Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Got Mistletoe?

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows up and through and attaches itself to trees, especially hardwood trees like oaks. The roots actually penetrate the branches and suck the nutrients from the tree that hosts it, in some cases damaging the tree to the point of deformity.

There are over 1000 species of mistletoe, but only two that are native to the US. Most grow in more temperate or tropical climates.

Mistletoe is poisonous to humans, but is a food source for birds and other animals.

The Druids considered mistletoe to be sacred and powerful for its medicinal and mystical powers. It has long been considered an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer.

And why do we kiss beneath it? The reason isn't clear. The practice may be based on ancient tradition that says that if enemies meet under a tree containing mistletoe, they must put down their weapons, embrace and call a truce until the next day.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Poinsettia Care

The first step toward having a healthy poinsettia throughout the holiday season is to choose a healthy one to begin with.

Choose a poinsettia with dark green, healthy-looking leaves that are not damaged or wilted. The actual yellow "flowers" of the poinsettia, called cyathia, should be tight, not fully open. Avoid poinsettias whose colorful red, pink, or white leaves, called bracts, are curled or soft.

Poinsettias do best with 6 hours of natural light per day. Avoid direct sun, hot or cold drafts, and excessive heat. Check the plant daily and water as soon as the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch. Water as much as it takes to have the water come
through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, but be sure to remove the extra water so the plant does not sit in it after watering. If the plant has been wrapped in foil for gifting, allow the water to drain from the foil after watering.

It is possible, with some effort, to keep a poinsettia and have it bloom again the following year, but the results usually are not satisfactory. Enjoy the plant through the season and into the winter and plan to buy another for enjoyment next year.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy National Poinsettia Day!

What? You didn't know there was a National Poinsettia Day? Yep. December 12th of every year. This date was chosen because it marks the anniversary of the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American botanist who discovered the plant in Mexico in 1828 and sent back cuttings to the US for propagation.

Poinsettia Day was declared in 2002 to honor Paul Ecke Jr, who is considered the father of the modern poinsettia industry.

And quite an industry it is! The growing of poinsettias adds more than $250,000,000 (at the wholesale level, mind you!) to the US economy every year.

Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous. No deaths due to eating poinsettia leaves have ever been recorded. That said, eating the flowers (which are the tiny yellow centers of the plant) or the colorful leaves might cause nausea and vomiting, and contact with the milky white sap within the stems could cause skin irritation to those sensitive to it. For this reason they should be kept out of reach of pets and small children.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Do you make resolutions for the New Year? And if you do, how long do you usually make it before abandoning them all with a sigh of defeat?

This year, instead of resolutions, I think I'll do some evaluations. Looking back over the past year, what did I do right? What choices did I make that turned out well? What would I like to change about myself, and what would I like to keep the same, or even do better with?

I'm thinking more photography. Less worrying about things I have no control over anyway. More organization. Less procrastination. Trying more interesting recipes.

Uh-oh. These are beginning to sound like resolutions, aren't they?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Build a Hod

Build a what?

Garden Hod from Mother Earth News

A hod is a wooden or wire basket meant for carrying things, in this case produce from your garden. You can make one with even the most rudimentary of woodworking skills. And the project will help if you've already begun missing being in your garden.

Here are the directions, from our friends at Mother Earth News.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Build a Storage Clamp

From our friends at Organic Gardening Magazine, an idea for next year's storage of root crops. Build a Storage Clamp.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It's Time to Plant Garlic In Ohio

September is the right time to plant garlic in our area of Ohio (zones 5-6). For a quick review of how to plant, check out this article from our friends at Organic Gardening Magazine.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Season Extenders: 5 Vegetables You Can Plant in July

By now your garden may be producing well. But are some of the crops done, leaving space that is sitting idle?

I know that you are probably used to planting in the spring and harvesting in the summer and fall, but there is more to the growing season than that. You can plant more vegetables now with time for growing and harvest this fall. Some vegetables can be planted now (July in my zone 5-6 garden in Ohio) and some will do better if you wait for a while.

In July, you can seed directly bush beans (green beans or lima beans), cucumbers and summer squash like zucchini and crook necks, cucumbers, okra and kale. You are looking for 50-60 days from planting to harvest. (Check the seed packet or catalog description for maturity times.) Prepare the soil well as you would in the spring.

It is hot (and usually dry unless you live in my area this year- it is very wet this year here) so you'll need to water more than you typically would in the wetter, cooler spring. And there are probably more bugs out and about, so be vigilant in your trips through the garden inspecting for pests.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lost Week

Whoa! Where did THAT week go?

