Wednesday, December 18, 2019

MidWinter Dreams

Perfect white crystals piled on the railing outside my back door.

White crystals piled in a sheer slope, a (sort of) straight line edge atop.

Perfect domes on the posts.

Nature, what an engineer.

Monday morning.

The next morning:

Fog shrouded world beckons.

Black and white and gray.

Nature, what an artist.

I've always felt that fog was magical, I could step into the gray and through to a different place. So I went out into the misty winter morning, down to the pond covered in ice, covered in snow.

Was the spring flowing? I wondered. A long trek to the other side of the pond to check. But I trekked.

I was not the first one to pass this way -- deer tracks in the snow.

A patch of blackberry brambles. I tried to push my way through. Backed out and tried again.

OK. So that's why no deer tracks went through here. I find my way around, through tall grass buried in snow.

And there it is, where water seeps from the ground, over green moss-covered stones, at the base of the hill. An open place in the snow, a small stream of water, a bare flicker of movement. A bare flicker.

I recall the first time I saw this place... February... 15 degrees Fahrenheit... a world covered in snow. Water flowed so that I could hear it as I came down the hill on the other side of the pond.

Today, barely a flicker. December. Perhaps another day it will flow and fill the pool. But today it sleeps. Sleeps. Dreams.

Nature, what a dreamer.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Rosemary by Any Other Name...

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray love, remember."

Ophelia's words in Shakespeare's Hamlet succinctly states one of the many things for which the herb rosemary can be used. In this instance, Ophelia refers to the Victorian era's language of flowers, in which sprigs of rosemary are placed in a small bouquet to implore the recipient to hold the giver in memory. Or it indicates that the giver will always remember... Sometimes rosemary is placed in funeral wreaths so that we might remember the deceased.

The quote from Shakespeare was repeated, at least one, in one of Agatha Christie's novels, "Remembered Death," in which we enter the story six months after the murder of a beautiful woman named Rosemary. I was certain the novel contained some other quote or reference I could cite in this blog, so I looked through the book (which I hadn't read in ages), became intrigued by the story, and spent an entire afternoon ostensibly looking for useful references to rosemary. In fact, however, I was simply intrigued to find the solution to the mystery. I didn't sit and read the entire thing, just jumped through and reading large portions, formulating my own solution. As is often the case in Mrs. Christie's novel, I was on the wrong track. I got one bit right, but the murderer wrong.

But I digress...

Rosemary is a wonderful plant. It's narrow, blue-green leaves possess a refreshing resinous fragrance reminiscent of pine. And aside from symbolizing remembrance, it is used to enhance memory and clear cognitive function. Ancient Greek scholars would wear rosemary in their hair as they studied for exams to boost their memory. Indeed, when used regularly, rosemary can help improve cognitive function, including memory. I've found that the scent helps clear away mental cobwebs when the brain becomes weary. I have taken sprigs of fresh rosemary to work so I could inhale its scent and freshen my mind when I experienced those mid-afternoon doldrums. Inhaling the scent of rosemary essential oil works the same way.

When studying rosemary a while back, the one aspect that stood out to me (according to my notes) was "clarity." Rosemary assists mental and psychic clarity. It's also antimicrobial, so inhaling its scent or drinking a tea of rosemary can help prevent illness. Diffusing rosemary essential oil in a room also cleanses the air.

All that aside, rosemary is great in the kitchen. We stuff whole, fresh sprigs of it under the skin of chicken before we cook it. As an evergreen plant (if you live in USDA zones 8-10) rosemary is associated with this time of year, when various cultures bring evergreen boughs in to decorate homes. Christmas lore has Mary drying her cloak on a rosemary shrub, thus giving it its fragrance and pretty blue flowers.

I have become quite familiar with and fond of rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis.

Except, officially, it's not R. officinalis any longer.

They've gone mucking about and studying its gene (how rude!) and have discovered that it is too closely related to sage, plain old garden sage, Salvia officinalis, place it in a different genus. Of course, rosemary is related to sage. Both belong to the same family, the mint family, Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae), which also boasts thyme, peppermint, and a host of other familiar herbs. But it's always had its own genus, Rosmarinus.

Now we must call rosemary Salvia rosmarinus. (Explanation here.) Which means it loses its "officinalis" tag. That species name was given to a number of plants that were once part of official apothecaries. Not that it changes anything, really. But somehow it seems offensive to so abruptly change the scientific name of such a noble plant. Chamomile has suffered that offense more than once, so that I'm not exactly sure what the genus species name is now. And taxonomists have changed family names at time (see my above reference to two names for the mint family). The cabbage/mustard family was once Cruciferae and is now Brassicaceae. The Compositae family is now known as Asteraceae.

Not that the plants care. Only plant geeks like me, and anyone who has reason to deal with scientific names of plants will care. It's always good to know a plant's scientific name, so that when you're dealing with a plant that shares a common name with another species, or which has multiple common names, you can be sure and get the specific plant you want. Herbalists are wise to keep up on such things.

I'm not sure why this name change affected me so. Perhaps because rosemary is such a singular plant and renaming it to belong in a genus with dozens of other plant species just seems wrong. I'll get over it.

As Shakespeare once wrote: "A rosemary by any other name would smell as sweet."
Oh, right. That was "a Rose by any other name..." I'll have to grab some rosemary tea to help me remember that.

NOTICE: I'm back. Not sure why I've been gone for so long. Just one of those things. So I came back with a sprig of rosemary... "that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember" me.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The End Has Come

This scene is no more.

The decaying corpses of these plants still stand... for the moment... but the brilliance of their photosynthesizing life is gone. Our first freeze of the season arrived yesterday morning and summer is truly gone, taking with it the last of the summer vegetables and tender annuals such as these. To the right of the red amaranth are -- were -- bell peppers. To the left of the golden marigolds were nasturtiums and eggplant; all now slain by the freeze.

Gone are the okra, tomatoes (many of which I took down weeks ago), watermelon, long beans, and cantaloupe. The cucumbers, which provided an overwhelming harvest, have been gone (to my relief) for a few weeks, as well.

Often I am reluctant to let go of summer, especially when the first frost/freeze comes early, as this one did. I drag sheets and blankets out to the garden to save the peppers and at least some of the tomatoes, as well as any other summer resident that I deem worthy.

Tomatoes, zinnias and nasturtiums. All now gone.
Not this year. I felt almost relieved when the first frost showed up in the forecast. I dug the sweet potatoes, picked a half bushel or more of green and not quite green peppers, as well as a gallon of hot peppers. I picked a few green tomatoes -- only the two Brandywine, and two Sun Gold plants were left, anyway. Gathered the last okra pods and any other summer vegetable, as well the red raspberries which were still putting on new berries. I went to bed Friday night feeling ready.

