Thursday, June 27, 2013

July and August MG Workshops

Upcoming Master Gardener Workshops

Preserving the Harvest - Thursday, July 11 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Learn the latest, research-based methods to preserve fresh produce by freezing, drying, pickling and canning – both pressure canning and water bath canning – safely.  The fee is $10.00. Call the Extension Office at 263-9226 to register.

Extending the Season - Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardens - Thursday, July 18, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Fresh veggies don't have to end with the start of fall!  Join Master Gardeners Bill Dorman and Bud Marshall to learn how to prepare and plan for a fall and winter harvest of home grown fresh vegetables.  The fee is $10.00.  Call the Extension Office at 263-9226 to register.

Butterflies and Pollinators - Two Part Series

Butterflies - Saturday, July 20th 9:00 - 11:00 a.m. - will be taught by Master Gardener Laurie Collins, who will show participants basic design principles and important requirements to maintain a successful butterfly garden. This class will discuss basic life cycle and review several butterflies found in our area. Special guest, Vaughn Erickson will do a presentation on the Monarch butterfly and how to rear butterflies. This workshop will end with a walk through the demonstration gardens to observe and identify visiting butterflies.

 Creating a Pollinator Friendly Garden - Saturday, August 17th 9:00 - 11:00 a.m. - Do you like chocolate, blueberries, apples, or almonds? Without pollinators these and many other foods would not exist. Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators in our area need your help. Join us as Master Gardener Laurie Collins guides you through identifying pollinators in our area, why they are in decline and what individuals can do to help. She will discuss easy basic design principles, plant selections and garden-ing practices for creating a successful pollinator garden.
The fee is $10.00 each class, or $15.00 if you register for both.  Please call the Extension Office at 263-9226 to register.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How Hot is It?

Not the weather – that PEPPER! Although we are finally getting heat and, typically, plenty of it all at once, we speak here of peppers.

TigerPaw-NR is one of the spiciest peppers
Your taste buds are craving salsa and it’s time to check the peppers growing in the back garden. There are several varieties of “hot” peppers, some turning red, but just how hot are they? We turn to the Scoville Scale for the answer.

Developed by chemist Wilbur Scoville, the scale measures hotness of peppers by measuring the capsaicin (cap-say-ah-sin) content.
It's good for comparisons between types of peppers but remember that plants grown in different conditions may be hotter or sweeter than rated.
Use caution when handling hot peppers.

So here goes, a listing of some of the most popular types is below. Go to the Scoville Scale online for a more complete listing.

Fighting the Burn

Capsaicin is alkaline oil. Water and alcohol don’t help because they won’t dissolve the oil and only spread it around. Acidic food or drink helps neutralize the oil. Try lemon, lime or orange juice, cold lemonade, or tomato drinks (not a Bloody Mary - see above).

Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, sour cream and ice cream are acidic and may help. Eating carbohydrate foods such as bread or tortillas may help by absorbing some of the oil. Chew these but don’t swallow. Did you know that most hot-chili eating contests provide bowls of powdered milk and water to participants?

For skin irritations (you weren’t careful?), wash off the oil with soap and warm water. Dry and repeat if needed. Remember, capsaicin is oil and can be spread to other parts of the body by touching. Also, wash all utensils and cutting surfaces with soap and water after use to avoid spreading the oil.

For an upset stomach (Yes, they get through.) drink milk, the more fat content the better or eat carbohydrate foods like bread and crackers. Mayo Clinic suggests sleep or rest in an upright or slightly inclined position to prevent heartburn and acid reflux.

