Take heart! Natural enemies stalk weeds

Canada thistleBy Michael Leach

Weeds are villains in the garden story. They combine the reproductive prowess of a locust plague, kill resistance of a mad-slasher and relentlessness of sci-fi storm troopers. 

“Resistance is futile,” they are telling me. Looking in horror at the Amazon jungle growth threatening to take over the house, I’m inclined to agree.

But not just yet. Besides the inevitable late-summer slow down in growth, there’s news that offers a degree of moral support in the meantime. 

Weeds get sick. Take Canada thistle — puh-leeze (but wear heavy gloves when handling). Some are victims of a bacteria that makes them look bleached and so reduces their food making ability. According to The Ohio State University Extension, the bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae pv. tagetis, “cuts down on their seed head production and occasionally kills the plant. Laboratory-made extracts applied to thistles reduces seed production … by 87 percent. But this isn’t enough to overcome seeding by surviving plants.” No silver bullet.

Bugs eat weeds.  The mis-named tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, is the primary host  of ailanthus webworms. These little darlings can defoliate one of those odious and highly invasive trees. But so far, they are failing to stop the pest’s spread.

Another insect, a Southeast Asian import, also relies on tree of heaven as its main food source. But the spotted lantern fly, Lycoma delicatula, also dines on 70 other plants. Woodies are preferred but grapes, soy beans and other food crops are on its menu. 

It was discovered in eastern Pennsylvania in 2014 and is being monitored.

monarch and milkweedGood weeds face problems. Common milkweed, which can be weedy due to its underground assault, force roots and wins our hearts. It’s a food source for Monarch butterfly larvae. It’s garden-worthy flowers have an enticing fragrance and attract a wide range of pollinators, not just Monarchs.

Turns out it, too, has enemies, such as milkweed yellows, spread by leaf hoppers. The bugs suck juices from infected plants and spread them to healthy ones. Leaves curl and turn somewhat yellow, according to the Nature Scoop newsletter from Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District here in central Ohio. 

Obviously spraying to kill hoppers is problematic. 

The best management approach is removing infected plants to help stop the spread. That’s what I do with victims suffering aster yellows and garden phlox that dares to mildew. Out to the curb in a brown bag. 

The newsletter also carried encouraging news: Monarch Watch predicts the eastern Monarch population will increase this year due to favorable weather conditions. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources,  Monarchs migrating up the Atlantic coast appear to be from Florida not Mexico.

 

 

Heartland Bloggers to Wine Fest

 

The Heartland Gardening bloggers are heading to the Grove City Wine and Arts Festival, this Friday and Saturday.  Look for us at the Writer’s Table where we will be answering garden questions and selling/signing our book “Heartland Gardening: Celebrating the Seasons.”

The festival, now in its seventh year, draws 30,000 wine and art enthusiasts from all over Ohio and beyond. Sample wines from 20 wineries including Grove City’s own Plum Run Winery. Admission is free; and wine sampling tickets are 3 for $5 or 8 for $20, including a sampling glass.

To learn more, visit the Grove City Town Center website

Heartland goes to the library

heartland gardening FINALCOVER1 

Debra and Michael will be promoting our new book Heartland Gardening Celebrating the Seasons as part of the Local Authors Expo, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Southwest Public Libraries Grove City (OH) location. The event highlights the creative efforts of writers from Grove City and the surrounding area. Along with book sales, several authors, including Michael, will read from their works

Teresa, meanwhile, will be supervising the installation of landscape border then volunteering with the Master Gardeners Volunteers at a fairy gardening workshop at Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library in West Jeffferson (OH).

For more info on the expo please visit www.swpl.org.

Grow, Muddle and Stir

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Debra will be discussing how to Grow, Muddle and Cook with herbs with Ann Fisher on WOSU 89.7 NPR-All Sides on Friday, May 11th at 11:00am

The Art of Fashioning Liquid Refreshment

By Debra Knapke

My first mojito… a warm summer evening and a cool drink made of spearmint, lime, sugar and rum. Not having a lot of experience with cocktails, this drink was a revelation: a way to get rid of an overabundance of mint from one’s garden and relax at the same time.