When I went out the next morning and found the nasturtiums and melons that shared a bed, melted and dead, I felt no remorse. Instead I felt a surge of joy, a soaring lightness. I felt eager to begin the clearing away. No longer will I feel the urgency of harvesting and processing the summer crops.

That didn't end my harvesting, however. Kale, cabbage, lettuce, bok choy, turnips, carrots, winter radishes, and a few others still grow, made all the better tasting for the chill. These I hope to keep going well into winter with some protection. Plus I have all the summer bounty tucked away in the freezer, or dehydrated and sitting in jars on the pantry shelf. I think I can eat until next season's harvest begins.

Nasturtiums, peppers, okra (background), and datura. Only the leeks (showing
 just behind the peppers and datura) remain
The only thing I will miss are the zinnias, those brilliant flower fireworks. On Friday evening, as dusk deepened I gathered in zinnias, so now (for the first time this year, can you believe it?) bouquets of zinnias are scattered about the house, along with a couple of vases of deep purple twice-blooming iris.

It's time to turn inward, into the house, into my heart, into my soul. Oh you can bet I've still got plenty to do in the garden -- fences to remove and erect, clearing to do -- the tasks never end. But it's all without urgency. I can afford to turn inward.

This afternoon I sat in the middle of the garden, sun warming my shoulders, my eyes closed, and felt the green energy sinking down, into the earth. I embraced the change of seasons, and heard the whole world breathe a contented sigh as it snuggles in, to rest.

Soon the evidence of that movement downward, inward will be apparent as leaves turn color, then fall. The kale and other cold-season vegetables will eventually be shrouded -- first in white, then in plastic -- to give them just a little extra time to grow. The leeks, carrots and radishes will all be dug, and a fire will roar in our stove. All in their time.

Today, however, I will sit in the sun and let summer go.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Of Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Bagworms

Miniature White Cucumbers, my favorite. Productive, crunchy, small seeded, and rarely bitter.
It's been a fruitful summer.

If you come to my house over the next month, it's quite likely I will coerce you into -- I mean -- offer you as many cucumbers as you could possibly want. My neighbor has come up at least twice to pick cucumbers. Today some friends who came over went home with loads of cukes. Last night I took some to a gathering and implored people to take some home with them. I always have more than we can consume, and it is no different this year, even though I planted fewer cucumbers than usual. Why does it seem like I have more than usual?

I eat fresh cucumbers every day and have made more than three gallons of fermented cucumber pickles. Do I really need a fourth gallon? Maybe.

In a quest for something else to do with cucumbers I discovered numerous fresh salads that combine cucumbers with tomatoes, peppers, onions and whatever other summer veggies are on hand, such as Panzanella (minus the bread crumbs for me) and Fatoush (which I fell in love with while dining from the Sunday buffet at a local Mediterranean restaurant). Of course there's tatziki, a Mediterranean sauce/dip made with Greek yogurt, grated cucumber and dill, with the option of adding mint. I love all these. Guess I'll make some Fatoush for tomorrow.

But I've also discovered Gazpacho. Not exactly "discovered." I've known about gazpacho for a long time, but always went, "Cold soup? Um... no." However, desperation sets in and I tried an intriguing gazpacho recipe that uses 1 pound of cucumbers, 1 pound of tomatillos, half a medium onion, one clove garlic, half a poblano chili, and 1/4 cup olive oil.

I don't have tomatillos, so I used Sun Gold cherry tomatoes instead. I doubled the garlic (ONE clove garlic? What good is that?). I didn't have poblanos, so I use a little bit of chipotle. It all goes into the blender and is well-chilled before serving. OK, so, Yum. I mean YUM. I'll make it again and I'm waiting to try another gazpacho that uses arugula and "tender" herbs, such as basil, cilantro, parley when the arugula gets growing well again. It seems that gazpacho variations are many.

But I think tomorrow I'll make fatoush, without the feta.

Of course these salads all use tomatoes as well as cucumbers. That's just fine, as the tomatoes are doing quite well. I'm not so desperate to have other people pick those, as they are easy to preserve, although I do share. The Amish Paste get sliced and dehydrated. The Black Vernissage (apparently the Vernissage group also has pink, yellow and green varieties) that don't get used fresh in the salads will be roasted and frozen in wide-mouth canning jars. Pink Brandywine is best fresh and is The Best fresh tomato, in my opinion. But it's easy to have an excess, so some will be dried, roasted or given away. Fortunately they aren't a super productive variety and I planted just two.

Now we come to the bagworms, of which we also have a bumper crop this year. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware that it would be a bumper crop at the optimum time to manage them (June-ish) by spraying Bt, a biological control. After it became apparent, I just sort of... not "just sort of," I purposely and actively ignored them. By August they've done most of their feeding and so it's not any use spraying. Now they hang like ornaments almost every few inches along all the branches of many of our red cedar trees. With luck, they haven't actually killed any, at least not the important ones.

One of last year's Monarchs shortly after emerging.
I'm not sure why they're so abundant this year, other insects seem to be in short supply. The milkweeds I planted for the Monarch butterflies have not been eaten by Monarch caterpillars, although caterpillars of the Tufted Tiger Moth (I guess they're also known as the Milkweed Tussock Moth) completely devoured a couple of the plants. They tend to swarm the plants, whereas Monarch Butterflies lay just one egg per leaf. Still a Monarch caterpillar can pretty much eat an entire plant.

I've seen a few Black Swallowtail caterpillars -- the benefit of having an abundance of dill and fennel -- but no Silvery Checkerspot larvae on the echinaceas. Even the squash bugs seem in short supply, but maybe that's because the squash also is in short supply. The Japanese beetles also have been blessedly scarce. I'm curious as to what next summer will bring insect-wise. Late cold weather this past winter/early spring might have reduced many of the insect populations...

But not the bagworm population. Why?

I'm not sure even the entomologists can answer that one.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Preparing for the Heat

I've spent a good part of this week so far watering food plants in preparation for several days of high temperatures near or at 100 degrees. I will continue to water something every day. The blueberries will need water every day until the temperature moderates. Everything in pots will need close watching.

My new schedule has me outside early and quitting about 1 p.m. before the heat hits its high. I came in today at 1:15, my clothes soaked as if I'd jumped in the pond. The temperature was 95 degrees F. Too sunny, too hot, too humid. Drink lots of water, folks. It's hot out there. And it will get hotter.

I'm not going to complain, though. It is July in Kansas. We've been fortunate so far. I worked under a cloud-covered sky this morning, which was nice. It was only 85 degrees then, but the beating sun can make even that temperature a shirt soaker. So the clouds were a nice touch. Thank you, Universe. And just when I went in for brunch at 10 a.m., a surprise shower began to fall. Nothing measureable, but it felt good to have rain.

What Kansas is experiencing this week is nothing compared to what other places have experienced. It's not supposed to be in the mid-90s in Alaska, but it was. Last summer (which occurred during our winter) Australia had an incredible heat wave.

