Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another Martha ...

After reading this blog post and watching the PodChef video, Angela was inspired to create this decorative hard neck garlic bunch.  Unfortunately, she had already cut off the tops of the soft neck ones she grew, so the braid is a goal for next year.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monarch Monday

The Monarchs were active in the garden today.  This butterfly seemed to enjoy my Limelight Hydrangeas.  The Monarch butterfly information is taken from Gardens With Wings.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

This spectacular species is one of the most popular and distinguished butterflies. It is a bright shade of brownish red to orange and is complimented by brown or black outlining the wings and highlighting the veins. The Monarch is one of the longest lived butterflies, living up to 9 months. Every year this butterfly makes an amazing journey, up to 3000 miles, as it migrates to warmer climates, such as Mexico. Even more amazing, the many generations of the butterfly return year after year to many of the same locations. Monarchs are fairly large butterflies and strong fliers; they enjoy open areas and love Milkweed. The monarch chrysalis is just as amazing. It is a shimmering green accented with gold, resembling priceless jewelry, a must-have in all Gardens With Wings™.

Family: Brush-footed Butterfly (Nymphalidae)
Subfamily: Milkweed Butterfly (Danainae)
Average Wingspan: 3 1/2" - 4"
Habitat: Open areas, meadows, fields
Similar To: Queen , Viceroy

Plants That Attract This Butterfly

Don't forget to send your butterfly photographs to Ray E. to be included in the blog.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hydrangeas in my Landscape

These shrubs just seem to thrive in my landscape. The H. macrophylla and several H. paniculata were here when we bought the place. We've added the climbing hydrangea, H. anomala oak-leaf hydrangea, H. quercifolia , and the native smooth hydrangea, H. arborescens. The links above are from the University of Connecticut, which has a great set of fact sheets about each of these and both the Ohio State and University of Rhode Island fact sheets have good information about  planting, growing, and pruning.  Here's a good site on Hydrangea care, including how to dry the blooms.  Enjoy the pictures.

Oak Leaf H. quercifolia

Native, or Smooth Hydrangea H. arborescens

Climbing Hydrangea H. anomala

Mophead, or H. Macrophylla

The color of the blooms of this variety are blue in acidic soils, pink in soils higher in pH.  Pink varieties develop color best at a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0., while the best blue color occurs at pH 5.0 to 5.5.

H. Paniculata
This one is being overly shaded by a Norway Maple that's on my "to do" list to remove some day.

Paniculata blooms will come later in the year, but you can see their budding promise, if you look closely.

Another H. Paniculata

Yet Another H. Paniculata

I really like the way the blooms "ripen" into other colors, as well.  The bright white of the smooth Hydrangea mellows into a pale green.  Oak leaf blooms turn from white to a dark pink, and the white of the paniculata goes to a pale pink blush, all of which look wonderful in dried arrangements.  It probably has something to do with the fact that the actual hydrangea flower is small and insignificant but is surrounded by the showy bracts, much like a poinsetta plant.  I haven't had much luck retaining the pink or blue of the mophead when drying, but I've seen dried arrangements that do.  Oakleaf, smooth, and the paniculata seem to do it well without any "help" from me.  Anybody want to add their tips on color retention for drying?  Use the comments section, or shoot me an email.

Just Call Me Martha ...

...Stewart, that is.

I watched a couple of videos from The Garden Nerd, and The PodChef, and read some instructions on Braiding Garlic pulled from the web. Here's the result, using that soft neck variety, Inchelium Red, featured here.

Bill Dorman gave me some bulbs of a hard neck variety, originally from Chris Mayer at the Wilson College Fulton Farm, so I'll be growing some of them next year.  Not too bad for a beginner.

Summer Garden Experience 2010

You are cordially invited to the “Summer Garden Experience”, A Cornucopia of Ideas at the Penn State Horticultural Research Farm
9 AM - 2 PM on Saturday, July 31, 2010, 1446 Auction Rd, Manheim, PA(2.6 miles west of Rte 72 on Auction Road)

(Picture at left from Landisville Website)

Carpool and come early. The entrance fee, including parking, is $10/vehicle. This covers all events except Kid’s Camp and the Autumn Container Garden workshop.


You, your family, friends, and anyone interested in learning more about gardening and Penn State horticulture research.