Benefits of Capsaicin

Paradoxically, capsaicin's knack to cause pain makes it helpful in alleviating pain. National Institute of Health research supports the topical use of capsaicin for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis by lowering sensitivity to pain. Capsaicin can be found in over-the-counter creams and plasters.
Research continues on many other possible benefits in cancer treatments, anti-inflammatory use, weight loss and lowering cholesterol.
Check these other links for more information
Penn State: Ornamental Peppers
The Gut-Wrenching Science Behind the World's Hottest Peppers by Mary Roach (always an entertaining writer) for Smithsonian Magazine


Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Intelligent Murder of Crows

It was very late. I couldn't get to sleep and began cruising COMCAST for something to watch and found a PBS Nature show, A Murder of Crows. I learned some fascinating things.

New research has shown that crows can make and use tools, can recognize 250 distinct calls, and not only can recognize human faces but can pass down, through generations, that recognition.

Crows are social birds that mate for life and raise their young for up to five years. And they learn from each other’s misfortunes. When one is killed in a farmer’s field, it’s not uncommon for them to change entire migratory patterns so that no crows fly over that field for as long as two years.

CROWS MAKE AND USE TOOLS: For example, they use twigs to pry insects from wood or from inside long slender flowers. Crows are shown (in the program) using twigs to obtain other twigs that would allow them to obtain food - sequential tool use. Using tools to act on non-food objects – for example, to make or retrieve other tools – is considered to be a hallmark of human intelligence.
Crow using a stick to get a longer stick to get some food

CROWS HAVE OVER 250 CALLS: Calls are complex and vary by species and also regionally, sort of crow dialects. Not only the call but the tone and level of sound change the meaning of vocalizations – loud when defending territory or hungry and quiet, almost purring, to show affection. Distress calls bring other crows to their aid, as crows will defend other crows not known to them.

Univ. of Seattle researchers don masks to test crows recognition
CROWS KNOW WHO YOU ARE: Crows recognize individual human faces, and hold grudges against people who have been mean to them in the past. They have the ability to recognize individual human faces and pick them out of a crowd up to two years later. If a "dangerous face" is recognized by a crow, a call of warning is sent out among the crows. In a generation later,  the same face sends out caws of warning. Univ. of Washington researchers used masks in experiments that revealed that crows do not forget.

You can view the full episode online at PBS: A Murder of Crows -  it's not available through NetFlix yet.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Poison Ivy Time!

I was driving from Home to Newville yesterday, and was struck by the amount of poison ivy I was able to pick out along the road as I drove along.  I have found more poison ivy growing in my yard this year than ever before, so its time to send out a warning: be on the look-out!

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a North American native plant which produces urushiol, a clear liquid that causes itching, irritation and rash in most people who come in contact with it.  It comes in several forms: a trailing vine, a small shrub, or as a climbing vine.

Just a couple highlights from the University of Connecticut's Integrated Pest Management site:

  • Compound leaves are made up of three leaflets on a leafstalk.  Two leaflets grow on opposing sides and the third stands alone at the end of the stalk.  Leaflets can be lobed, smooth or toothed.   Leaflets can have hairy undersides.  The stems are woody.
  • Poison ivy can grow in the open, in deep shade, or along pathways and roadways.
  • Foliage in the spring is reddish and shiny.  Flowers can appear as a cluster of greenish flowers. Fruit is white and waxy like mistletoe.  Foliage in summer can be dull or glossy green.  Fall foliage is yellow, red or orange.
  • Poison ivy is persistent (boy, do we who have dealt with poison ivy know this!).  Birds eat the fruit and drop the seeds, which germinate easily wherever they land.  Creeping rootstocks also put out new growth.
  • Urushiol, the toxic substance for us humans, is in the stems, leaves, fruit, flowers and roots.  It is present in all plants at all times of the year in about the same strength.  It is released by any bruising of any of the plant parts.  Skin contact usually causes an allergic reaction.  It can contaminate people indirectly by contact through clothing, garden tools, pets, or by inhaling smoke from a fire where it is burnt.  Urushiol remains potent for a couple weeks; longer if it is dryer.
  • Symptoms - itching, burning, swelling, rash with watery blisters - appear hours to several days after exposure.  A person cannot contract poison ivy from touching the actual rash or fluid from the blisters.  It cannot spread from one part of the body to another.  However, urushiol can remain on skin or clothing or a pet's fur, and be then transferred to another person.
  • Control is often difficult.  You must dispose of the entire plant for it to be effective.  Cut vines and pull them away from trees.  Dig up roots.  Mow or cut young shoots until the plant dies.  Do not burn the poison ivy, but dispose of it where it cannot contaminate people or animals.  Cover as much skin as possible with protective gloves and clothing.  Clothing and tools should be cleaned to prevent the spread of urushiol.