And yet people seem oblivious to climate change. But I see it. When you keep your eye on the ramblings of the season as closely as I do, you know when things fall out of whack. And they're out of whack. I know it's a difficult thing to face, but if we're going to make changes that will make a difference, we must face it.

Start by calling your Congress Critters and asking them why climate change, the Climate Crisis, isn't front and center. Why are we allowing bee-killing pesticides to be sprayed over large areas, and toxic crap to be dumped into water? Why aren't we pushing solar and wind power and making changes? Why isn't my grandchildren's future important? Why are we busy manufacturing a crisis at the border instead of dealing with a real crisis, climate change?

But what can I do as an individual besides yelling at the Congress Critters? Plant trees. Look for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, such as driving less, turning off electronics not in use, eating less meat, buying local produce... We do what we can and hope for the best.
Cucumbers fermenting. Dill pickles.

Depression over climate change and the potential lack of any real future is a new thing among young people. I have struggled with it. There is every possibility that, barring a large truck bearing down on me, I could be around for another 30, even 40 years... if climate change doesn't make that impossible. I want every possible moment of life. I want my grandchildren to have every opportunity for a good life. Climate change isn't some conspiracy theory. It's real.

So, enough. I don't like to get preachy on this blog, but we really should be yelling at the people in charge about this. We're supposed to be in charge, but... no I won't go there.

Tomorrow I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to do what I can do. And enjoy life as much as possible, regardless of the forecast.

I'll enjoy working in the garden in the morning and whatever indoor projects need to be done in the afternoon... I'll bundle and hang the garlic to dry, watch the cucumbers fermenting on the counter, work on a presentation I have to give on Saturday, vacuum the floors (let's not get crazy now)... Focus on the Now.

For Now I only have to deal with a week or so of high heat. I'll deal with the future heat when it arrives.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


This hummer liked to sit on the glass snail that sits in the pot where the wrens built their nest.
I miss my little neighbors.

A month or two ago a pair of Carolina wrens built a nest cozied in between two plants in a large pot on our front porch. Within no time five little eggs occupied the nest, then five gaping mouths (that was all we could see of the babies in the deep nest). We anticipated watching the babies eventually fledge.

The plants in the pot started looking a bit ragged because I was afraid to water much. I didn't want to flood the nest, especially after the babies hatched. While we sat on our porch at meals, we watched the parents come with caterpillars or other tasty treats, then go again. Often they would perch on top of an iron sculpture at the corner of the porch and belt out a beautiful trill before flying off to go hunting.

Then one morning, a week ago, my husband went onto the front porch and saw the nest overturned and empty. The parents returned, screeching in anguish. It was heart-wrenching.

I know that feeling. A few years ago a cardinal pair built a nest in the bay tree on our front porch. I loved pulling back the shade a crack to look at the eggs, then the nestlings. But one day I looked out and the babies were gone. It must have just happened, because the parents returned and went into hysterics. It tore my heart out.

A year or two before that, cardinals nested in the bay tree. Only to lose the nestlings.

Life is hard for bird parents. It makes me wonder just how many bird babies actually make it out of the nest alive. After watching cardinal parents lose babies from their nests in the bay tree, I saw a cardinal nest tucked away at the top of the black raspberry brambles. It was difficult to see, even when I knew where to look. Surely these babies will fledge.

But, no. They too perished too soon.

Being so small and tasty and easy to capture, baby song birds are on many critters' dinner lists -- snakes, cats, raccoons, other birds. Even squirrels will eat birds from time to time, I recently learned.

Squirrels? No wonder one of the wren parents chittered with such concern when a squirrel was lurking about on our porch. I couldn't figure out why the wren was so concerned about a squirrel. It was as much of a mystery to as is what the silly squirrels like to do on our porch. Sometimes they seem to be licking the concrete. What?

Anyway, we figure the squirrel go the baby wrens, and a squirrel was possibly the culprit in taking out the cardinal babies.

How do song birds cope with losing their young so frequently? I guess they just build another nest and lay more eggs.


We've decided that if other birds start nest building on our front porch that we're going to prevent them by removing any nesting material they lay down. Maybe the birds have learned to cope with their frequent losses, but I don't think I can.

Sunday, June 30, 2019


This morning's harvest.

Four kinds of lettuce, peppermint, and nasturtiums, with a handful of snow peas underneath the peppermint.

The lettuce, nasturtiums and snow peas became salad, and the peppermint became cold tea. A refreshing summer repast.

This blog post comes to you courtesy of one of my followers (I have followers? Oh my!) who sent me a message yesterday wondering if I was all right. It's been March since my last posting, after all. (That long? Oh dear.)

I've had a lot of blog posts go through my head since then. So much happens in the garden from March through June. The poppies, purple cone flowers, lilies and yarrow were magnificent and still look lovely, even though they're moving past their prime. What's next?

In the spring my husband urged me to plant lettuce, lettuce and more lettuce. So I did, even adding another "even more lettuce." Now we have more lettuce than we know what to do with. Abundance.

Abundance came in other ways, such as a bumper crop of pie cherries. Cherries, cherries, and more cherries. Unfortunately, as it is with great wealth, I couldn't pick all the cherries before it was too late. We bought a cherry pitter, which significantly speeded up that process. But with everything else to do, I just couldn't get them all and many cherries rotted on the tree. What I did harvest will be held preciously.

We also have apricots. Just the ones I've gathered off the ground were more than we've gotten in all nine years since I planted the tree. Somehow those left in the tree are disappearing. Either they're being eaten as soon as they fall to the ground, or someone is stealing them from the tree. Hmmm....

This week I'll be picking cabbages. Lots of cabbages. Sauerkraut, stir fry, roasted cabbage "steaks," the possibilities are endless. No babies in the cabbage patch yet. (Does anyone continue that fairytale?) Yesterday I started a batch of green sauerkraut. In a day or two I'll start red cabbage sauerkraut. So looking forward to it.

Bonus lily photo.
The peppermint is going crazy. I'm actually managing to dry up a bunch of herbs -- peppermint, tulsi, sage, oregano, etc. -- to use for tea and cooking. I don't always manage that. With so many tasks to do I am easily distracted.

We've also had an abundance of rain this summer. May was drenching. Our pond filled again, for the first time in a few years. June was much drier on my hilltop, but dropped six inches of rain over three days last week. The forecast looks a bit more "normal" for the coming week, hot and drier but with a slight chance of rain, which if it comes will fall in torrents with lots of nature's fireworks to rival the human-made ones. The early rain kept me out of the garden, but encouraged the weeds. Weeds, weeds, weeds, and abundance of weeds. I'm weeding, weeding, and weeding. What to do today? Weed or pick cabbages or trim raspberries or climb the tree and get the last of the apricots? Oh look, the peaches are turning.

Better get to them before the squirrels do.

