plant clinics, lectures and demonstration gardens.
Our own Elmer G. has been a volunteer at the National Arboretum for years. You can sign up to visit his fabulously landscaped surroundings in Shippensburg by taking the November 7th class of Principles of Landscape Design.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

So Whodunit?

Ageratina altissima , formerly known as Eupatorium rugosum (Taxonomists gotta make a living somehow) or white snakeroot, is a common native wildflower in bloom in our area now and is on many extension lists of native plants, good for attracting pollinators.

It is also the plant that killed Lincoln’s mother.
When stock animals feed on white snakeroot they show symptoms of trembles—muscular tremors, weakness, and constipation often leading to death. The poisonous principle is named tremetol, a fat-soluble, high molecular weight alcohol. Nursing females are shielded from some of the effects of tremetol because of the high rate at which it is excreted into their milk. This can be a death sentence for their nursing young however. For people consuming the milk of their animals, the resulting sickness was misinterpreted as a dangerous infectious epidemic of late autumn.

In 1818, nine-year old Abraham Lincoln, lost his mother to milk sickness.