Snapshots: Snowy Spring


The forsythia is in bloom – here is the first of three snows!


Actually, the snow is a protective cover on this cold morning.  Tonight, the temperature is supposed to go down into the high 20’s. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I will be covering my few cold hardy annuals, but the new leaves on the trees will have to fend for themselves.

Trendspotting: Backyard Chickens

Do you need some garden help?

chicken trioBy Teresa Woodard


Black Java

Black Java

Meet our newest gardening crew – two black Java and two cuckoo Maran chickens.  Yes, these hens are tilling, weeding and even fertilizing the soil as we prep our vegetable garden area.  Plus, they’re laying beautiful brown eggs and bringing us lots of laughs.


According to Mark Glover of, hatcheries’ sales are up and the small-order sales are growing the most.  Besides their gardening benefits, chickens are attracting more attention as people want to live sustainably, know their food source and protect some of the rare heritage poultry breeds.

Cuckoo Maran

Cuckoo Maran


When my 14-year-old son Mark and I started talking about keeping chickens, we visited a friend’s farm and learned about their care. While we fell in love with their mixed flock and their beautiful eggs, we postponed our own chicken raising.  Two years later, we decided to move ahead with some hens (my son couldn’t wait for chicks to grow up to lay eggs) and returned to the farm to purchase a couple of their dual-purpose (egg and meat) heritage breeds.

Now that we’ve had “the girls” for a few weeks, we delight in gathering their eggs in the morning and turning them loose in the garden for an hour after dinner to watch their antics as they dig for grubs and follow Mark around the garden as he shovels up worms for them to devour.


If you’re interested in learning more, we encourage you to visit a poultry show, take a backyard chickens class and check out the links below.

Garden Happenings: Plant Sales

By Teresa Woodard

The plant-buying frenzy is about to begin, and there’s no better place for one-of-a-kind plants and great gardening advice than a public garden’s plant sale.  Besides, the sales generate significant income for botanic gardens, arboreta and plant societies.

There’s a month-long series of sales throughout the Midwest.  Many feature auctions, pre-sale party nights, workshops and book signings.  To get first dibs on plants, check out the pre-sale events typically offered to members. No doubt, the membership privilege is well worth the $25-$50 annual dues.

Also, come with questions.  Many of the volunteers have first-hand experience growing the plants for sale.  So, don’t be afraid to ask for their favorite tomato plant, native shade tree or miniature varieties.  The only danger is you may end up with a trunk full of wonderful plants.

Aullwood CGWhile there are many places to shop, this year, we’re highlighting the Native Plant Sale at Aullwood Audobon Center in Dayton, Ohio. I loved revisiting the late conservationist Marie Aull’s woodland gardens, while doing a story for the recent issue of Country Gardens magazine.

At Aullwood’s natives sale, you’ll find 100 different species – from woodland wildflowers like celandine poppies to prairie favorites like compass plant and milkweeds to wetland stars like cardinal flower.  They’ll also have ornamental grasses like little bluestem and native trees and shrubs such as flowering dogwood, sumac and spicebush. To save time, submit a pre-order form by April 7, and orders will be ready for pick up on April 11 or 12. If you pick up on April 11, you also have shopping privileges at the plant rescue sale featuring trilliums, bloodroots, Virginia bluebells and more. After shopping, be sure to see the spring ephemerals starting to bloom at Aullwood Gardens.

Other places to shop include:


Favorite Flora: Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense): Edible… or not?

Asarum canandense resizeBy Debra Knapke

The question: “Is it true that you can use it like ginger?” The answer: “well, yes and no”. This shade-loving, native perennial has a history of culinary use as a ginger substitute. The roots have been powdered and candied, but the chemistry of wild ginger is different from the true ginger (Zingiber sp.) of South Asia. Wild ginger’s flavor has been described as potent, but Dr. Art Tucker, professor emeritus of Botany at Delaware State, cautions that only the essential oil, in small amounts, has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. This makes me reconsider my desire to taste-test the root.