Up next, elderberries and summer apples. And starting cabbages (again?) and other vegetables for the fall garden.

Because I promised readers of my newspaper column, here are some links to gardening guides. From Seed Savers Exchange . The K-State Research and Extension Garden Guide.


Monday, March 11, 2019

Spring... a Tentative Step

Juniper contemplating the disappearing snow less than a week ago. She thinks spring is on its way.
The snow has disappeared -- except for a tiny patch where we piled snow scooped from in front of our garage.

The snow is gone, as are single digit temperatures (please, please, please). The winter aconite survived the minus 3 degrees Fahrenheit while blanketed in snow.

The snow is gone, but the yellow flowers remain, looking much like sunshine bubbling out of the earth. A quick look today revealed the yellowed tips of daffodil blades, spiky crocus leaves, and the tips of surprise lily leaves.

Yesterday and today I walked barefoot in the garden. Where the sun shone, the ground was warm enough. But ice remains in the ground where shade lies all day. It will be gone soon, though, soon.

I've been able to set my baby cabbages, broccoli, and other spring vegetable transplants on the front porch to harden off. With good fortune we'll have a run of dry sunny weather before the end of March so I can set them in the ground. A few days ago I started peppers and eggplants. Sometime this week I'll start tomatoes. Maybe I'll even plant peas in the garden later this week when it clears off, briefly.

We've started buying our wood for next winter. With luck, the wood we bought last year will last through the cold weather this spring.

It is spring. It feels like spring. The birds say it's spring, and the calendar says spring begins next week. I'll take it. Finally. I hope.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Prairie Posting: Native Resiliency

Blue sage, a native salvia, waves beautiful blossoms in the tallgrass prairie in late summer.
I grew up on the eastern edge of the Flint Hills, probably the largest expanse of virgin tallgrass prairie left in existence. The prairie is home to me, it's part of who I am. Even though I don't live in the midst of tallgrass prairie now, restoring and preserving a tiny piece of prairie near my home feels essential.

At one time, before European settlers began plowing, the central portion of North America, up into Canada, was covered in tallgrass prairie, with medium and shortgrass prairies covering dryer parts of the region. Little of that virgin prairie remains. In some states, less than 5 percent of the original prairie still stands. Kansas, however, has a large portion of the remaining prairie.

Most likely, what saved much of this tallgrass prairie is the terrain. Too rocky and hilly to make good cropland, it was, and still is, ideal for pasturing livestock. Large herds of grazing animals -- bison, elk, deer, and others -- served as a major force in preventing the prairies from being overtaken by woody plants and turning into woodlands. Along with the grazers, periodic fires pushed out the woody plants. At some point, the indigenous people of this land learned to use fire to their advantage, as the succulent growth that followed a prairie fire drew these grazers that provided food, skins, bones for tools, and other resources. And the excrement and urine of these animals fed the prairie plants, creating a lush grassland.
Butterfly on a butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa

The prairies aren't just grasses, though. They also contain many, many species of forbs, better known to you as "wildflowers," that fed adult and larval forms of the thousands of species of native insects. Many factors, including the loss of habitats containing native plant species, have significantly reduced the number of native insect populations.

The loss of insect populations is quite obvious to me. At one time, when I went driving at night the front end of my car would become crusted with the smashed corpses of insects that jumped or flew into my path. I no longer need to scrub that crust off the car, regardless of how often I drive at night.

Great! You might be thinking. No more bugs!

But hold on a minute. Insects are the foundation of any ecosystem, as they are at the bottom of the food chain. A dramatic drop in the insect population creates a great loss in populations of creatures that depend upon them for sustenance -- birds, frogs, toads, other amphibians and small reptiles, and birds. Oh. Did I say "birds" twice?

Many people might not care much for amphibians and reptiles (and many do), but birds, now... that's a different story. Why else would people spend so much time and money on bird feeders and bird food? Those sunflower seeds you feed them certainly helps survival, especially in hard winters, but birds need insects. That's their source of protein for their young. They don't feed chicks sunflower seeds, they feed them insects.

"Most caterpillars don't turn into butterflies and moths," said Betsy Betros, entomologist, "they turn into birds."

A pair of mated chickadees must hunt down 10,000 caterpillars in order to raise one clutch of chicks, Betros said during a recent panel discussion on "Native Plants for a Resilient Kansas." A more conservative estimate by author Douglas Tallamy (who was not on the recent panel), who wrote "Bringing Nature Home," was 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars. That's still a lot of caterpillars to raise five to 10 chicks. And black-capped chickadees are tiny birds. Imagine how many bugs it takes to raise a clutch of larger birds.
Echinacea paradoxa

The value of these birds goes beyond delighting us with their antics at feeders and their love songs. They also serve as food for larger birds -- owls, hawks, eagles -- as well as some mammals. All creatures eventually become food for something, be it vultures and other scavengers, or microorganisms. A significant decrease in populations of critters at the bottom of the food chain means decreasing numbers of critters all the way up the food chain. Except for humans. It seems we keep reproducing and growing in numbers in spite of all the signs that we should stop.

And then there are the native pollinators -- mostly insects here -- who are responsible for keeping the wildflower and food populations going. Bees, not just honeybees (which are not native here), are the most critical pollinators. With dire predictions of the potential collapse of the beautiful Monarch butterfly, everyone is planting milkweeds. But we need to do more to sustain all other native pollinators. While some of the non-native flowering plants we put in our garden will provide food for some of our native pollinators, our native plants attract a much larger variety of these insects.

Many insects -- particularly moths and butterflies -- use only one genera of plants as food for their caterpillars. For example, the Monarch's preference is for milkweed species. My common milkweed plants get eaten to the bone by larvae of the Monarch butterfly and the Tufted Tiger Moth. But that's the point. We need nurseries for the young, not just nectar and pollen sources. Native pollinating insect adults also seem to prefer pollen and nectar from native plants.

Plant native flowers. Save the world. Or at least save the insects... which amounts to the same thing. STOP USING INSECTICIDES. Provide habitat. Many of our native bees nest deep in the soil, an adaptation to survive prairie fires. Support organizations, such as the Kaw Valley Native Plant Coalition, and Grassland Heritage Foundation, and others that work to preserve and restore native prairies. They and others also are great sources of information on what natives to grow.

To learn more about various insects, check out Bug Guide by Iowa State University. This page is all about dragonflies and their relatives. Look for Betros's new book, "A Photographic Field Guide to the Butterflies in the Kansas City Regions." The more you know about insects, the more you'll love them.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Beneath the Snow... Spring

A week ago I found these beauties blooming in the garden. 

Winter aconite is always one of the first things to show up in late winter/early spring. During a winter when it seems that spring is never going to come, I was delighted to find these unopened buds. I wondered how they would fare with the bitter cold that was in the forecast.

This morning the digital readout said minus 3 -- that's Fahrenheit. Minus 3 on March 4; must be a record.