The Wall Street Journal reported on a study that found that leaf size and oil content of poison ivy is much higher since the 1950's.  So let's say one good thing about poison ivy:  since poison ivy absorbs more CO2 as its leaves become larger, maybe it is helping to combat climate change... 

Other good news: nobody but us humans seem to react to the urushiol - many animals eat poison ivy as part of their diet.

And that's enough good news for this time.  Let's be careful out there!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Yucca - A Unique Choice

MG Jill Hudock wrote this post a few months back, and I've held off putting it up until the Yuccas started to bloom in our area.  Since that time has come, here's Jill.

Variegated Yucca in MG Jill Hudock's Landscape
Howdy fellow gardeners! In this article I am bravely going where no other article has gone before…into Yucca territory. It is not an easy journey. It requires an open mind, heart and imagination. So c’mon, saddle up for a little adventure in landscaping. I promise you’ll be savvier at trip’s end.

The Plant

Native to the southeastern US, but more predominately displayed in southwestern xeriscapes, Yucca filamentosa is 2 x 2 foot evergreen perennial with definite presence. Even its name evokes a reaction. Some folks, upon seeing it, do indeed say, “Yuck-a”. Here’s where an open mind is the key to discovery, as a closer look may prompt reconsideration.

When taking that closer look, check out the curly, thread-like filaments entwining through the lance-like leaves, hence the species name “filamentosa”. They peel back from the leaf as it grows, eventually dropping off. The effect reminds me of a very bad hair day. Its frizzies contrast dramatically with its bold, overall appearance. Somehow this is an endearing quality. As if to say, “Yes, I’ve got very pointy, sharp, needle-like ends but at my core I’m just a fuzzy wuzzy”…now doesn’t that tug on your horticultural heartstrings??

Variegated Yucca in MG Jill Hudock's Landscape
Yuccas are technically classified as perennial subshrubs, a fancy way of saying they provide year round visual support to the garden. They add a much-needed boost, especially in winter and early spring. The leaves remain at attention throughout most of growing seasons. No slouching allowed! However, some cultivated varieties do tend to droop, which may or may not be aesthetically pleasing. That is for you to decide, of course.

Yucca filomentosa adds a natural focal point to your landscape in a variety of leaf colors: solid green, greens with yellow striping or a fascinating misty blue.

In summer large, dramatic 6 foot sturdy stalks are loaded with fragrant, ivory bell-like flowers. No staking required. Seeds are produced by summer’s end. At this point the stalks may be cut down.

Recent surveys have shown the public is keen on incorporating edibles into the landscape. Yuccas may have value in that regard. Some folks enjoy cooking the seeds and using the flower petals in salads. Please research this before trying, as there are definite tips to follow. A very entertaining and educational website is  Bon app├ętit!

Yucca Moth - A Tegeticula moth is depositing a pollen ball onto a stigma of a Yucca plant
Picture Courtesy of Sherwin Carlquist from Wikipedia Commons

Yuccas even have their own exclusive pollinating insect, the Yucca Moth (Tegeticula sp.). Its life cycle is singularly dependent upon its host. How neat is that? Check out Lady Bird Johnson’s website for great photos and moth information at as well as the U.S. Forest Service Wildflower Website here.

Propagation occurs by seed, root cuttings or separating basal offshoots from the parent plant. Even though they grow slowly, placement is key. The taproot will regenerate if not completely removed, producing a new baby Yucca.