The art of creating drinks with herbs is not a new craft. In the past, herbs and alcohol were used to make water safe to drink. One drink – a shrub – was made with vinegar, fruit and herbs. This preserved fruit drink added Vitamin C to the diet in a time when fresh fruit was dear. The below shrub combines lavender and blueberries which are usually in flower and fruit at the same time.

Vaccinium corymbosum Jelly Bean R fruit

Photo by Jennifer Martin

Recipe: Blueberry-Lavender Shrub

1 pint blueberries, lightly crushed

1 c. sugar

1 c. apple-cider vinegar

8-10 lavender sprigs with flower buds only, no leaves

Combine slightly smashed blueberries with sugar in bowl and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator to macerate – fruit releases its juices in the presence of sugar  – for 1 day. Place lavender sprigs in the vinegar and infuse in a dark place for 1 day. Use a fine mesh strainer: pour blueberry mixture through and press lightly to squeeze out any remaining juice. Strain vinegar over the blueberries in the same strainer. Scrape any remaining sugar into juice.  You may need to pour the juice back through the fruit to capture all the sugar. Pour through funnel into clean bottle. Cap and shake vigorously, and mark date on bottle. Store in refrigerator for a week before using. Can be refrigerated up to six months.

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In the 18th and 19th centuries, herbs muddled and drowned in alcohol became the infamous patent medicines which were said to cure all that ails you. And if they didn’t, at least you didn’t care after tippling several small glasses of Dr. Pierce’s Family Medicine.

A more refined use of herbs and alcohol is the making of liqueurs and aperitifs. But beware: many of these are high in alcohol and are sometimes better used as a flavoring for a cocktail or diluted with seltzer or club soda. A note about water:  Tonic has quinine, Mineral Waters – Perrier, Pellegrino – are naturally carbonated, Seltzer is plain water that has been carbonated, Club Soda is carbonated water with added minerals

For the temperate drinker herbs can be muddled with hot water to create tisanes (herbal teas) or infused with cool water and stored in the fridge for when you need a pick-me-up. This summer, experiment with different flavors. Try combining cucumber and spearmint or strawberry and basil.

Bon aperitif!

Debra will be discussing how to Grow, Muddle and Cook with herbs with Ann Fisher on WOSU 89.7 NPR-All Sides on Friday, May 11th at 11:00am

 

Free Pass: Public Gardens Day

6-06 geranium allee 2 resizeVisit a Public Garden on Public Gardens Day

By Micheal Leach

Public gardens sparkle with enough delightful facets to rival an engagement ring.  A bona fide plant geek, such as myself, is expected to say such a thing. Other people sing praises of these treasures, too, even if they don’t  know a trowel from a trug.

Yet many people have no clue. The parks, gardens, arboretums and botanic collections are hidden in plain sight. They don’t think about them, much less visit, unless a garden geek relative or friend comes to town.

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The labyrinth at Chadwick Arboretum

The American Public Gardens Association (APGA) aims to change this by creating more awareness of these places. There’s even a day designated as Public Gardens Day, Friday May 11.

I’ll confess, National Public Gardens Day isn’t noted on my calendar, and it’s probably missing from yours as well. A press release from The Ohio State University Chadwick Arboretum & Learning Gardens, in Columbus, was my wake-up call.  Casey Sclar, executive director of the APGA is making an appearance at Chadwick’s annual fund- raising plant sale May 10-12.

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Steven Still garden at Chadwick Arboretum

Perhaps this post will stir some interest in public gardens in your part of the Midwest and elsewhere — and inspire your support for the plant sales and other fund raisers that benefit them. Many Midwest towns, small cities and metro areas offer appealing public spaces. Check out this list from APGA.

There’s good reason to support them. In an age where more “woe is me” comes with each new day, nature connections are essential survival tools. Science keeps proving what gardeners and other “outsiders” have always known: Being in nature, working with plants and other outdoor activity is good for you.  Even a short walk in a natural setting, whether woods or park, calms pulse and lowers blood pressure.