Snow covers the winter aconite now, so it should be safe from the deep cold. Snow creates great insulation against anything colder than the freezing point. So I'm pretty sure these yellow beings have survived. I don't know if they were fully opened before the snow fell, most likely.

I'm anxious to see the snow melt and find out how these lovelies fared.

I'm anxious to see the snow melt.

I am ready for spring.

And it's here.

Underneath the snow.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Indoor Gardens: 5b Gnat Notes and a Loose End or Two

Summer Dreams
Looking at the forecast, which contains snow and below freezing temps beyond March 1, I'm beginning to wonder when the outdoor gardening will commence. So I'm happy to have stuff growing inside. But some of it must go outdoors sometime. I'm grateful for the moisture we've had, yet I would like to see the temperature going up a bit more.

So, about the indoor gardening. After I finished my last post, I realized I'd forgotten to mention a couple of things about fungus gnats, and thought I'd update another thing or two.

One way to keep fungus gnats in check, when the population is small, is to use cider vinegar. Put a quarter inch to half inch of cider vinegar in a glass, add a drop of liquid soap, then stretch a piece of plastic wrap across the top. Poke a few small holes in the plastic and place near the fungus gnat infestation. Fungus gnats are related to fruit flies and will be attracted to the vinegar, where they will drown. Wine works, as well.

Sticky traps also are a way to check infestations of fungus gnats and other small flying pests. You can buy yellow sticky traps, or supplies to make them, from most garden supply places. Flying pests are attracted to yellow for some reason. Or you can make your own sticky traps with strips of yellow paint chips from the paint store and petroleum jelly, according to one Web site. So I tried it. I didn't have yellow paint chips, and had no plans to hit the paint department anywhere, but I do have some yellow cardstock, and the petroleum jelly was cheap at a discount store.

But stick with the actual sticky traps. The petroleum jelly didn't work. I even saw a gnat land on it, walk a few steps and fly away. Now I have a jar of petroleum jelly and no use for it. Meh.

As part of my strategy against both fungus gnats and damping off disease I purchased a different type of potting mix, a "soiless" mix. It would be looser and dryer than the potting soil I'd been using for the microgreens, I thought.

Well, that is indeed true. However, the microgreens did not sprout as thickly as they had before and are growing rather slowly. The stuff is apparently too dry and has no nutrition. The microgreens I planted a week later in the old potting soil sprouted thickly and are about the same size as the ones planted earlier. So, another "meh." I'm going back to the old mix and just keeping up the gnat strategy -- gnategy?

More snow and freezing drizzle this week. Sigh.
Stay safe out there.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Gardening Indoors 5: Gnatty Problem

Houseplants are a great addition to the decorating scheme.
They're baaaaaaack. (Violin going "screeech screeech screeech")

Those naughty gnats have returned. Fortunately, not in the numbers they had before. I have a plan; I am prepared.

After we had our microgreens going for a month or two, we noticed a proliferation of tiny black fly-things swooping up from the soil every time we cut microgreens. I'd seen these things before, hovering about the houseplants, but never in large numbers, so I wasn't ever concerned about them. However, they came up almost in clouds out of the microgreens.

I thought I knew what they were, but still I pulled out my organic gardening reference book, and did some online searches.

Yep, I was right. Fungus gnats.

Most of the info I found indicated that fungus gnats weren't a problem, although some said that they could nibble on plant roots, etc. But none of the information I found caused me concern. The fungus gnats were an annoyance, nothing more (so I thought, trying to avoid taking any action).

However, some of the microgreens started falling over, or not germinating at all. Damping off disease. (See my post from 2/4/19) The gnats could be transmitting damping off disease while hopping from one container to another. On top of that the weekly Horticulture Newsletter from Kansas State University Extension said that fungus gnats do cause damage. They won't really do harm to my mature houseplants, partly because they're so tiny and the plants are big. Because of the conditions the fungus gnats require, they don't proliferate to extremes in the larger pots, either.

But they are an issue for tiny, vulnerable seedlings, like my microgreens, and now my seedling transplants (see last post). And it was in the microgreens where they proliferated most.

Because... fungus gnats need moist soil conducive to fungal growth (which they eat as larvae and maybe as adults). One way to keep them under control in regular size houseplants is to always let at least the top two inches of soil dry out between waterings. Easy enough. You can't do that with microgreens, though, which have only an inch of soil to begin with. If I tried letting it dry out completely I'd end up with a bunch of withered seedlings -- damping off or no damping off, fungus gnats or no fungus gnats.

Drastic measures were needed. So I harvested all the microgreens and removed the soil-filled trays, planting no more microgreens. I purchased Mosquito Bits (like Bacon Bits that are not made of actual bacon, they do not contain actual mosquitoes). The Mosquito Bits contain a biologic toxin Bt, but not the same variation of Bt that I spray on my cabbages against the various butterfly and moth larvae that eat them. MB contains Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis, which not only kills mosquito larvae but also fungus gnat larvae.

Other products with Bt-i are Gnatrol and Knock-Out Gnats. The Gnatrol I found only in large quantities. It took some searching to find it available in anything less than a 16-pound bucket for more than $400. I had trouble finding Knock-Out Gnats. The Mosquito Bits were $19 for 30 ounces, which should last a little while. You might even be able to find them at a hardware store.

So I put the MB on the soil in my larger potted plants and watered to release the Bt. I didn't want to put it on the microgreens soil because they are only a couple of inches tall when you harvest, and so close to the soil. Bt is pretty safe as insecticides go, but I'd rather keep the greens clean. So we had no microgreens for two weeks. The gnats disappeared. The microgreen operation started back up. We started seeing a gnat here and there, so I reapplied the Mosquito Bits, and I keep a spray bottle of Safer Insecticidal Soap in the plant room. Whenever we see a gnat doing an aerial display we grab the bottle of soap and squirt, praying we actually hit it. The soap only works on contact when it's wet. Once it dries, no luck.

The gnats disappear quickly, so we can only guess where to spray. We coat the leaves in the area we saw the gnat to increase our odds. We don't spray the microgreens or the baby cabbages because insecticidal soap can damage seedlings.

The tactic is working, but requires diligence and repeat applications.

Other products also help to prevent fungus gnats. One product is essentially ground up glass that you spread in a half-inch or so layer over the entire soil surface creating a barrier to the gnats so they can't lay eggs or eat roots. Pretty much anything that creates such a barrier would work. My first reaction to the glass was "no way." But I would maybe consider it for a larger potted plant that won't be repotted often. However, it's not cheap. So I'll stick with my current program.

Fungus gnats. There are worse pests to have and shouldn't be an issue with ordinary houseplants. But if you've got microgreens or are starting transplants, don't ignore them. Don't be like me.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Indoor Gardening 4:Seeding Hope

Snow pea microgreens. Because I had to have a photo of something
besides soil-filled pots.
Another morning with a single-digit (Fahrenheit) low.