Time flies when you're having fun, as they say. (As I get older, the time flies even when I'm not having fun.)

But this week was a fun week. Had visits from both my sons, my daughter-in-law and all three of my grandsons. How great is that? Gave the grill a work out, had baked fish twice to make up for the red meat three times, the rain stopped for a day and we got to sit outside under the trumpet vine on the patio. (I love that trumpet vine!)

The rain is wreaking havoc on my garden. The peppers are stunted, the onions that I dug when I knew they were already too wet are rotting in storage a week after harvest. The weeds are gaining on me, and no dry days in the forecast.

If this this was my first year for gardening, I might consider myself a failure. I might decide not to try again. But, as they say in the weight loss ads, results are not typical. You may have done everything right and the weather was against you. Don't give up. Try again. Please.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fairy Gardens

The second item that came in my goodie box with the big smile was the book Fairy Gardens, by Betty Earl. Unlike Janit Calvo, Earl deals as much with the fairy part of fairy gardens as the garden part. I think I learned more about fairies from this book than I ever had before!

Did you know, for example, that most fairies are offended by a spoken "thank you." They respond better to shiny trinkets left just for them.

And the best time to connect with fairies is Beltane (the first of May) when the barriers between our world and that of the fairies is at its weakest. Nights with a full moon and the Solstices and Equinoxes are especially welcoming to fairy activity.

So have an open mind and create a welcoming fairy garden in a container or your yard. Who knows what magic might happen?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Miniature Gardens

Goodies in my mailbox today!

People who know me, know I love! Yes, I shop locally, too, when I can, but you can't beat that box with the smile on it for brightening up your day! Spread the joy!

Today I got my copy of Janit Calvo's wonderful book, Gardening in Miniature. (I got something else, too, but we'll talk about that next time.) I am in mini-Heaven! Just the pictures make this worth the price, and there's a lot of information in here, too, to make it easy for you to choose plants and accessories for your miniature garden.

What? You haven't heard of miniature gardens yet? Some folks call them Fairy Gardens, but Janit chooses to appeal to more gardening fans by calling them miniature gardens. Either name works for me, since there is a part of me that understands that the wee folk come around from time to time to create havoc in what would otherwise be a sane place. We need to give them a welcoming place to rest and dance while they are here!

I've been collecting accessories and a big old laundry tub to create my Fairy Garden. I'll use Janit's book to give me that gentle push I need to get 'er done!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Toscana Soup (Like Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana)

We like soup as a light supper, even in the summer. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread and a green salad and you have a nice summery meal that can be mostly done ahead and won't bog you down.

One of our favorites to eat (and one of my favorites to make-- it's good and pretty simple) is a recipe adapted from Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur. There are a whole series of these cookbooks, which aim to replicate dishes that are popular choices in everyone's favorite chain restaurants. They aren't the ACTUAL recipes, mind you, just Todd and his staff's attempts to copy the flavors at home. And they do a really good job, especially with this soup. I modified the recipe a little, and I usually double* most of the ingredients to have left-overs, but I won't here. It should serve two as written.

3 cups chicken broth (I use Imagine Organic Free Range Chicken Broth. If you have never used this, try it. It adds so much more flavor than regular chicken broth. It should be available in the natural foods section of your grocery store. If not, you can order it online from Or, better yet, make your own homemade broth and freeze it for quick recipes like this.)
1/4 cup heavy cream.
2 small or 1 large russet potatoes
2 cups chopped kale (chop small)
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage (sweet or hot as you prefer)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Grill or sauté the sausage until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Combine broth and cream in a large saucepan (or if you're doubling, a soup pot.) Put on medium heat.

Slice the unpeeled potato into 1/4 in thick slices, then cut the slices into halves or quarters (depending on the size of your potatoes in the first place. You want a generous potato piece in your spoon of soup.)

Add the kale.

Slice the cooled sausage on an angle into 1/4 inch thick slices and add to the soup.

Add the salt and hot pepper flakes. Reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 2 hours, stirring when you think of it, until the potato slices are tender.

*When I "double" the recipe I keep the amount of sausage the same. (I think we all consume more meat at a meal than we really need. I then use 3 potatoes and 3 cups of kale, but double the stock, cream, salt and hot pepper flakes.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Basic Barbeque Rub

Tonight we're making baby back ribs on the grill. Sometimes I make them with a rub of  minced garlic, coarse salt, minced fresh rosemary and extra virgin olive oil. Tonight I'm in the mood for good old barbequed ribs, dripping with sauce. So I'll prepare them for grilling with Steven Raichlen's Basic Barbeque Rub, which I use on Beer Can Chicken, too.