The ethnobotanical record and current use for wild ginger reads like a manual in how to cure just about anything. The most common uses have included: improving digestion and appetite; curing coughs, colds, bronchitis, and sore throats, supporting the immune system and healing wounds. But, before you go experimenting, consider that most recommendations were accompanied by this caution: contains aristolochic acid which has been found to be carcinogenic and mutagenic – causing cancer and mutations, respectively.asarum canadense flower crop 2

In the garden, wild ginger is a beautiful ground cover that increases its diameter slowly; 24-30” wide in two to four years. The curious maroon flowers are under the leaves, close to the soil where they are pollinated by beetles and flies. Look for the flowers in mid-April or so. This may necessitate getting on your knees and bowing to your garden.

Wild ginger is native in 25 states in moist woodlands. In the garden this translates to well-amended soil in shade to part shade. Ginger mapIt is tolerant of a wide range of pH, and can withstand short periods of dryness once it is established. However, wild ginger is not tolerant of flooding. Slugs and snails can be an issue, especially in wet seasons, but I have found the damage to be minimal, certainly not worth any control measures.

We all need to be aware of supporting our native insects. Wild ginger offers food to the larval stage of the gorgeous pipevine swallowtail butterfly. The caterpillar eats the leaves and thereby ingests aristolochic acid which makes it poisonous to birds. For this same reason, it is not favored by deer.

Pipevine Swallowtail Jim McCormac

Mating pipevine swallowtails that are safe from hungry birds because of their diet of wild ginger leaves and milkweed nectar. Photo credit: Jim McCormick

Multi-functional, beautiful and low-care; what more can you ask from a plant?

To learn more about wild ginger and  other rare plants, check out FloraQuest and consider signing up for the next field trip to Marblehead, Ohio, May 12-13.

Snapshots: Spring Bulbs

IMG_0541Small signs of hope springing up everywhere

By Michael Leach

Spring aims tiny green spears in its fight against winter.

Seemingly insignificant, the pointy shoots of snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, iris and other early bloomers take aim at winter’s soft underbelly. Sooner or later (probably later given the ice cover on the Great Lakes this year), winter will slowly collapse like a malevolent balloon, float to the ground and dissipate with the last frost.

Long before that, tiny, triumphant banners of lavender, pink, yellow, red, purple and white will wave in afternoons that grow ever warmer and twilights that linger ever longer.

Many Midwest gardens remain snow covered or ice crusted as this longest and coldest winter in ages sneers in contempt at the first warming breath of southern winds.

Don’t despair.

Nature’s pulse quickens. Shoots are drawn irresistibly to the sun. Despite the snow and the cold — blossoms will open, lawns turn green and feet run shoeless once again.

Happy Spring!


Spring Countdown: 1 day

Leach garden (22)How to grow a winter garden without raising the heating bill

By Michael Leach

Wearin’ o’ the green is one thing. I prefer eating greens, especially those fresh from the garden. With floating row cover, and a bit of Irish luck, this is doable on St. Patrick’s Day and weeks before — even in the Midwest.

By chance I discovered floating row cover does more than keep cabbage butterflies away from the kale, collards, turnips and other cold tolerant greens. I plant these in late summer for a fall, winter and spring harvest. This lightweight agricultural fabric helps the plants resist winter weather, apparently by offering some wind protection. Even without row covers, kale and collards have grown well into December in some years.

While Debra was gathering rosemary during our spate of Zone 7 winters in our Zone 6 world, I harvested small amounts of greens almost weekly. Dim winter days slowed production to mere bragging rights over a few leaves in darkest December and January.

But by the end of February, the combination of warmer readings and longer days triggered new leaves and harvests two or three times a week.

This year things are different, due to one of the coldest winters in a generation. The lush, venerable greens, planted last spring, died despite the row cover. A cursory check shows little hope of new life arising from the roots.

The younger plants of late summer provided the season’s  first small harvest of greens — just in time for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. That’s no Blarney. Seasoned with a bit of butter, sea salt, pepper and bragging rights they were awesome.

(For inspiration on growing your own winter garden, check out Eliot Coleman’s books based on his experience of year-round vegetable gardening in Maine without  heated greenhouses. Visit his website.)