It’s the savor of summer on the farm. Join the Penn State Capital Region Horticulture Team for our 5th annual open house event showcasing Penn State horticulture and agriculture research with farm wagon tours, variety trials, speakers, demonstrations, and much more. Come for a fun day full of information you can use in your own garden!


The Southeast Center, part of Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, is located in Lancaster County. Penn State researchers, Extension educators, and the USDA conduct cultivar testing of grain crops, forages, annual and perennial flowers, flowering crabapples, strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkins, and other horticultural crops. They also study disease, insect, and weed pest control, cover crops, inoculants, fertility, and crop management practices.

Featured presentations by leading scientists include:

Dr. Lee Reich - insight into growing worthy but less common fruits, including natives such as pawpaw, persimmon, and juneberry, that can be incorporated into an edible landscape. Lee also describes his system for getting rid of weeds in the garden. Lee, an avid “farmdener” (more than a garden, less than a farm) is a wellknown garden writer, lecturer, and consultant whose works include The Pruning Book and Growing Fruits in Your Backyard. His weekly gardening column appears in newspapers across the country.

Dr. Jay Holcomb - techniques for growing orchids

Steve Bogash - latest techniques and best vegetable varieties to grow in containers – great for small gardens! Steve Bogash is a Regional Horticulture Educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension. Among his specialties are small fruit and vegetable production and marketing and vegetable IPM. 

There will be seminars on a wide variety of subjects including Tree Fruit Espaliers, Herbs in Cooking, Composting, Lawn Care, Identification of Toxic Weeds, Pesticides for the Home Garden, Fertilizing Vegetables, Pollinator Habitat, Soil Health, Water Quality and Green Roof Gardening.

“Ask the Expert” is an opportunity for homeowners to bring their garden questions and problem plant samples to Master Gardeners for diagnosis, identification, and recommendations.

Kid’s Camp has fun activities for ages 5-12. Preregistration and a $5 fee are required. Call Lebanon Extension at (717) 270-4391 to register.

The Autumn Container Garden workshop has a fee of $25 for materials. Call Lancaster Extension at (717) 394-6851 to register.

Bring your camera for a walking tour of the flowers and a tractor-pulled wagon tour of the picturesque farm in the rolling hills of Lancaster County.

It’s a family outing with lots of activities for parents, children, and grandparents.


Keynote Speaker: Lee Reich

9:00 — Uncommon Fruits for the Home Garden
11:00 — Weedless Gardening
12:00 — Book Sale & Author Signing

Feature Presentations

10:00 — Orchids
1:00 — Container Vegetable Gardening

Farm Wagon Tours—10:00, 11:30, & 1:00

Take a tractor-pulled wagon tour of the research farm and demonstration plots with Center Director Alyssa Collins and Extension Educator Tim Elkner.

Variety Trials Tours—9:00, 10:30, & 12:00

Join Trial Director Alan Michael on a walking tour of the colorful display of over 1200 of the newest varieties of annual flowers for bedding and containers.


Short Seminars - Soil Critters, Tree Fruit Espaliers, Composting, Toxic Weeds ID Water Quality, Lawn Care, Herbs in Cooking, Pollinator Habitat Green Roof, Fertilizing Vegetables, Soil Health, Pesticides for the Home Garden

Master Gardener Idea Gardens - Lancaster County Master Gardeners will be on hand to show you their native plant, rain, and pollinator gardens, decorative vegetable and herb garden, and raised beds filled with vegetables, perennials, and annuals.

Information Booth - Get a map, schedule, times and locations for all activities. Sign up for our mailing list.

Master Gardener “Ask the Expert” - Bring your garden questions and samples for diagnosis, identification, and recommendations.

Displays - Learn about rain barrels, food safety, and more.

Native Plant Sale - Purchase great native plants direct from local growers.

SPECIAL WORKSHOP—1:00 Autumn Container Garden ($25.00 fee covers cost of container, plants and supplies) - Make and take a fall-themed container garden with help from Penn State Master Gardeners.


Southeast Ag Research & Extension Center
1446 Auction Road
Manheim, PA 17545-9140

FROM HARRISBURG: Take PA 283 east toward Lancaster. Exit at Esbenshade Road (just past Mt. Joy exit). Turn left at top of exit ramp. Immediately after crossing over 283, turn right on Auction Road. Follow Auction Road to “T” at Erisman Road. Turn right and follow Erisman Road around the curve. Then turn left, back onto Auction Road (just before the covered bridge). The PSU driveway is on the left as you go around the curve.