1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
3 Tbsp ground black pepper
3 Tbsp coarse salt
1 Tbsp hickory-smoked salt (or more coarse salt if you can't find this)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Mix it all up in a big bowl with your fingers or a spoon. (Fingers work best.)
Store in an airtight jar (I use a pint canning jar with lid-- it'll almost fill it up.) It'll keep for 6 months in a cool dark place, but if you cook out often in the summer, you'll use it long before that.

The recipe comes from Steven Raichlen's How to Grill cookbook.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hosta Gardens

I love hostas! They are easy to grow in sun or shade (although some varieties will scorch in direct sun in climates with hot summers.) Yes, the deer do love them, but regular application of deer spray (buy it at your local independent garden center) seems to keep them from munching. In wet seasons, slugs will do some damage, but you can use biological controls for them.

They come in shades from pale green (almost white when they first emerge from the ground) through a chartreuse yellow, through true green to blue green. They come in all sizes from tiny miniature varieties, called tea cup hostas by some folks because they would fit quite well in one, and on up in size to enormous-leaved varieties that grow to 5 feet across and more.

The leaves are soft and smooth on some of them, and heavy and puckered on others. Some are sharp and lance-shaped, others rounded and cupped. They all bloom-- in shades from deep lavender to purest white. Some are wonderfully fragrant. They complement lots of other perennials in mixed beds and look awesome in beds of their own.

There are hundreds (thousands, perhaps) of named varieties, and hosta enthusiasts are breeding new varieties even as we speak.

Each year the cleanup and mulching of our hosta beds is the first priority of the spring season, and many evenings I sit out front with a glass of wine and simply appreciate that part of the gardens. It's painful when, as happened again this year, the plants are fully leafed out when a hail storm hits. (This year there are only small holes in the leaves, but they detract from the look of the garden. A few years ago we had so much damage that the hosta garden looked like a giant tossed salad after the hail storm went through. Lots of tears were shed that year!)

If you'd like to learn more about growing and choosing hostas, there are great hosta books devoted just to them. But be fore-warned-- collecting hostas can be addicting!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Amazing New Ground Cover Clematis-- NOT!

I have two clematis vines, one on each side of my garage door. They are similar colors, but different varieties. (The one pictured, as best I remember, is Ville-de-Lyon.) They had grown so large over time, that we needed to take down the wooden trellises that they grew on (and over, into the neighboring weeping cherry tree) and cut the vines back drastically so that we could install a more heavy-duty trellis and control the growth.

Best laid plans... as they say. We did take down the trellises and cut back the vines drastically. But we didn't get around to putting up a new trellis. The vines responded to their pruning (and to the wonderful spring weather we had here in our part of Ohio) by blooming better than ever-- on the ground and up into the tree. So we have decided to say that it is an amazing new ground cover clematis. And it is simply beautiful!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Mondays are always super busy for me. (I do the bookkeeping for two businesses and I take weekends off, so I have to play catch up on Mondays.) We try to eat meatless on Mondays, or at least to eat a non-meat-centric meal, and I am not against cutting a corner or two to get there on a busy day. Today I made chicken tortilla soup with (organic) Pacific Tortilla Soup Starter and some add-ins.

I heated the soup base and added in 1 1/2 cups of whatever I had. (I added rinsed canned black beans, corn frozen from last year's garden, and some left over chopped chicken from last night's dinner.) I grated some cheddar cheese, chopped some onions from the garden and some fresh cilantro, and crushed up some tortilla chips for a garnish. Salad from the garden and a frozen loaf of bread reheated and dinner is served.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cream of Asparagus Soup

If you, like me, are still getting asparagus from your asparagus patch, but are getting weary of steamed asparagus, asparagus frittata, and such, I have the solution for you. Cream of asparagus soup. The recipe is a take on one from How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman's wonderful giant red cookbook.

1 pound fresh asparagus
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want the soup to be vegan)
1 medium baking potato
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup half and half or light cream (skip this for the vegan version)

Trim the asparagus and cut into 2-inch (or so) pieces. Peel the potato and cut into 8ths. Cook the potato and asparagus in the broth until tender-- 15 minutes or so (test with a fork.) Allow to cool slightly, then blend it all in a blender until smooth.

If you're going to eat it right away, continue with the recipe. If you're cooking ahead, or planning to freeze it, then stop and refrigerate or freeze.