They aren’t picky about soil or sun, though they prefer full sun and will withstand drought conditions and salt spray. However, they will not tolerate wet situations. As far as plant health concerns go, no serious diseases or insects afflict them.

Picture Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Plant Usage

I have included the variegated Yucca ‘Color Guard’ in many landscape designs over the years. Its soft yellow center stripe is flanked by medium green margins. A 3 foot flower stalk appears in mid-summer. When the client is presented with its photo, their reaction is often “Hmmm” which is client-speak for “No, thank you, not for me.” This can also be accompanied by an incredulous stare because we were doing so well up to this point. I totally understand.

After agreeing that most Yuccas, even the sublime ‘Color Guard’, can have an almost menacing appearance with their sword-like leaves, I launch into my “Stalwart of the Garden” mini-speech. This usually brings the client around to at least understanding the validity of choosing a “structural” plant. Or they are so glad that I’m done “informing” they just nod numbly. They still may not be in love with its lack of dainty posies or its dearth of “cuddly” leaves, but they are now an educated homeowner/gardener. Yes!

Those clients who immediately express an appreciation for this plant are the ones who like clean lines, simple composition and don’t mind something a bit quirky.

I like to add a Yucca into a cottage garden composition because it will balance out the more romantic, softer textures. A garden full of pretty floppers and weavers needs this kind of visual support. You know who they are….the cosmos, the daisies, the peonies…to drop a few names.

Yuccas balance informality with formality, creating an appealing combination. Try one in a container for a track stopping, “Whoa there, missy!” You don’t even have to add any other plants, but if you do, a trailer (vine or vine-like) and a filler (anything with rounded leaves or flowers) will support your workhorse nicely.

Plant Varieties

I love to see the sun backlighting the previously described ‘Color Guard’. The wow-factor is huge! A ground-hugging starburst! Totally mesmerizing!

Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies' - UC Davis Arboretum
Picture Courtesy of Ellen Zagory
Another interesting Yucca is ‘Bright Edge’ which has pale yellow striping on its leaf margins. This one isn’t as showy as ‘Color Guard’ but I like it for its sophistication...the little black dress of Yuccas.

Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ has recently shown up in catalogs. I circle it every time and have yet to order it. Guess I’m really waiting to see one in person. The description reads “stunning blue 3’-4’ yucca”. The accompanying photo reminds me of the diminutive Festuca glauca ‘Elijah’s Blue’. I love my little ‘Elijahs’ for their soft, blue-gray tufted mounds. A very versatile ornamental grass, ‘Elijah’ would look lovely mimicking the much larger ‘Sapphire Skies’. Create a little horticultural drama by mixing two plants that look like big sister and little brother but yet are totally unrelated. Delishishly clever!
'Elijah Blue' in Drought Tolerant Demonstration Garden

'Elijah Blue' in Drought Tolerant Demonstration Garden

The Enlightenment

And while it is hard to reconcile the Yucca’s name with anything remotely chic, I submit that one must be imaginative, as well as adventurous, to fully understand its charms. It’s easy to fall back on a “yuck a” attitude towards this plant and then move on without giving it a try. If your landscape needs a bit of structure to complement its “prettiness”, then this could be a good option.

The other day a great friend, who also happens to be a well-respected local horticulturist, reminded me of an old memory that still makes her laugh. Apparently, in a fit of frustration, I had proudly declared myself a “Plant Snob”! I was tired of reading articles that were so politically correct they left no room for “the truth”, as I saw it. Glowing descriptions of attributes that only the plant’s hybridizer (AKA “ invested marketer”) could lovingly attest to were sticking in my craw. “Let’s call a spade a spade” was my battle cry! At least I kept it horticulturally-based.