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Woodland Garden at Chadwick Arboretum

 Besides Chadwick, there are plenty of cool public gardens in Ohio’s capital. As I reside in suburban Columbus, let me toot our horn on a few of the many spots to see should you come this way. There’s the Columbus Park of Roses, a popular wedding venue and one of the nation’s largest public rose gardens. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens offers multiple appeals to green thumbs and their friends and families. The Topiary Park downtown even charmed an English garden friend of mine. Inniswood Metro Gardens features an array small gardens. On a grander scale is Dawes Arboretum in nearby Newark. The Japanese garden there is a sure cure for stress.

Besides all these pluses, Sclar reminded me of OSU’s history of horticulture and the entire city of Bexley being an arboretum. While Columbus is only the 15th largest metro area, but it has a “depth of horticulture.” 

“The Columbus area has a rich diversity of public garden spaces and served as the site of the 2012 Annual Conference of public garden professionals,” said Joan Thomas of the APGA. “These gardens are doing amazing things and showcase horticultural excellence among public gardens in the U.S.” 

Mary Maloney, Chadwick’s executive director, invited Sclar.  She is among several central Ohio public gardens representatives active in APGA leadership positions. 

Sclar and Maloney are to appear on “All Sides with Ann Fisher”” on WOSU 89.7 FM  May 11 as part of the annual Spring Sale and Auction Fundraiser. 

Like most public gardens, Chadwick Arboretum is dependent on earned revenues for support. Such support comes from sales, weddings and other activities. About 70 percent of public gardens have corporate events, such as meetings, Sclar said.

By why should the non-gardener care about such gardens?

“They are places for wellness, health, and beauty,” Thomas said. “They provide a welcoming setting for social connection with others, whether walking, taking a class or listening to a concert; they serve as places to mark life occasions; they are a place for mental healing and peace for those needing it (whether veterans, caregivers, those grieving, or those just needing to power down).”

Plus they are excellent places to find what performs best in the local area, Sclar added.

No wonder there’s a day set aside to celebrate these places.

To learn more, check out our friend Diana Lockwood’s article from Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch.

 

 

Podcast: Ready to Plant Peas?

Tune in for Debra’s pea planting tips and recipes. https://anchor.fm/teresa40/episodes/Favorite-Edible-Peas-e1blk7

Bite-Size Veggies Pack Big Flavor

img_1656.jpgBy Teresa Woodard

Giant pumpkins, watermelons and tomatoes may win blue ribbons at the county fair, but some gardeners prize smaller, bite-sized veggies for their big flavor. They’re easy to grow in smaller gardens (even containers), ideal for snacking and may not even make it to the kitchen once harvested in the garden. Here are five bite-sized veggies to try this season.

Cherry tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow and produce an abundance of tomatoes for snacks, salads and roasting.Sungold’ is an exceptional orange cherry tomato variety and a favorite in a recent poll among tomato growers.  Other standouts are three All-American Selections award winners. They include Midnight Snack, a black-purple variety with healthy antioxidants; ‘Candyland Red,’ a dark red, sweet flavored variety, and ‘Patio Choice Yellow,’ a new compact variety developed specifically for small spaces and container gardens.

Cucamelons: These oh-so-cute veggies were the darlings of last summer’s Instagram garden posts.  Also known as Mexican Sour Gherkin, mouse melon or “Sandita” (little watermelon in Spanish), cucamelons taste like cucumbers with a touch of lemon. They’re grown much like cucumber vines and can be planted in containers or as an edible ornamental vine along a trellis in cottage gardens.

Ground Cherries: These marble-sized, golden fruits taste like pineapple with hints of cherry tomato and vanilla. Their sweet flavor earns them nicknames like “strawberry tomato” and “Cossack pineapple.” Enjoy them in salads, jam, pie, cobbler, sauces or dried like raisins. The fruits drop from the plants when they are ripe, hence the name ground cherry. The only challenge can be getting the seeds to start. For best results, sow indoors in April, cover seed trays and keep the trays warm until the seeds germinate. The top of a refrigerator works well. Transplant the seedlings in the garden after the threat of frost has passed.

‘Cherry Belle’ Radishes: These round, smooth scarlet radishes are ¾ inches in size and have a crisp, white flesh. They grow easily from seed when planted in cool spring weather and are ready to harvest in just 23 days. They are an All-American Selections award winner and beloved for their mild flavor.

