Saturday, March 31, 2012

Guineas - Part 12 - Overwinter Report

Warren the Rooster - RIP
I'm down to four Guineas, and three Chickens.

Over the winter we lost Warren the rooster, one of the West Nile chickens and one of the Guineas.

The two chickens died, about three weeks apart, and the guinea just didn't return home one evening, so we're not sure what happened.

The remaining guineas are, conveniently, two male and two female, and have paired off.

First Guinea Egg
Today, I found my first guinea egg. The large brown one is from the remaining West Nile chicken, and the two large white ones are from the two leghorn chickens we rescued last summer.

Remaining West Nile Sentinel Chicken
The remaining small, brownish one is the guinea egg. I found it in the same communal laying spot that the chickens use. We'll see if the other female uses that area, as well. Besides size, there's not much difference between the chicken and guinea eggs, although the guinea eggs are said to be higher in protein, by weight, and their whites whip up faster for a meringue, supposedly, according to the book. And unlike chickens, they'll only produce eggs seasonally, now through September. I'll let you know if there is any difference in flavor. More here.

One Pair
Group Photo
Blondie and Her Mate
UPDATE: Sunday, April 1, 2012 - I ate the egg pictured above this morning for breakfast.  The shell is much tougher, and thicker than chicken eggs, and took a harder whack to crack.  Yolk was the same size as chicken eggs, but there seemed to be less white, and the yolk was a deeper yellow, almost orange color.  Tasted like an egg - no discernible difference in flavor to my taste buds.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Star of Spring… Magnolia stellata, “Star Magnolia”

Master Gardener Jill Hudock tells us about Star Magnolias.

Magnolia stellata  'Royal Star'
photo by Jill Hudock
 Are you looking for a beautiful tree to add to your landscape? Then look no further. Magnolias, the “Aristocrats of Spring”, have a long history as magnificent additions to the garden. Discovered in the Orient, they were named in honor of the 17th century botanist Pierre Magnol and have graced western gardens in Zones 4-8 for more than 300 years.

There are several well known species but one of the longest flowering and earliest bloomers is Magnolia stellata, the Star Magnolia.

Beginning in March, the Star Magnolia’s large, 3”-5” white or pink perfumed blossoms can last up to three weeks, before giving way to shiny 4” by 2” oblong-shaped leaves. Not all of the flowers open simultaneously which adds to the length of its show time.

Covered in pussy willow-like casings, the buds swell to release 12 or more tepaled flowers. These tepals give the Magnolia it’s “star” quality, resembling a starburst rather than the traditional 5 pointed variety. Pale yellow anthered centers hold the strappy tepals in place. When the flowers are nearing their “curtain call” they remind me of ballerina tutus from a Degas painting…a tree filled with nature’s dancers, “jete-ing” with the breeze.

Photo by Jill Hudock
Star Magnolia grows slowly to 20 feet high by 15 feet wide in full sun to part shade. Though preferring acid soil, it grows graciously in many soil types while thriving in both cold and heat. It’s a seasoned performer that knows the show must go on. Sadly, in our area its biggest nemesis is frost. Though its flowers don’t mind near-freezing temperatures, frost will stop the act briefly. Thankfully any unopened buds will continue to bloom. A full three weeks of Magnolia stellata is a sold-out event. We can count our lucky stars for that type of performance!

Star Magnolias are often grown as multi-trunked specimens, resulting in a densely branched canopy. Single trunks usually have low branches that can be easily pruned up. Pruning gives even more pleasure, as the cut branch releases a delightful lime fragrance. However, remember to prune in the dormant season or after blooming, as the Star Magnolia’s bark will “bleed” if pruned too early in the growing season. This usually doesn’t affect its health but it is unsightly.

By fall, they produce small, 2” fist-like capsules filled with orange-red seeds. While not a noticeable attribute to us, songbirds enjoy them for their high fat content. Star Magnolia leaves turn a butternut yellow before dropping.

I first became acquainted with this shrub-like tree about 14 years ago on a tour of Linda Secrist’s garden. Linda is our current Master Gardener Coordinator. She had planted it on a corner, very close to her home’s foundation and it was at least 15 feet tall. I don’t remember the month of the visit, other than it was very hot and this tree, with its glossy dark green leaves was stunning. Its smooth, light gray bark was a nice contrast to its dark leaves.

I couldn’t believe it was thriving so close to the house. Linda said she really didn’t give it any special attention. I knew then I would find a home for one in my garden. Had to have it, had to have it!! And this was without seeing any of its trademark flowers.

Finding a plant that’s appealing without flowers is exciting. And if it blooms, what a bonus! In a small garden, plants that look good during more than one season are a must. They have to pull their own weight and Magnolia stellata is certainly one of those.

Photo by Jill Hudock
And so, I too, planted my Magnolia stellata “Royal Star” (white tepals) on the north-west corner of my home where it has faced fierce westerly winds and scorching summer sun without a hiccup for over a decade. Even though it has a reputation for being a slow grower, mine has managed to be 12’ tall without interfering with my home’s structure. Its roots are not like most trees, as they are rope-like, splaying out from the center. They don’t form a dense rootball. It’s a perfect plant to soften a corner’s hard edge. Thank you very much Linda!

Placing it close to the house has many advantages. I enjoy its blossoms from my dining window when it’s too cold to be outside. I enjoy recognizing its scent, wafting through the garden while I’m doing spring cleanup. And I enjoy its glamorous good looks all summer long. Plenty of joy all the way around!