FROM LANCASTER: Take PA 283 west toward Harrisburg. Exit at Salunga exit (after the Landisville exit). Turn right at top of ramp, onto Spooky Nook Road. Turn left on Shenck Road (at the old Armstrong warehouse). Turn left across the covered bridge, then turn right on Auction Road. The PSU driveway is on the left as you go around the curve.

FROM YORK: Take US 30 east toward Lancaster. After crossing the Susquehanna River, take second exit (Prospect Road). Turn left on Prospect Road and follow for several miles. About ½ mile after crossing over PA 283 (4-lane highway), turn left on Shenck Road (at old Armstrong warehouse). Turn left across the covered bridge, then turn right on Auction Road. The PSU driveway is on the left as you go around the curve.

All uncaptioned pictures courtesy of Franklin County Master Gardener Laurie Collins, all rights reserved, from the ones she took at the 2009 event
 Please cite her name when using.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Harvesting the Lavender Crop

Welcome fellow Master Gardener Jerry Lewis with this guest post on harvesting his Lavender crop:

One of the first plants I planted when we built our house was lavender - love the look and the smell and it always stands out in the garden. This year I finally decided to harvest and use what I grew. After checking with several online and printed resources, I got started. It turned into a very pleasant morning.

First of all, start on a day when it has been dry for several days (that hasn’t been too hard lately). I gave each of the six lavender plants a haircut, trimming them back almost to the old wood (but leaving some of the new). I laid them out and bundled them with wire, then hung them under a covered shed porch to dry. Other than the 50 or 60 bees that accompanied me wherever I went, I accomplished this all by myself. They have been out there for 10 days now, and have dried nicely except for one bundle. One source suggested tying them with rubber bands, as the stems shrink as they dry. One of my bundles completely fell out of the wire, apparently because they dried a little too much. So I check every other day and tighten the wire a bit.

So far, they look good and smell good. I think my wife is claiming them for potpourri of some sort - the flower heads dry and are easily removed by shaking or cutting. She tells me the lavender will help me sleep better - I have always been plagued by insomnia, so will try it and report back... I waited a little too long to save the flower head on the stem - to do that you have to cut the lavender once a couple flowers have blossomed so they keep their color. Included a couple pictures of the experiment for your edification...

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Visitors

I was able to photograph two more beauties on Saturday.  Send along any butterfly photographs to Ray E. so we can share them as well.  The butterfly information is from Gardens with Wings, an excellent online resource.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

This cryptic colored and uniquely shaped creature has the perfect arrangement. It is one of the few butterflies that overwinter as adults. Hiding in cracks and crevices of wood, they remain inactive through the cold months. Their colors help keep them hidden and safe. This is also a butterfly that doesn’t prefer nectar but will drink it occasionally, the favorites of this individual is tree sap, overripe fruit, and animal scat. The scat supplies proteins that the butterfly cannot get from nectar. You may see this unique flier in cooler temperatures before the other butterflies are able to fly, an exciting sight in any garden.

Plants That Attract This Butterfly

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The Red Admiral is an admired butterfly, popular in much of North America, Asia, and Europe. This butterfly enjoys many types of environments and has a strong affinity to flowers. The males are territorial and many times can be found in the same location day to day. The undersides of the wings are a mottled brown and tan with a curved bright red color on the upper side of the brown/black wings. Although a quick flier, this beauty is a more docile butterfly, it tends to be a friendly visitor in gardens.

Plants That Attract This Butterfly

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If You Plant It, They Will Come

I was so excited when I was able to photograph a Red- Spotted Purple (left) and a Black Swallowtail (below) in my garden this morning. For centuries, or in my case over a half-century, people have been enamored with the beauty of butterflies.  With an understanding of butterfly needs and careful planning, you can easily make these "flying flowers" a permanent feature in your garden.

There are two types of plants needed for butterfly gardening.  Most beginning butterfly gardeners concentrate on "nectar" flowers.  The nectar flowers that butterflies favor for food are often the same ones we gardeners choose for their beauty or fragrance.   These same nectar flowers are the primary food sources for most butterflies.  The more of a given nectar flower that is in bloom, the more likely butterflies will be to select it for its nectar.  To make the most of the butterfly-attracting capabilities of nectar flowers, it's best to plant them in mass.  Massed nectar flowers provide a large area of color or a strong scent that will attract butterflies.  Also, the larger the number of nectar-brimming blossoms, the longer the butterflies will stay in your garden.