So what did I do yesterday?

I planted!

I know have two full flats of cabbage seeded, and a half-flat each of broccoli, lacinato kale, celery and radicchio. They sit on my light shelf now. In a few days, the seeds should crack open and send down their radicles (seed roots) and poke up green seed leaves. In about six weeks (weather permitting) they will go into the garden to become tasty vegetables.

I hope.

Each time I plant a seed I am filled with optimism and hope. And I understand it's a gamble. So much can go wrong. But either it doesn't go wrong, or I am able to mitigate and overcome. I am optimistic that the weather will be at least somewhat hospitable for the plants and hopeful that all the things I do will bring a good outcome.

Every year I do this. Start plants indoors to transplant later. This is how I harvest cabbage and broccoli before the height of summer heat; and how I start more cabbage and broccoli during the summer heat to harvest in the fall.

Starting your own transplants requires a little equipment and planning. I have four five-foot long shelves each outfitted with two four-foot fluorescent shop lights. But you don't need that large of a rig to start your own transplants. I start a lot of plants -- I'm expecting 60 cabbage plants, 12 broccoli plants, 12 lacinato and 12 each of celery and radicchio. And that's just the beginning. One year I had to replace most of my cabbages and broccoli because of late cold and nearly choked when they rang up my purchases at the nursery.

But even if you don't plant that many vegetables (or flowers and herbs) starting your own transplants has its benefits. Even if you only plant a half a dozen of any one thing.

Pots filled with soil and waiting for seeds.
First of all, by buying seeds you have more control over what varieties you grow. The local nursery will carry only a few popular varieties of plants, so you might be missing out on something you like even better. Maybe cabbage varieties don't matter much to you, but what about tomatoes? Probably thousands of tomato varieties exist, but the local nursery may carry only six, plain, ordinary, everybody grows them varieties. Maybe they carry a couple of heirloom varieties... but listen -- thousands exist! Pink ones, red ones, yellow ones, green ones, white ones, orange ones striped ones, giant ones, smaller ones, cherries, currants, plums, pastes...

Another factor in favor of starting your own: Your local nursery may not carry vegetable plants for your fall crop.

On top of this, starting your own transplants is satisfying and a good way to get an early start on gardening when the weather outside is frightful.

You need:
Containers. I used to start my transplants in little pots I saved from buying plants. Then I stopped having to buy so many plants, I started planting more stuff and didn't have enough pots, and those pots started getting broken up. So I wound up having to buy some. Because I plant a lot of stuff. But you can repurpose a variety of things to use as pots. Just wash plastic and styrofoam drink cups you get from the fast food joint, poke a few holes in the bottom. Voila! A plant container. You'll want something to catch the water dripping through the holes, but you can repurpose a lot of things for that.
Pots seeded and marked (I cut up plastic lids from large yogurt containers
and mark them with a permanent marker. "Bruns" stands for Brunswick
cabbage, while "EJW" stands for Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage. You can 
use any number of things to mark your seedlings. You'll want to know 
what's supposed to grow. The brownish powder is cinnamon, which I hope
will prevent damping off disease (see my last post for more on that).
Soil: Don't just dig some from the yard. It will probably get hard as a brick. Buy a good potting soil, or soilless planting mix. I always wet mine before putting it in the pots.
Light: Even a south window might not provide enough light. You don't have to buy grow lights, though. Fluorescent lights are suitable, even led bulbs might work fine. Whatever size fixture fits your operation.
And finally -- Seeds!

Some seeds require more warmth than others. Check the seed packet for tips on what is needed, or search online for growing tips. The cabbages will sprout in relatively chilly temps, while pepper and tomato seeds must have some warmth. Find the warm spots in your home and put the pots there until the seeds sprout. They won't need the intense light until they have leaves. Cover the seed pots to maintain moisture until the seedlings are an inch or two tall -- or more. If you're repurposing things and don't have the handy clear plastic "domes" that go on seedling flats, use plastic bags, but stick popsicle sticks, broken pencils, or sticks from the yard in the soil to hold the plastic off the soil.

Even though these plants you're starting are intended to live most of their lives outdoors. This is still indoor gardening. Enjoy the adventure.

NOTE: If you have any questions about starting transplants, please leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer it.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Indoor Gardening Tres: Adding Spice

Your tiny seedlings look green and healthy, and then suddenly fall over.

Maybe you just waited too long to water them. But wait... the soil is damp. Or you water them and they don't revive. Were they dry too long or ...

Is it DAMPING OFF Disease?

Damping Off disease is caused by several species of fungi and gets into your indoor garden by way of contaminated soil, seeding pots and trays, tools, and even your hands. Damping off essentially only affects seedlings, and possibly cuttings. Sometimes it prevents seeds from germinating, or they die as soon as they germinate. Your mature plants won't be bothered by damping off.

But when you're starting transplants from seed, or growing microgreens (see last post) damping off is a real possibility.

I haven't ever had a problem with damping off when starting transplants, as far as I can recall. Maybe a few seedlings failed due to it, but it never created an issue that caught my attention. So when symptoms started showing up in the microgreens I resisted. I thought that the reason the peas started to germinate so poorly was due to some other cultural thing. I tried soaking the seeds before planting, and covering them with much less soil. But to no avail.

Then when a tray of garnet amaranth came up sparsely and most of the seedlings fell over even though the soil was damp, my hand and brain were forced (by my husband's insistence). I didn't even need to hit the "search" button on the computer to recognize the issue. As soon as I was willing to admit something was wrong I knew what it was. However, I did go searching the Internet before declaring the issue... damping off disease.

Conditions that favor damping off include constantly moist soil and crowding of seedlings. When raising transplants, I try not to crowd the seedlings, but with microgreens that's the whole point. You want to pack your container with tiny green stuff. And you can't let the soil dry at all, because you've go only about and inch of soil to start with.

Exacerbating the issue were the facts that I started reusing the potting soil, and I did not clean my trays after each use. Big Point Here. Dirty containers, dirty tools and dirty hands can and will spread damping off (as well as any other disease that might be present). Sigh. I knew better. But it had never been a problem before. However, point taken. I will from now on wash the dirt from my containers after every use and then soak them in or spray them with a 10 percent bleach solution (one part bleach to nine or 10 parts water). Leave that sit for 30 minutes and rinse thoroughly. It is also important to clean tools (like scissors) with each use.

Your best bet in preventing damping off is to use fresh potting soil each time. However, with the amount of microgreens I'm growing that's a lot of potting soil. I can reuse the soil, after picking out as much of the plant material as possible (I know, it does sound like a pain in the derriere, and it is, but that's a lot of potting soil) and sterilizing it. To sterilize the soil put it in an oven-proof pan four inches deep (it should be dampish, I think) and place in a 200-degree oven for at least 30 minutes. I'm told it creates an unpleasant smell. But, hey, it's only for 30 minutes. Open a window.

