Book Notes: Growing Tomatoes and Artisanal Farms’ Recipes

By Debra Knapke

We have a rule in our house – which I don’t always follow:  if I buy a book I must have a place to put it.  Libraries are one of our greatest  institutions as I can’t buy all the books I want, but I can borrow them and peruse them over a cup of tea.

I just took out two delightful summer fare books, You Bet Your Garden  Guide to Growing Great Tomatoes by Mike McGrath and Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America’s Heartland by Anna Blessing.

McGrath’s book on tomatoes is perfect for the beginner gardener.  There are portraits of individual tomatoes and a list of “Top Tomatoes” that will get your mouth-watering for these popular heirlooms.   All aspects of tomato culture are covered in easy-to-digest prose.  The sidebars cover related issues such as soil prep, tomato cage specifications and how to figure out when and how much to water.  Plus, there are many small tidbits of information that all gardeners know after years of trial and error (isn’t that what gardening is all about?)   If you’ve been waiting for a compact and informative how-to on tomatoes, this is it.

In Anna Blessing’s book, I embarked on an armchair journey of family farms that supply many restaurants in Chicago with fresh, locally grown and raised food.  The recipes alone attracted me as I flipped through this book in the library.  But I was also fascinated in the stories of the farmers who have committed to growing fruits, vegetables and herbs and raising animals in a respectful, responsible and sustainable way.  I have written down some of the recipes and noted some of the restaurants for our next trip to Chicago.  This time we will know where to eat.

Garden Happenings: Sustainability Workshops

Gardening Happenings:  Sustainability Workshops

Gardeners are hungry for more information on sustainability.  According to the Garden Writers of America Summer Trends 2012 survey, 79 percent of respondents say they need more information on the topic.  Well, lucky for Midwestern gardeners, here are two upcoming workshops.

  • Ohio Sustainable Landscape Symposium (Sept. 15): Putting principles of eco-friendly, sustainable gardening into practice is the thrust of the Ohio Sustainable Landscape Symposium that includes a sale of books and native plants Sept. 15 at Dawes Arboretum near Newark. Hosted by Dawes and Licking County Master Gardeners, the symposium offers nationally known speakers, such as Prof. Allan Armitage of the University of Georgia, and other experts covering a range of topics from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration is $50 through Sept. 1, $60 after Sept. 1. The fee includes lunch and garden tour. Armitage is to speak on Native Plants for North American Garden. Other speakers and topics include: David Brandenburg — Wild Collecting in the 21st Century;  Sandy Frey and Susan Weber — Ten Great Strategies for a Beautiful, Sustainable Back Yard; Don Humphrey — Gardening with Nature; Pablo Jourdan — Genes in the Bank: Investment Opportunities with Our Native Herbaceous Plants; Richard Larson — The Splendid Selectivity of Nature.
  • St. Louis Green Homes Great Health Festival (Sept. 29) — The 11th annual Green Homes and Great Health Festival returns to the grounds of the Missouri Botanical Garden on Saturday, Sept. 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The all-ages festival showcases options for sustainable living combined with positive ways to maintain the health of people and the planet. The event is included with regular Garden admission. Bring your home improvement ideas and talk with over 100 green product and service exhibitors. Enjoy local foods and live music, and shopping for handmade crafts in the Green Marketplace. Get a free flu shot and talk with experts about your health questions. Kids will enjoy solar car races, puppet shows, and more! Help paint a Metro bus and explore the alternative vehicles on display. Learn from expert presentations and demos about the many ways that plants, air, water, soil and energy sustain our homes, our health and our living Earth.

Posted in Happenings


Favorite Flora: Novelty Veggies

I grow Easter eggs, noodles and more. How about you?

By Teresa Woodard

When our kids were young I loved planting the most colorful and unusual vegetables all in hopes of recruiting future gardeners and veggie lovers.  Easter egg radishes, ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, Chinese noodle beans, purple pole beans, purple carrots, yellow pear tomatoes, miniature white pumpkins and red-white-and-blue potatoes.  We tried them all.

Now as teenagers, our kids still appreciate garden-fresh vegetables, but it’s me who’s most intrigued by the new and unusual varieties.  In fact, they teased me at dinner the other night as I slipped in a tie-dye tomato variety with their other sliced red favorites.

Please tell me I’m not alone.  We’d love to hear about your experiences in growing novelty vegetables and if you’re trying any new ones in your fall vegetable gardens.

Special Topic: Change Your Plant Partners II

Swap Invasive Plant Pests for Well-Behaved Plant Pals

Blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis)

By Debra Knapke

PART TWO: The Alternatives

Here are some “poster children” of the invasive plant world. Each is followed by a few well-behaved alternatives.  According to C. Colston Burrell, author of Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, “The best alternative is one that mimics some desired characteristic of the invasive plant, such as flower or fruit color.”

Be sure to check that the alternatives are suitable for your area and soil conditions.