‘Sweetie Pie’ Peppers: This 2017 All-American Selections award-winning miniature bell pepper is easy to grow and produces an abundance of peppers even in hot and humid conditions. The attractive plant is well-adapted for containers and small gardens. Fruits can be harvested 60 to 70 days from transplanting either in green or red. These small peppers are 2.5 inches by 3 inches in size and are thick-walled, sweet and flavorful. These peppers can be eaten fresh, grilled, stir-fried or stuffed.

 

 

The Many Faces of April

 

By Michael Leach

When it comes to coping with a variety of weather, Midwesterners take second place to no one on the planet. Sometimes it seems we get almost everything in a few hours.

Because April in my part of the Heartland is mercurial at best, it was with tepid hopes I put the recycled-plastic Adironack chairs on the patio the day before Easter. The forsythia blossoms hadn’t even fully opened. While forsythia blooms don’t guarantee three snows of folklore, more cold weather is certain.

And Easter, no matter its placement on the calendar, rarely matches the pastel scene depicted in ads and greeting cards. While growing up, we never marched in the Easter parade, but were always in uniform if called upon to do so. Despite arctic cold, Mother refused to allow my sister and I  to wear winter coats. “They’ll hide your new Easter clothes,” she scolded. How dare we prefer drab, dark coats to a fashion statement. Our numb little fingers gathered the colored eggs hidden around the back yard.

Softball was usually as chilly a proposition as egg hunts. Even early May can bring frosts, freezes and January-like wind chills. Outfield duty meant possible frostbite.

So putting the chairs out practically guaranteed the always crazy April weather would make them mere garden decorations for awhile, not a spot for comforting rest from chores or  savoring the beauty of spring flowers on balmy days.

The variety of meteorological offerings that followed, however, was awe inspiring. Monday after Easter, several inches of snow transformed the garden into a Christmas card scene. (Sure hope the white Christmas fans have had their fill of the four-letter “s” word, I growled.) Tuesday brought a quick warm up, rounds of flooding rains, hail, violent winds, and a small tornado touching down at evening rush hour just three miles from home. Fortunately there were no injuries, though this twister damaged buildings and toppled power lines. On Wednesday morning snow flurries were blowing again. At least the snow didn’t stick to pavements. The only atmospheric condition that failed to materialize was pleasant, as in shirtsleeve weather.

There’s something especially depressing about the mixed metaphor of snow-crusted patio furniture. The surreal extends to the daffodils and other flowers, who do imitations of the yoga pose Downward Dog. (Perhaps I need counseling.

Little wonder that St. Louis native and Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot penned, “April is the cruelest month …” Such a thought probably arose after enduring a Midwest winter that never wanted to end and an April that was anything but springlike. He eventually moved to temperate England. (But even the Mother Country had cruel snow storms and deadly chills this winter.

Another poet of our region came through the winters and uncertainties of April seeing a brighter side. Jesse Stuart, Kentucky poet laureate, lived in a lovely hollow near the small town of Greenup on the Ohio River.

His poem “Hold April” speaks of the winsome side of this split-personality month.

He tells us to hold on to April because it’s another year

 “ … before she comes again 

To bring us wind as clean as polished glass

And apple blossoms in soft, silver rain. …

When wild birds sing up flights of windy stair

And bees love alder blossoms by the stream. …

Month of eternal beauty and delight.”

 Spring’s delight will return — as always. Hold that hope.

April Foolery

Bird’s nest fern earned its common name for a reason. April Fools!

Heartland Gardening Book Release

heartland gardening FINALCOVER1

We are excited to announce our upcoming book release, Heartland Gardening: Celebrating the Seasons. We’ll launch the book on Sunday, March 18 at 2 p.m. at our talk at Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville, Ohio.

Our new book celebrates gardening in the Midwest with a collection of our best blog posts. We’ve assembled gardening lessons and reflective essays and woven them together with beautiful images and illustrations. The book leads readers through the region’s heralded seasons, offering tips for favorite plants, recipes for beloved edibles, plant design ideas and advice for top garden destinations. It’s a great tribute to Midwest gardening and an excellent gift for gardening friends.

To register for the “Gardening in the Heartland” event, visit Inniswood.

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