Another preventative measure is to use some herbs with anti-fungal properties. For decades I've heard that spraying seedlings with a strong chamomile tea (cooled, of course) on a regular basis prevents damping off. I've never tried it because damping off has not been an issue. More recently I discovered that cinnamon has antifungal properties and will prevent damping off if sprinkled on top of the soil after planting. One source said that only Ceylon cinnamon will work.

You see, not all cinnamon is the same. There are actually several species of cinnamon that have slightly different flavor characteristics. Ceylon Cinnamon is considered the "true" cinnamon, and supposedly has more anti-fungal punch than the other types. It's also the most expensive of the cinnamons. Ceylon Cinnamon also contains far less coumarin than other cinnamon species, which is only a concern if you are using it in therapeutic quantities or are sensitive to coumarin (which thins blood, and can damage the liver in large quantities). Most of us aren't going to experience issues by using the other cinnamons, which tend to have a more cinnamony flavor than Ceylon.

So I've ordered some organic (don't want to introduce nasty stuff into my microgreens) Ceylon cinnamon as cheap as I can find it. In the meantime, though, I've used some other cinnamon, Vietnamese and an unspecified type, and have not yet seen signs of damping off. But I've only just begun, so we'll see. I even sprinkled on some cinnamon when I started my leeks and onions, even though I've never had trouble with transplants. It's an easy enough step to include, so better safe than sorry.

Other preventative measures: If chamomile and cinnamon aren't available, spray with a garlic tea, or use sulfur powder (not recommended for microgreens), or powdered charcoal. Use a peat based, soilless growing medium, and cover seeds with vermiculite or dry sand which will keep the seedlings drier and discourage fungal growth. Provide some air circulation with a fan on low might help.

One more way damping off possibly might be spread is by insects, namely fungus gnats, which (as their name indicates) like to chomp on fungi and decaying plant matter. I'll get to them in a future post. Until then, enjoy the smell of cinnamon

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Indoor Gardening Part Deux: Microgreens

Red Leaf Mizuna Microgreens provide a splash of color and a wallop of flavor.
The weather outside is frightful...

We've had ice and snow and now bitter cold. Yet we're warm and cozy by the fire, looking over our garden full of lovely vegetables. Let's see, we have cabbage -- both green and red, brussels sprouts and broccoli, leeks and endive, red-leaved radishes, Asian greens, peas, red amaranth greens, and...

Wait a minute! All of that in my house?

Why yes. Tiny, mini, teeny, vegetables -- Microgreens!

You, too, can have an amazing variety of vegetables on just one shelf in your house, by growing microgreens.

What, you may ask, are microgreens?

You've all heard how wonderful sprouts are. Maybe many of you have even done some sprouting, taking certain seeds -- beans or broccoli, perhaps -- wetting them and waiting for them to sprout. Then you just sprinkle them over your food. Well, microgreens are the next step after sprouts, harvested as the second set of leaves -- the first "true" leaves -- appear. Unlike sprouts, microgreens are grown in soil and you eat only stems and leaves, not the roots.

We started eating microgreens this past summer because my husband wanted to increase the diversity of foods in his diet without eating a ton of food. Microgreens have become common at farmers markets because pretty much anyone can grow them. You don't need a bunch of land -- or any land. Just a shelf and lights.

Batavian Endive Microgreens
Not only can you increase the diversity of vegetables in your diet by adding microgreens, you can increase the nutrition and flavor of your food. One study showed microgreens to contain several times the nutrients of mature plants. Microgreens also add a nice punch of flavor to salads, or as garnishes on hot foods. Throw on a handful or two for a gourmet meal.

Buying microgreens on a regular basis, to feed our hunger for the tiny veggies, became a bit costly. So I spent a bunch of money on seeds and got started. Even though the price tag on my seed collection seems exorbitant, in the long run it won't cost as much as it would to buy them as microgreens. Plus, some of the seeds are the same varieties I plant in the garden, so I've already got part of my spring and summer seed stash.

Don't use treated seed for microgreens. You don't want the fungicides, etc. on your micro veggies. Some seed companies sell seeds specifically for microgreens. However, pretty much any clean, untreated seed can be used. Sowing seeds as thickly as you do for microgreens, you can go through a packet of seeds in no time. Companies that sell seed specifically for microgreens -- such as True Leaf Market and Johnny's Selected Seeds, sell them in ounce packet sizes and larger. Which makes them cheaper than by the .5-gram packet. Some other companies sell seeds in ounce packets and larger, as well, although they are not specifically noted for microgreens. One of my favorites is Fedco Seeds. Just be sure you're not buying treated seed.

Growing them: Microgreens require only about an inch of soil. You can grow them hydroponically, but I'm not sure how practical that would be for the home micro-grower. I haven't studied up on that. But you can easily get a decent potting soil and begin.

I started my microgreen garden using those round drainage trays that you put under plant pots to keep them from wetting the floor. They're just deep enough to hold about an inch of soil. Later, in order to ramp up production, I purchased a number of black plastic growing flats. But use whatever you have that can hold an inch of soil.

Sow seed for microgreens much more thickly than you would for doing transplants -- one site recommended 8 to 10 seeds per square inch for large seeds (peas) and 12 or more for small seeds (radishes). Amaranth seed is even tinier and would require even more seeds per square inch. I don't measure, I just scatter seeds until it looks right. Wet your soil mix before putting it in the containers and spread it evenly. Then just press your seeds into the soil, spray with more water to get the seeds good and wet, and then cover with a plastic bag or whatever to keep them moist until they sprout.

Once they sprout, they'll need light. Set them near the brightest window you have (but take care to keep them out of cold drafts), or put them under fluorescent grow lights. Typically, they're ready to harvest (just snip them off with a scissors) about two weeks after planting. But some take longer and others are ready sooner. Watch for the second set of leaves to appear. Once most of the micro-veggies in your container put out true leaves, I recommend harvesting them all, and putting them in an airtight container in the fridge. Because, fungus gnats. I'll discuss those in a later post. However, you can just let them grow and harvest as you go, but the more mature the plants become, the more they use of those potent nutrients you're growing them for.

Some of our favorite micro-veggies are Rambo radish (a deep red), broccoli (lots of sulforaphane to support the body's detoxification system), cabbage (red and green), brussels sprouts, red-leaf mizuna, garnet mustard, snap or snow peas, red garnet amaranth, and black oil sunflower. We also like celery, leek, buckwheat, clover, and red shiso, and I'm planning to do some arugula. But you can make microgreens from cauliflower, chard, any radish or mustard, lettuce, kale, collards, onion, most herbs, and just a few flowers (nasturtiums yums). Check out the fairly extensive list at True Leaf Market. If you don't get overly excited by the possibilities -- why are you reading this, anyway?