Common nectar plants include Aster (Aster spp.), Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Blazing Stars (Liatris spp.), Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa),  Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.), Cosmos (Cosmos spp.), Dianthus Family (Dianthus spp.), Lantana (Lantana camara), Marigold (Tagetes spp.), Petunia (Petunia x hybrida), Salvia (Salvia spp.), Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum spp.), Sunflower (Helianthus spp.), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Tall Verbena (Verbena bonariensis), Yarrow (Achillea spp.), and Zinnia (Zinnia elegans).
Once you have attracted adult butterflies to your garden with the right nectar plants, encourage them to stay from generation to generation by providing the right host plant.  Even though host plants aren’t first on the list when planning a butterfly garden, no butterfly garden should be considered complete without the important host plants.

According to The Butterfly Site, "Because tiny caterpillars cannot travel far to find their own food, the female butterfly locates and lays her eggs on only the type of plant that the caterpillar can use as food. Most species of caterpillars are particular about the type of plants they can eat. If the egg was not placed on the correct plant, the caterpillar hatching from that egg will not survive. Many gardeners do not like to see plants in their gardens that have been chewed on by bugs. To avoid this, you may want to locate your butterfly host plants in areas that are not highly visible, but still a short distance from the butterfly nectar plants. If you do not provide host plants, you will have fewer butterflies."  Specific host plants are required by each butterfly species.  (Monarch--milkweed;  Tiger Swallowtail--willow;  Viceroy--willow;  American Lady--sunflower, pussy-toe, silver brocade, ironweed, pearly everlasting, mallow). 

Two excellent online sources for butterfly-specific nectar and host plants are Garden with Wings and The Butterfly Site.

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower."
--Hans Christian Anderson. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Holiday Weekend Meal From the Garden

Nothing better than making a meal around your own garden produce. It's a little early for most of the stuff I planted, but there was enough to make a decent meal.
After picking and washing, there's a sweet green bell pepper that became available after a weeding mishap.  Some of that garlic.  Some leaves from the Napa cabbage, and a Savoy cabbage, the last of the radishes that had started to bolt, one of the sweet onions (variety 'Candy'), and the first of the aubergine kind of eggplant from the containers, a variety called 'Fairy Tale'.

Prepped and ready to go.  And it's always good to know about substitutes - pickles can be used in a pinch, instead of olives.

Seasoned the pork chops with the garlic, salt and pepper, and fresh rosemary sprigs, a variety called 'barbeque', picked also from the container garden.  Seared on both sides for few minutes, and finished in the oven for 30 minutes or so.
A quick saute of the onion, eggplant, and pepper in olive oil, seasoned as the pork chops, and flavored at the end with a spritz of lemon.  Lemon from the lemon tree, if you attended the Christmas party, you may recall the entrance foyer - they've been moved outside for the season.

Holiday Weekend Dinner for Two

Looking forward to the tomatoes coming in.  In a day, or two, I think for the first ones.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

You may have heard the story about Nancy Miller and me when we were first interviewed to become Master Gardeners back in the Summer of 2001. If so, and don't want to hear it again, skip ahead, else, here it is.

After listening to a presentation by Bob Kessler and Chris Mayer, describing the program, and discussing how the group is made up of many individuals coming from all aspects of horticulture, we were asked to introduce ourselves, and talk a bit about our own interests.

Nancy sat to my left and noted that, although she had experience growing up with vegetable gardens, she now limited herself strictly to ornamentals, and said, "If it isn't pretty, I don't grow it." I came next, and offered my own perspective, "Well, if you can't eat it, what's the point?"

I've come a long way since then, and although my heart is still in the vegetable world, I've become much more interested in the aethetics of it all, and keep learning more each year. For example, I've become rather proud of my shade garden and have been adding to the woodland spring ephemeral section (see here and here) and actually spent $12.00 on a single, three leaved specimen of the American Hosta Grower's 2008 hosta of the year, 'Blue Mouse Ears' (it was in 2009, and on sale, but still - $12.00, for a single plant, and such a dinky one at that!)

I also worked with Donna last year, along with Maria, and a rotating subgroup of the Victory Garden class, helping Steve evaluate different varieties of container vegetables, by harvesting, sorting, rating, counting, weighing and documenting yield of the 'marketable' produce from the trials. Armed with that experience, I offered to help with this year's Container Gardening Workshop, with a small segment on the recent trend in vegetable container gardening.