Trees and Shrubs

Autumn-olive, Russian olive – (Elaeagnus umbellata, E. angustifolia), introduced in the late 1800’s as ornamentals.

strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus), wax-myrtle, bayberry (Morella cerifera, M. pensylvanica), viburnums (Viburnum prunifolium, V. lentago), shrub dogwoods (Cornus racemosa, C. amomum), pawpaw (Asimina triloba), serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.)

Common buckthorn, European buckthorn – (Rhamnus cathartica, R. frangula)

winterberry (Ilex verticillata), dogwoods, spicebush (Lindera benzoin), white cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii); listed as invasive in 20 states; still used in the landscape.

chokeberries (Aronia), common ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), weigela (Weigela floribunda cultivars), winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata)

Non-native shrub honeysuckles – (Lonicera maackii, L. morrowii, L. tatarica), etc., imported as ornamentals and for soil erosion control, group listed as invasive in 46 states; some are still used in the landscape.

shrub dogwoods, spicebush, sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

Grasses and Perennials

Common reed grass – Phragmites australis, hard to distinguish from native species; probably crossed with US native strains.

Spike Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), and prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata)

Purple loosestrife – (Lythrum salicaria and its hybrids), ornamental introduced in early 1800s.

swamp milkweed, (Asclepias incarnata), purple coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), blazing stars (Liatris spicata, L. pilosa, L. ligulistylis)

Aquatic Plants

Water hyacinth – (Eichornia crassipes), introduced as an ornamental; fortunately not hardy in most of the Midwest

yellow water lily, American white waterlily (Nymphaea mexicana, N. odorata), pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Vines and Groundcovers

Japanese wisteria – (Wisteria floribunda), listed as invasive in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast US; the Midwest will probably soon follow.

American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), Kentucky wisteria (W. macrostachya).

Porcelainberry – (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), ornamental introduced in the 1870s, still used in the landscape; listed as invasive in 12 states.

leatherflower (Clematis viorna), Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), wild honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica), and virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana)

Wintercreeper euonymus – (Euonymus fortunei), ornamental introduced in 1907; still used in the landscape. Select alternative based on intended use as groundcover or vine.

bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi),trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), and American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens).

Note: US natives trumpet creeper, crossvine and American bittersweet are veryvigorous vines.

Previously published in the Garden Writers Association Quill & Trowel No. 3, June 2012.

Trendspotting: Millennial Gardeners

Wanted: One word to make gardening cool and sexy

By Michael Leach

One of TV’s green thumbs needs help selling gardening to the Millennial generation.

Joe Lamp’l, host and developer of Growing a Greener World on PBS, seeks a horticultural equivalent of “foodie.” This special word will make plants and gardening seem as “sexy, cool and hip” as foodie does the food industry. Plantie, gardenie just don’t work for him. Start thinking and send him your suggestions. Tell us, too.

Getting the garden industry to care about Millennials was the thrust of his keynote program,  “Can You Hear Me Now? Voice Beyond the Greenhouse,” at the recent OFA Short Course in Columbus. The annual event is one of America’s largest horticultural industry gatherings.

Millennials, which he defines as 17- to 34-year-olds, are second only to baby boomers in numbers and potential buying power, an obvious draw for the breeders, retailers and growers represented of OFA, the Association of Horticulture Professionals.

Gardening should be a natural for Millennials. He said they’re into cooking, volunteering, sustainability and self-expression. They’re even into slowing way down in their off hours. That’s why cooking appeals to them.

Trouble is, they’re burdened with educational loan debt and unlikely to stake a claim of suburban turf anytime soon. So garden centers, growers and breeders need to develop a tiered approach to help them first grow things on front stoops and balconies and then decks and yards.  Plus, the industry should help them enjoy the “journey” of gardening rather than just selling them something.

His favorite garden center, for instance, offers cooking and gardening classes, plus help with composting and rain harvesting. A visit to the Greener World website shows Lamp’l doesn’t just preach social networking and a multimedia approach to telling the gardening story.

No wonder. This group is seriously into their cell phones and all the Internet wonders of the world those devices summon with a touch: entertainment, news, games, maps, restaurant reviews, apps, socializing and paying those college loans. Sometimes they even make phone calls.

Those of us already savoring a gardening lifestyle know the real pleasure lies as much in the journey of nurturing as in having an appealing landscape. It’s too good to keep to ourselves. But how do we get the word out?

As for that special word, send it to:



FB fan page:


Good Eats: Rustic Blueberry Tart

By Debra Knapke

We are into the luscious time of summer when the tomatoes are coming on, zucchini is bountiful, and local blueberries, blackberries and peaches are waiting to be picked or bought from nearby growers.    All are tasty in their raw state, but the fruits beg to be used in muffins, pies, tarts and cobblers.  To beat the summer heat, I have been baking early in the morning or late at night and then use our attic fan to pull cooler air into the house.