Spring Countdown: 2 days


In keeping with the green-theme here is another set of books to consider.  From bottom to top:

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – I still have the original The Basic Book of Organic Gardening edited by Robert Rodale – a dense paperback that was published in 1971 and purchased by me in 1989 for $3.95.  The pictured book was published in 2002 and has much of the same down-to-Earth information, but with lots of pictures.  We like pictures…

The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Farming – This is a book that has become one of the bibles of the sustainable food movement.  Parts are poetic; other parts are packed with process-thinking and science.  If you are considering growing your own food organically, this book will give you a path to follow.

No Nonsense Vegetable Gardening – now for something on the quirky, but very fun, end of the spectrum… Donna Balzer and Steven Biggs travel through the issues of vegetable gardening with humor.  Not everything is cut-and-dry and gardening is not rocket science.

The Green Gardener’s Guide: Simple, Significant Actions to Protect & Preserve Our Planet – Joe Lamp’l offers quick, yet informative, lessons on how to garden and how to work with nature.  He stresses that you don’t have to do it all at once, just take one step at a time.  Most topics are 2-3 pages long.

Green Guides Crops in Pots: Growing Vegetables, Fruit & Herbs in Pots, Containers & Baskets – For those of you who do not have the acreage for an in-the-ground garden but want to garden, here’s your book.  The tips are very helpful and the sound-byte facts are thought-provoking; for example, “Did you Know? North America produces nearly 90 percent of the world’s blueberries.”

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden – I do have to take a stand with the word “new”, but the time-honored information is presented in a very attractive and easy to understand format.  If you follow the recommendations, you will be saving energy, money and be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

And lastly, Green, Greener, Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life – This book goes beyond the garden, proposing options that are at different levels of action; your choice.  As I tell my students, there isn’t always a best option, sometimes it boils down to: what is the least-worst?


Spring Countdown: 3 days


Books are a pleasure for me; second to gardening with respect to de-stressing.  There is something very comforting and settling about holding a book while drinking tea – or sipping wine.  I love my IPad mini, but it doesn’t hold a candle to an engaging book or magazine.

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, I offer green: in color and in lifestyle choice cookbooks.  From top to bottom:

Garlic, Wine and Olive Oil – a bit about the history and use of three essentials to cooking. I love cooking with wine and sometimes even use it in the dish (paraphrased from a quote often attributed to the incomparable Julia Child).

Moosewood Daily Special – our go-to book for soup – cold and hot – and salad ideas.  For those of you who are flexitarians, there are recipes that include fish and seafood.  And, once you know a recipe, you can figure out how to add meat if you so desire.

Small Breads – here is a sampling of bread recipes from around the world collected by Bernard Clayton.  It is a subset of his larger book Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads.

The Fig’s Table – one of many cookbooks that have grown out of famous restaurants.  If you like Italian – pizza, risotto, pasta, prosciutto, and more – and you like traditional-eclectic, give this cookbook a try.

Foraged Flavor – this weed, uh, plant, is really edible, and how do I use it?  That’s the niche that Foraged Flavor fills.  This year I will create the Purslane Eggplant Caponata.

The Conscious Cook – vegan recipes that do not leave you yearning for meat, and the inspiration for my use of cashew cream instead of dairy cream.  This cookbook was a gift and one that keeps on giving (thank you, Denise).

And, lastly, Clean Food: a Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source – another meatless cookbook that looks at a sustainable way of eating; for ourselves and for the world.

Spring Countdown: 4 days


In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a recipe that I’ve made many times.  This is comfort food!

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup

From Moosewood Daily Special with a few changes…

2 TBL      olive oil

2 c.         chopped onions*

1 tsp      ground caraway seeds (fennel is another option)

½ tsp     salt

4-5 c.     coarsely chopped green cabbage

2 c.         sliced potatoes

3 c.         water or vegetable stock

2 tsp      dried dill**

4 oz.       chevre

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions, caraway and half the salt until the onions are translucent; about 7-10 minutes. Add the cabbage and remaining salt and cook until the cabbage is beginning to wilt.  Add the potatoes and water and bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat.  Add the dill and chevre, and stir to combine.  Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.  Simmer the soup if it has cooled too much, add salt and pepper to taste and add water if the blended soup is too thick.

*   When in season, I use leeks instead.

** If you have fresh dill, use at least 2 tablespoons; other herbs to use: thyme or sage; both are especially tasty with fennel instead of caraway.

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