Yucca filamentosa, leaf margin detail Picture Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Why do I bring this up now? I believe it’s good to be reminded that we all have our predilections. Ruts, in other words. Am I still a self-professed “Plant Snob”? Hmmmm…if so, I sure hope yucking it up will have changed my tune! And, maybe, yours too. Our little journey has ended and so, for now... “Happy trails to you…”.

Yucca fillamentosa agavaceae 'Bright Edge' 

There is a variegated Yucca fillamentosa agavaceae 'Bright Edge' specimen at the entrance to the Woodland Meadow Native Habitat Garden (AKA Wildlife Area Demonstration Garden), and a Yucca Hesperaloe parviflora 'Perpa Brake Light' in the Drought Tolerant Demonstration Garden.

Yucca Hesperaloe parviflora 'Perpa Brake Light'
Looks like a critter took advantage of the 'edible' characteristic of the plant.

Update: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - Last night's monthly MG meeting took place at Renfrew's four-square garden where we learned from Dr. Doris Goldman that a plant in the middle of the design of the garden was often a Yucca, or "Our Lord's Sword".  More on German four-square gardens here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June and Early July 2013 MG Workshops

Upcoming Summer 2013 Workshop and Events Schedule - Contact the Extension Office at 717.263.9226 to register.

Roses 103: Grow to Show: Preparing your blooms to be winners at the county fairs. Saturday, June 15, 2013 from 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. After all of the work you've put into growing beautiful roses, you should share them with others! We will teach you how to groom your own blooms and take them to exhibit at the Franklin County Fair. Cost for the class is $10. Class is held at the Redington Residence 347 Leedy Way East Chambersburg PA 17202

Rain Barrels and Rain Gardens - Saturday, June 22, 9:00-11:00 a.m.

Rainwater runoff from your roof, driveways, and other impervious surfaces can be captured and recycled to beautify your landscape, reduce your water bill, and keep our streams and waterways cool and clean. Master Gardeners will teach two different methods to harvest rainwater through the use of rain barrels and rain gardens.

Cost for the class is $30 with a take-home Rain Barrel (Limited to 25 people) or $10 without the Rain Barrel.

Nature Photography - Saturday, June 29th 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 Noon

Laurie Collins, Master Gardener and experienced amateur photographer, will share her techniques for basic photo composition and some of her secrets for taking great backyard nature photographs with your digital camera. This is a non-technical class for the everyday person. 

Bring your own digital camera and be familiar with the basic camera and function settings. You will be able to practice what you learn at the Extension Demonstration Gardens.  Cost for the class is $10.00

Shade Gardening - Saturday, July 6,th 9:00 - 11:00 a.m.

Enjoy strolling through the shaded gardens of Master Gardeners, Nancy Miller and Denise Lucas, and experience the many options of perennials, shrubs, and understory trees for partially shady to shady garden areas.

You will also learn tips about incorporating color, texture, plant variety, use of containers and houseplants, and garden ornaments to create focal points or “rooms” in the garden.

Plant lists will be provided. Bring a clipboard/notepad.


Go West on Rte 30 from Chambersburg. Turn LEFT onto Warm Spring Road (Route 995)
Go approximately 2 miles.
Turn RIGHT onto Kittatinny Drive.
Turn RIGHT onto Cove Drive.
Miller Residence is on RIGHT side of road. 1391 Cove Drive
Lucas Residence is around the corner on 1431 Moosic Drive

Signs will designate parking areas.  Cost for the class is $10.00

Friday, June 7, 2013

2013 John Brown House Planting

MG Donna Berard Lashing the Tops

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

We replaced the four year old bean tripods at the John Brown House and finished the last of the plantings there for the Demonstration Kitchen Garden.

Franklin County Master Gardeners work with Dr. Doris Goldman of the German Four-Square Garden at the Renfrew Institute in Waynesboro, to plant a demonstration kitchen garden using vegetable varieties that were grown in the 1860's, when the property was used as a boarding house, with John Brown its famous tenant. 

The raid at Harpers Ferry was planned from this location. 