When you're ready to go ahead with it, reheat the pureed soup gently, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add the cream or half and half if using, taste again, adding more salt and pepper if needed, and heat to the temperature you like. Makes 4 servings of approximately 1 1/4 cups each.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thank Goodness I Didn't Plant!

As you may remember from my last post, I was wondering whether or not to plant the tender parts of my vegetable garden, based on the "last frost date" for my area. Well, I didn't, and am I glad I waited! Last Friday night we had frost warnings.

I covered tender foliage of hostas with bed sheets. I'm glad my front yard isn't very visible from the road. Pink flowers, blue plaids and everything in between made a giant crazy quilt looking down on them from above.

The forecast Friday night was for mid-30's and clear skies-- an almost certain frost situation. As it turned out the low was 27 degrees. Eek! The grapes lost all their primary leaves, the persimmon may be gone to fruit tree Heaven. Even the cole crops and tiny beets that were supposed to take a frost are yellowed out. We had a light frost again on Saturday night. If I had planted any of the tender veggies, I'd have lost them all.

Now I have to make a hard decision. Do I replant now, losing 4 weeks of growth on some of the plants? Or do I wait the yellowed plants out to see if they recover, taking the chance of losing 5 or 6 weeks instead if I end up having to replant? What would you do?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

To Plant... Or Not to Plant

According to all the charts, the last frost date for my area is May 5th. So I should be getting ready to plant all the stuff that is recommended to be planted a week or two after the last frost date-- tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplants, squash and zucchini, melons, basil... I would hope for a buffer zone of a week or two without frost threat between the last frost and the planting date, right?

Well, tomorrow's weather (one week exactly after my charted last frost date of May 5th) the lows are predicted to be in the 30's. The soil temperatures, which I don't measure, but instead judge as I am weeding and breaking up the soil by hand, are still cold. Bean seeds, which I would normally be planting next weekend, would languish in the soil, at best doing nothing and at worst rotting in the cold damp soil.

So, the question: To plant, or not to plant. If I do plant, I risk having to plant again when the plants are frosted or the seeds rot. If I don't plant, I risk the delay of the crop, and, since part of my plan is to feed myself and my husband in large part from my garden, the delay of my food supply.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Onions from Seed

I can still remember the first Farmers' Produce Auction I went to in Mt. Hope, Ohio. The items for sale that most impressed me were the crates of Candy onions. They were big and round and looked pretty as a picture-- too pretty, almost, to be real.

Last year I tried to grow them (from starter plants that came in bunches) in my vegetable garden, with not much luck. My planting was delayed, and the plants had dried up a good bit in the bundle before they were planted. This year I'm going to try to grow them from seed under lights, transplanting them when the soil can be worked.

My last expected frost is May 5th, so the time to seed them indoors is now through February 10th. If your last frost date differs from mine, check out this chart from Johnny's Selected Seeds and plug in your frost date. This will give you a planting timetable specific to your area.

I will plant them in a premoistened soilless seeding mix (I use Metro-Mix® 360 from Sun Gro Horticulture, but other soilless seeding mixes would work as well.) I'll moisten the top layer before I plant, then I'll cover them lightly with soil, press the soil gently to make sure the seed is in good contact with the soil, and water them with a plant mister so that I don't take a chance that the seeds might be dislodged by the water. I'll put them under lights and on a heat mat until they germinate, which may take a week to 10 days. I'll check them daily and water (again with the mister) when the soil begins to dry out.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy New Year!

2013. Does this year seem unlucky or lucky to you? Or is it just a number?

After all, the year does not really begin or end. Time and a calendar are boundaries set up by those people who need beginnings and endings, boundaries and borders, to make their lives seem neat and tidy, started and finished, intended and accomplished.

To an Ohio gardener, life is a cycle. December is a rest, not an ending. January and February are a respite (for the garden as well as the gardener), not a beginning. The time when any gardening done is done indoors or truly indoors (in the gardener's mind!) is an important time, too. Planning, dreaming, sorting out the "I wish I could"s from the "I believe I can"s-- these parts of the year are as important as the actual digging, planting, harvesting parts.

It's a time for thinking, planning for the next seasons. And a time for looking forward to the results of efforts we've already made (planting perennials and bulbs, receiving seed orders.) I hope that the anticipation of snowdrops and the memories of daffodils sustain you throughout this snowy month. The earth will reawaken. The sun will shine on your back as you dig in the dirt.

It's coming. Can't you feel it?