And, of course, Star Magnolia looks great planted as a single specimen to be appreciated from all angles. It’s also a wonderful visual anchor for a bed. In winter the branches will capture snow, creating a handsome silhouette. Wherever you plant it you will love it. Guaranteed.

So if you’re looking to add spring drama, summer performance, fall feasts for your feathered friends, and winter sculpture to your garden, Magnolia stellata can bring star quality to any seasonal event. And all for the price of one admission…a luminary not to be missed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Starting Seeds Indoors

Horticulture Educator Steve Bogash provides tips for starting seeds indoors.

Here's a picture of the easy to build lighting system we did for the class a few weeks ago.

Lighting System
Plans for building the frame here.

Plans for making a heat mat from outdoor Christmas Lights here.

University of Maryland site for starting seeds here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Free Natural Fertilizer!

Dr. Jeff Gillman of the University of Minnesota - one of the Garden Professors - provides a solution for folks looking for inexpensive, natural fertilizer that you make yourself. Literally.

He's written about this subject before, and now is marking new territory with this promotion of his new book, Decoding Garden Advice, co-authored with Meleah Maynard.

George Weigel has written about it, too, and there even are peer-reviewed studies touting its use in growing cabbage and cucumbers.

This BBC story on the subject tells us why it's mostly a guy thing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Early Spring - 2012 - Siberian Squill

White Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica 'Alba') in Eckhart Rock Garden
Spring of 2012 is here.  Male carpenter bees started to harass me this weekend, so it must be time.  Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) blooms are one of the first indicators.  Siberian Squill is not native to North America, and according to this article from Rutgers University, they're not even native to Siberia:
...the plant is not native to Siberia, but to Turkey, Georgia and Armenia.  In its native regions, it grows in woods, scrub and in well-drained rocky terrain, tolerating winter freezes to 30 below zero!  In the garden, it prefers well-drained soils, but is very adaptable.
Blue ones adapted to that "Rocky Terrain"
What I love about these small flowering spring bulbs, is that they naturalize so readily - even in the grassy areas that I mow, since they emerge, bloom, and pretty much die back before I have to mow the grass.

Another feature:
Although Siberian squill requires sun to thrive, it is particularly attractive when allowed to naturalize under deciduous trees and shrubs. Leafless branches allow the bulbs ample exposure to the sun when they are actively growing. By the time the trees and shrubs have leafed out, Siberian squill plants are starting to go, or have already gone, dormant and thus do not require as much light.
Not only that, but they are unaffected by juglone, the poisonous stuff that Black Walnut trees produce to reduce competition, so can be safely planted there.

North Carolina State University warns us that they are:

So don't eat them.  Deer won't. Enjoy the rest of the pictures - all taken Sunday, March 18th, 2012:

Naturalizing in Eckhart "Lawn"

Growing Under a Cherry Tree

Monday, March 5, 2012

Speaking of Strawberries - 'Purple Wonder'

'Purple Wonder' (left) strawberry's deep burgundy color extends throughout the fruit. Click image for larger view
Picture courtesy of Cornell University
I just read this press release from Cornell University on the introduction of a new variety of strawberry called 'Purple Wonder':
“Purple Wonder is sweet and aromatic, with outstanding strawberry flavor,” said Courtney Weber, Cornell small fruits breeder and associate professor of horticulture. “But the color is something you won’t be able to find in any grocery store.”

They'll be introduced to the public at the Philadelphia Flower Show this week.  You can buy plants from Burpee.

Much like the market in fresh tomatoes, strawberries have undergone a re-emphasis on breeding for flavor, not just disease resistance and ease-of-shipping characteristics, in recent years.  Here's an article from December, 2010 describing some of the science and history behind breeding strawberries for flavor, after having sequenced its genome:
The sequencing project was initiated at Virginia Tech, where researchers had already done genetic work on this variety of strawberry. The sequencing was done without national grants. Instead, funding came internally from the research institutions and the strawberry industry, and most of the researchers involved donated time, according to Folta, who said he acted as a coordinator for the project.
I'll probably wait a year or two for the price to come down, but the fact that 'Purple Wonder' lends itself to container growing, coupled with the decidedly different color, and touted flavor means I'll probably give it a try in my garden.

Friday, March 2, 2012

2012 Strawberry Plant Sale

The Franklin County 4-H program is sponsoring a strawberry plant sale. For only $5.83 (which includes tax), you get 25 strawberry plants. There are different varieties to choose from - early, mid, and late season, as well as day neutral everbearing varieties.  Strawberries are perennial, so you'll have several years of production from just one planting. If you're new to small fruit growing, you can sign up (call 263-9226) for the Small Fruit in the Home Garden class coming up on Saturday, March 24th to learn the best ways to grow strawberries, blueberries, and the brambles (blackberries and raspberries). Strawberries take well to container gardening and can also be used in an ornamental pyramid planting. Here are some fact sheets from Virginia Tech and the University of Arkansas.

Below is the order form. Click on it, print it, fill it out, and mail or bring in to the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Office - 181 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg, PA  17202. Orders and payment (checks payable to 4-H Development Fund) are due by Monday, March 26, 2012.

Plants will be available for pickup at the Franklin County Extension Office on Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 after 1:00 PM.

Click on the form for a full sized copy.  Print it, fill it out, and send it in.