I’ve never been a fan of two-crusted pies.  The fruit should take center-stage, not the crust.  A rustic tart is a fun way to create a tasty, quick one-crust dessert.  I decided to play with a filling recipe that I have been using for years and below is the result.  Also included is a butter-based, food processor crust.  The original pie crust recipe calls for 8 tablespoons of butter (one stick), but I have reduced that to 6 tablespoons.  You may have to add another tablespoon of water on low humidity days, but otherwise, the crust has a good, crisp texture.  One caution: do not over-process, which is easy to do.  As with all recipes, experience will make you a master.

Preheat the oven to 425°

Pie Crust – Food Processor technique for one 9” crust

1 ⅓ c      flour (for a richer flavor split the flour: ½ white & ½ whole wheat)

½ tsp     salt

½ tsp     cinnamon or ¼ tsp nutmeg (optional)

6 TBL      very cold, unsalted butter

¼ c          ice water

Chef Deb’s granddaughter, Analise, obviously enjoys her job as pie taster.

In a food processor, mix the flour, salt and spice of choice.  Cut the butter into 6 pieces and add to bowl. Process with the pulse speed until the mixture is the texture of coarse cornmeal.  It is OK if you can see pieces of butter.  With the processor running, add the water in a thin stream pulsing towards the end so you don’t over process the dough.  The dough is done when you see clumps forming.  Remove the dough from the work bowl and press it together and pat into a flattened round.  Roll on a lightly floured surface to a 9-10” circle.

Lay the crust out in a shallow bowl or pie pan.  Pour the fruit into the crust.  “Hug” the crust around the fruit by gathering up the crust to form a shell.  This is a rustic presentation, so perfection is not the goal.  Drizzle the filling over the fruit evenly.  Put into oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350° and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  The filling should be bubbling evenly across the top.


1 TBL      butter, melted

1 c           sugar – scant if the fruit is sweet

2-3 TBL  flour – more for juicier fruit

2 TBL      fresh lemon juice

1              egg

4 c.         blueberries

Combine first four ingredients.  Just before you pour the filling over the fruit, beat in the egg.  This is to avoid curdling of the egg.

Posted in Good eats


Special Topic: Change Your (Plant) Partners

Swap Invasive Plant Pest for Well-Behaved Plant Pals

Purple loosestrife

By Debra Knapke

Invasive species are a part of the fabric of the world.  Well-mannered plants and animals in one country become thugs in another country or region for a variety of reasons.  What follows is part of my report that appeared in the Garden Writers Association Quill and Trowel June newsletter.   I’ve split the article into two parts because of the length of the original article.  The second part, which presents invasive plant substitutes, will follow next week.

PART ONE:  Invasives – the basics

Invasive is a word that many use to describe the plants that overrun our constructed and natural landscapes. Plants, by their nature, multiply in order to ensure their survival as a species. But what is the difference between a vigorous groundcover or colonizing shrub and an invasive plant?

Invasive plants are characterized by several traits:

  • fast growing
  • adaptable to a wide range of conditions,
  • deeply and firmly rooted,
  • allelopathic action on other plants,
  • make thousands of seeds that are easily dispersed,
  • grow from a tiny piece of root,
  • difficult to kill, and most importantly,
  • out-compete other plants and degrade native habitat.

Unfortunately, many plants have been called invasive that really belong more in the “this is a pain to get rid of, but it can be done” category. Think of mint (Mentha spp.) or sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). Yes, they spread, but they are shallowly rooted and can be edited from a garden quite easily. The three most significant traits of invasive plants are competitiveness, habitat degradation, and difficult-to-kill. Think purple loosestrife, wintercreeper euonymus, or water hyacinth.

Fighting the spread of invasive plants is an ongoing task not only for gardeners, but also for state, federal, and international agencies and conservation groups. While eradication of invasive plants and restoration of ravaged habitats is the primary goal of these groups, the critical first step is “knowing the enemy”.

Loosestrife escapes along railroad tracks

It isn’t feasible here to mention all of the plants that are listed as invasive in the Midwest, but it is important to understand that invasive can be a regional concept.  A plant that is invasive in Georgia (e.g. Japanese bloodgrass, or kudzu) may not be invasive in the colder areas of the Midwest.

Information is easy to find

Consult local conservation groups, botanic gardens or your state Division of Natural Resources to find out which plants are on the invasive list and which are on the watch list. As C. Colston Burrell, author of Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants states, “We really need to take a hard look at some of the potentially invasive plants that we are now using as ornamental plants, such as Chinese elm and Bradford pear, that are showing up in native ecosystems as adult flowering and seeding plants.”

The ongoing effort to eradicate invasive plants might be compared to the labors of Sisyphus. The bottom line: do not purchase invasive plants, remove them if they are already planted, and choose wisely when creating the garden of your dreams.  Part Two is a short list of invasive plants and some alternatives.

References: (a place to start)

National Invasive Information Center

National Park Service, Alien Plant Invaders of Natural Areas: Fact Sheet

Ohio Invasive Plants Council Fact Sheets

Invasive Plant Finder — Remember: invasiveness is often a regional issue

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Excerpted from an article published in the Garden Writers Association Quill & Trowel No. 3, June 2012.

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