Yes, I've discovered a couple of downsides to doing microgreens (more fungus gnats, for example), but they are fairly easy to avoid, if you know what to do. I'll cover these issues in future posts. So stay tuned. And eat your veggies -- micro and macro.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Indoor Gardening Part 1: Amaryllis

This year we've finally had real winter again. January began warmer than average, but now it's cold and even with February looming, it doesn't look like the cold will let up for more than a day or so. That means that this winter I'm more focused on indoor gardening. So I've decided to do a little series on growing plants indoors.

This will be a bit different than just writing about houseplants. Most of the plants in what I've come to call the "Green Room" are not simple houseplants (although some are). Many of them are food plants, seasonings, or plant medicines.

However, I'm going to start the series with a relatively common houseplant, Amaryllis. I wrote about how to care for amaryllis last year. But the amaryllis are in bloom right now and I can't resist posting photos of tropical blooms on a snowy January day.
This richly colored coleus was a cutting I took from a larger plant that lived
on my back porch last summer. It will become an outdoor plant again, come 
warmer weather.

A few months ago the Horticulture Newsletter from KSU recommended repotting amaryllis every year. When was the last time I repotted my amaryllis? Uh... well... I... I dunno. Have I ever repotted them? Probably, sometime, obviously, since they're not in the original pots. So in November I repotted them. They obviously were happy before, because each bulb had divided two or three times. I divided them, expanding my array of potted amaryllis. Now, instead of three pots of amaryllis I have five (some still with multiple bulbs). Plus I gave away a couple of bulbs. The newly repotted bulbs took longer to bloom than I anticipated, and one hasn't even put up a flower stalk. (It's a different variety, a little larger leaves and blooms, and has always bloomed later than the others.) But the blooms are just as lovely as ever.

This little phalaenopsis orchid was a gift I received one spring. It has blossomed
each year since with very little care. Although it's not blooming now.
You often can find amaryllis ready to grow and bloom (just add water!) during the holiday season. They're often given as gifts. While such gift plants often are treated as short-term plants, enjoyed while blooming, then forgotten and allowed to die, my larger amaryllis was a Christmas gift maybe 15 years ago. So with proper care, the gift can keep on giving.

Just follow the simple steps laid out in my previous blog about amaryllis and you can have amaryllis blooms for years and years. They also can be manipulated to bloom during the almost whenever you want -- winter, or spring and summer. Set them on your porch or even in the garden. A fellow Master Gardener has numerous amaryllis of various colors that she sets out in the garden (in their pots) each summer to add a tropical touch.

Many other plants can be grown in pots year-round. All of my potted plants spend the summer outdoors, some on the front porch where they recieve intense morning sun, others live on the screened in porch, where the elements are less intense. And I always have a couple outside our "back" door on the south. Some are year-round plants, but a few grow just until cold weather sets in.

And, as you'll see in this series, some garden plants also live indoors -- at least for a few weeks -- in winter time.

Tips for Houseplants: If you're a novice, pick hard to kill houseplants, even if they aren't as pretty as you'd like. Save the more finicky ones for later, once you've got some experience under your belt -- and have killed your share of houseplants. (It happens to all of us.)
-- Give them proper light. Most sold as houseplants (usually tropical species) survive on the minimal light usually found in a home. Some even like the dark corners. I had a pothos plant and one I think was an aglaonema, also called "Chinese evergreen" survive for years on just overhead fluorescent lights for eight to 10 hours a day only five days a week. It is recommended that you place plants along a wall opposite your windows, rather than directly in front of your windows. This doesn't fit everyone's floor plan, do what you can.
-- Water them enough, but not too much. Most houseplants die from overwatering rather than underwatering. With some exceptions, let at least the top two inches of soil dry out before you water again. Some plants, such as cacti and some succulents, can go completely dry. Water thoroughly, but try not to let a lot of water sit in the drainage tray for days and days and days.
-- Check routinely for pests and disease. Scale has been an issue on all my woody houseplants, plus on palms I've had. I will go into how to deal with scale and a few other pests in a future post in this series.
-- Provide proper temperature and humidity. Regular room temperature (something like 65-75 degrees and a little cooler at night) is sufficient for most house plants. Avoid placing them near doors and drafty windows where they will be hit by sudden cold drafts in the winter. Some plants can handle it better than others. Humidity -- good luck getting it just right in a heated or air-conditioned house. Some are more likely to be damaged by low humidity than others.
-- Give them good quality, well-draining soil and repot with fresh soil (you can mix old and new potting soil half and half) every few years. I even mix homemade compost in with my houseplant soil, and top dress them with compost each year, especially the larger plants. Most plants take regular potting soil, others require specialty soils.
-- Ask someone who's successfully grown your chosen houseplant for a while, and/or do some research to learn what conditions it needs to thrive, then provide them to the best of your ability. Sometime a plant that shouldn't live under the conditions will do so quite happily. The difference could how much love it receives. Occasionally tell your plants how beautiful they are. It couldn't hurt.

Thursday, January 17, 2019


In real life, the mass of branches piled with snow is eye-dazzling.
The leafless branch of a redbud tree becomes a work of art.
The world transforms into
A delightfully alien landscape.

Every leafless branch
Of every tree
A jagged black line
Highlighted by a broad stroke
Of brilliant white.

The cedar trees accept their burden,
Bowing in reverent prayer.
Snow-laden cedar branches
Bar my way down
Usual paths.

So I take another route,
Ducking under branches,
Going the back way,
Finding new breathtaking scenes.

From each change of perspective
A glorious new scene.
I hold my breath in anticipation,
Round a corner and realize
There is no end to the
Wonders of this Earth.

The world seemed to be in black and white, and every tiny spot of color stood out  like a flashing light, such as the glass gazing globe in the center of this photo. The snow fell overnight on Saturday (today is Thursday). Don't ask why I waited so long to post this. I don't have an answer. Much of this snow is gone now, although not entirely. We're slated to get more snow this weekend. The world is full of wonders. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year

As you continue your Journey
I hope you find Joy.
I hope you find Peace.
I hope you find Love.
I hope you find Contentment.
I hope you find Compassion.

I hope you Understand that you will not find these things looking outside yourself.
You can only find them within;
When you offer Joy to others;
Peace to others;
Love to others;
Compassion to others.

Then you will find Contentment.

I hope you find the Strength and Courage
To face all your Challenges and Trials,
Coming through them Whole,
More Complete than before;
Stronger than before;
More Compassionate than before;
More Grateful for what you have.

And if your Strength and Courage
Should fail you,
May you be surrounded by Compassionate
People with open arms waiting to take you in;
And Strong Shoulders allowing you to lean
Until Strength returns.

No Road is without pitfalls.
Yet all journeys allow us to find Beauty
If we know how to See it,
If we know how to Be it.

Stay the Journey.