And of course, I learned something new at that class, from Linda Horst, during her presentation and reinforced by Sally Dallago during the hands-on part, about the easy to remember design for containers, using something tall (thrillers), something shorter around them (fillers), and something that drapes down, (spillers.)

So here's the result, a series of containers running up my front steps, with a 'Ray aesthetic':

(click on the pictures for larger, more detailed versions)

Thrillers: Ornamental corn (original seed from Burpee - Steve says the kernels can be popped - I grow them for the multicolored leaves, though, and Fall decorating with the black ears). Lemon grass - an herb used in Thai cooking to give a citrus flavor to the dish. A second year Rosemary bush, successfully overwintered in the unheated, but enclosed upstairs porch, and though not intended as such when originally planted, the cilantro going to flower.

Fillers: a variegated english thyme (from Renfrew's Earth Day), several basil plants, parsley (my own starts), black pearl and peruvian purple pepper plants acquired at the plant sale, a sage plant that overwintered outside in its container, and came back beautifully, and some of Steve's container eggplants, peppers, and, of course, tomatoes - check out the wispy, elegant foliage of the 'Silvery Fir Tree' variety.

Spillers: two varieties of ornamental sweet potato vine, 'Marguerite', the chartreuse one, and 'Blackie' the black one. Bacoba, and some wave petunias from the leftovers after Steve planted the containers around the Extension Office (a perk from volunteering to work in the greenhouse - think about that next year when the call goes out.)

You also might notice a couple zinnias, some dahlias, and a lemon calendula tucked in there, also part of Steve's leftovers.

Looks pretty good and mostly edible.  Maybe some cukes and zukes as spillers for next year?  I wonder if they have some variegated-leaved ones, yet?

Update: July 5th 1:45 PM - I didn't like the first picture at the beginning of this post, so I replaced it and added a couple more from different angles. Here's the original one that I didn't like:

Update 2 July 24:  Here's a closeup of the ornamental corn Zea mays var. Japonica

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My Fallow Field

Before - Weedy Unplanted Garden

I have three areas for vegetable gardening, each about 20' by 30' that are used for crop rotation each year. It's probably better to have four, so that the same plant in the same family (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant, for example) is only planted in the same spot once every 4 years. Here's a good fact sheet explaining the how's and whys for crop rotation in the home vegetable garden. Still, fungal pathogens, weed seeds, and insect pests can accumulate over the years to intolerable levels. 2008 and 2009 exhibited climatic conditions that favored their build up in the soil. So this year, and (depending on how well it works and degree of difficulty), for the next two years, I'm going to try solar sterilization of the soil as a passive method to rid the garden of them.

Same area - different angle

The idea is to use the power of the sun to heat the soil as hot as possible to kill weed seeds, fungi, and pests, in the same way your compost pile heats up enough to accomplish the same thing. Ideally, getting the soil to a temperature of 140 degrees to a depth of 6-8 inches, is the ultimate goal, although you'll never get that and Pennsylvania summers generally don't get as hot (this year might prove to be an exception) for a long enough period as in the South, where this process works better and 100+ degree days can last for weeks. Still, it's worth trying, since most soil organisms are negatively affected with temperatures as low as 104 degrees.

After tilling

After tilling, different angle

The process is straight forward. Till the area, wet it down (laying soaker hoses down is also recommended, too, to prevent drying out), and then cover with clear plastic. The plastic acts like a magnifying glass, enhancing the sun's radiation to raise temperatures enough to kill everything.

After wetting down

After wetting down - different angle

This process also kills the beneficial bacteria and micro organisms that are necessary for healthy soil, so it's important to restore that environment afterward. So, probably around Labor Day, I'll remove the plastic, spread the, er, 'output', from under the chicken coop, add as much compost as I have, and either plant a cover crop, or mulch heavily (thinking about experimenting with a home version of "no till" farming - still working on that in my head), depending on my mood, cost, and availability of material.

Plastic down

Plastic down - different angle
(That's Jason, giving me a hand this weekend)

This will be my bed for next year's tomato patch.  The plastic is the stuff used to wrap my screened-in porch during the winter to provide a bit of protection from winter north winds, as a way to protect the porch furniture, and provide a little insulation to reduce heating costs. It gets pretty ragged after a winter season, and can rarely be reused for its original purpose, so this is a way to extend its useful life.