Some of the plants we grow there include Cardoon (more here.), Salsify, Turnips, Beets, Carrots and Parsnips. 
Multiple Heirloom beans, including Lazy Housewife (so named because it was the first "stringless bean", marketed to housewives as easier to prepare), German Red Lima, Christmas Lima, Scarlet Runner (also used as jewelry beads), Radan Yellow Wax, Spelt, and Moesteller Goose Bean - named after the Moesteller Farm where the original bean was found in the foot of a Goose, and seeds were saved.

Clockwise from Top Left, Lazy Housewife, Christmas Lima, German Lima
Radan Yellow Wax, and Scarlet Runner Beans
We save seeds every year, as was the practice at the time.

The bean poles that were made the first year were starting to break down, so we replaced them.

MG Ray Eckhart Planting Beans

Watered in (using 21st century hose)

Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, and Cardoon

In another bed, Tomatoes, Cardoon, Peppers and Eggplants were planted.
A Concord Grape Arbor
Another bed (not pictured) was planted with various cabbages, kholrabi and cauliflower, again, using varieties that were grown in the 1860's.

The John Brown House is maintained as a museum and visitor stop by the Franklin County Historical Society - KittochtinnyVisiting hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM, please note that the last tour starts at 3 PM.  Admission fees are: Adults $4, Children (6-17) $3; Combination tickets for the Old Jail and John Brown House are $7 each; maximum charge for families in one household is $10 at either site.  Group tours are by appointment; please call (717) 264-1667. 

When you go, be sure to pay attention to the "Bean Pole" incident that occurred as participants in the raid fled back to Chambersburg.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Miller Stewardship Forest

On Wednesday, May 29th, Franklin County Master Gardeners were treated to a tour of the Miller Stewardship Forest.  The 34 acre property is owned by Larry and Nancy Miller (MG), and has been carefully transformed from an unmanaged old farm woodlot with many invasive species, into a restoration  oak-hickory forest by retired forester and Master Gardener Lionel Lemery.

Guide MG Lionel Lemery

The property includes a three acre pond and a two acre tree plantation, including Chestnut trees as a part of the blight-resistant breeding program to bring back the American Chestnut.

Three Acre Pond
The pond was created by an earthen dam around 1949.  It has a maximum depth of 26 feet and supports good populations of bluegills and some largemouth bass. 

Wildlife Observed
The two-acre plantation was planted in 2008 and 2009 with 23 species of trees and shrubs, in addition to the Chestnuts.  Three bluebird nesting boxes are spaced along the field edge.

Bridge Over a Part of the Pond
There is a one mile walking trail loop through the property that is open to the public for hiking and nature study.  Public hunting and fishing is prohibited.  Please call (717) 263-0083 to make arrangements.

MG's on the Tour

The 120+ year old forest was commercially thinned in 2009, removing 1/3 of the tree growth to allow space for more desirable species.  Dead snags and cavity trees were left to attract woodpeckers and owls to the property.  Both Barred Owls and a Great Horned Owl have been heard living on the property.

Rattlesnake Weed - Hieracium venosum

The Rattlesnake Weed, or Hieracium venosum, gets a dandelion-like yellow flower, on a very tall stem.  Pictures at the links.
MG's on the Trail

More Explanations from Lionel
The Millers are managing their land to sustain forest health and to provide habitat for wildlife and leave a family legacy for their grandchildren.

Stewardship, indeed!

Thanks, Nancy and Lionel - what a great way to earn continuing education credits, while enjoying nature and conservation at its finest.

Thoughts and Meditations on Gardening- 7

Dogwood (Cornus spp.)

After all, I don't see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like white dogwood. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Mountain Laurel ( Kalmia latifolia)
And miracles of many different kinds from flowers
Zinnia and the Bee
and herbs and vegetables
Rosell 'Jamaican cocktail (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Little Miracle Peas
and fruits
White donut peaches

and trees
and even fungus.
Don't you agree?