Monday, January 13, 2014

A Neat Idea! by Tina Clinefelter

Do the words ‘lasagna gardening’ mean anything to you? If you don’t care to dig, or mollycoddle your soil you might want to try this wonderful idea born of necessity, lack of large chunks of time, and a sore back. I belong to the last category and have already made the first steps toward creating a ‘lasagna bed’.
To begin at the beginning – I’m not sure who to credit for the divine inspiration to garden this way, but someone has stars in their crown for sure! The basic idea is to ‘sheet-compost’ in a place where you want to create a new planting area – no digging, no grass removal, no big machines! If you remember your basic composting rules – layer nitrogen-rich ‘greens’ with carbon-rich ‘browns’ and sit back to wait for magic to produce lovely black gold, then you are good to go! Of course, a few other nit-picking rules need to be addressed also – light and moisture requirements, non-obstruction of septic systems and wells, stay clear of utilities and walnut trees and remember the sensibilities of the neighbors.

While you are carefully choosing a site, you can begin stock-piling ingredients – over the winter months, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells and spoiled fruits and veggies can be placed in a composter or large, plastic garbage can and left outside to freeze – just remember that come spring, when it thaws, the materials will begin to perfume the area – time to get spreading on the new bed! You will also have been stock-piling newspapers, cardboard, fallen leaves, twiggy bits pruned off the trees by Mother Nature and any house plants that gave up the ghost under your tender care…A load of manure would have been nice for Christmas…or at least a couple of bales of hay or straw…

Now for the good part – measure off the bed – best to make it about 4 feet wide (can be reached into from either side) and as long as you wish (begin small, you can always elongate the bed).
Completely cover the new bed area with a layer of corrugated cardboard or 6-10 sheets of newspaper; overlap the edges of newspaper by 4-6 inches and wet everything down thoroughly to hold it in place. This will kill the grass and weeds and prevent further germination of seeds from the seed bank.

Now is the time to put down a layer of the newly-thawed, smelly, nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps to be hastily covered by a thick layer of chopped leaves or shredded newspaper (4-6 inches). Layer some more nitrogen ingredients on top – manure maybe or at least some bags of composted manure from a big-box store, then more carbon material. Feel free to make as many layers as you have ingredients for – even if the pile may reach dizzying heights. The pile will subside as the composting commences and it may help to cover the new garden with plastic to hold in the heat and prevent materials being blown hither and yon by spring breezes.

Within a couple of months the new bed can be planted depending on the season with whatever you wish. Top-dress the bed yearly with additional compost in spring and a blanket of chopped leaves in autumn and periodically bury kitchen scraps in its depths for an energy boost. Go ahead – try it, you might like it!

Horseradish: by Tina Clinefelter

Horseradish is not something I’m ever likely to grow in the garden (a store-bought jar in the refrigerator is a lifetime supply), but a chance item in an article recently read sparked my interest and I wound up knowing more than I needed to, so decided to pass it along.

Along with rhubarb, horseradish is a perennial vegetable, so site it where it will grow undisturbed. It prefers well-drained, fertile soil with a decent depth to it (for straighter roots) and plenty of organic matter. In early spring plant crown or root cuttings (obtained from a friend or neighbor – garden centers rarely stock any) after adding 2 ounces of all purpose fertilizer per square yard and all the compost you can spare. Water sparingly through the growing season, removing any leaves that brown at the bottom. Keep a new planting free from weeds until the horseradish is thick enough to crowd out the competition – mulch can help here.

With a growing season of at least 150 days, horseradish can be harvested that first autumn, after a few frosts which improves the flavor. Dig up the roots and scrub free of all dirt. Grate only as much as can be consumed within a month and store in the refrigerator after mixing it with some apple cider vinegar. The rest of the roots can be stored in a plastic bag with moist sand in the refrigerator, saving the small side roots for re-planting next spring. Did all of the roots from the bed each autumn as small roots can become quite weedy and spread willy-nilly!

Well, now you now as much about growing horseradish as I do, let’s check out its value in our lives beyond cocktail sauce and a nice Bloody Mary on Christmas morning.
Horseradish seems to have originated in SE Europe/western Asia and came to America with the Colonists. Along the way the Greeks were told by the Oracle at Delphi that it was worth its weight in gold, and both the Greeks and the Romans held it in great esteem for its medicinal properties.

Culinary-wise, beyond the aforementioned cocktail sauce and Bloody Marys, it is used as a condiment with roasted meats and a raw flavoring in coleslaw, dip, and mayonnaise-based sauces. (It loses its zip when cooked).

Back to medicinal uses – horseradish is an antibiotic, antimicrobial, and a powerful decongestant (my father always advised grating horseradish with ‘the wind at your back’). This last property may come in handy during the next common cold or hay fever attack to clear the sinuses.

I have also heard of horseradish being chopped finely into dog food to get rid of worms and as an infused spray used against brown rot on apple trees.
Well, that about wraps up the educational part of this article – now for the informational part:

The Master Gardener January Workshops will be advertised soon in a press release, and registration by calling the office at 726-0022, is advised. Some of the subject matter to be offered will include ‘Health Benefits of Indoor Plants’. ‘Season Extenders’ and ‘Weed ID and Control’. It will be a nice way to spend a Saturday morning in the middle of winter!

PS I don’t even like Bloody Marys…

Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh and Cinnamon? by Tina Clinefelter

As we head into the festive seasons and anticipate feasting on foods flavored with exotic spices, cinnamon comes to mind as a favorite. Here’s a brief history of this fabled condiment, for without it apple pie, doughnuts, buns, candies, coffee, tea, some liqueurs and sand tarts would never be the same.

As with a lot of age-old and very valuable commodities, cinnamon’s sources are shrouded in mystery, so I’ll scale things down to two main sources – China and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The Chinese variety is referred to as ‘cassia’ and the Ceylonese – ‘true cinnamon’ – the more valuable, yet lesser used variety. Most of the cinnamon used today in the USA is the ‘cassia’ type.

The earliest record of cinnamon being used is from Egypt around 2000BC and the Bible tells of Moses and Solomon using this spice fit for a king and, naturally, the Romans and Greeks prized cinnamon greatly with Nero incinerating a whole year’s supply to honor his dead wife. He always did things in a big way! In the normal course of things the Romans used cinnamon in food flavoring and embalming agents.

In more recent times the supply control passed from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British, and from there into more liberal sources.

What exactly is cinnamon, you may ask? Answer: it is a spice derived from the inner bark of the ‘Cinnamomum verum’ tree. A tree is grown for 2 years then coppiced (cutting down to the ground, which results in multiple stem re-growth). The shoots are harvested and the outer bark scraped off; the inner bark is beaten with a hammer to loosen it, a very thin strip is removed and as it dries it curls into the familiar quills (sticks).
Besides being a delightful flavor, cinnamon has many admirable properties – even smelling it can boost brain activity (truth!) It is an anti-inflammatory and an anti-microbial agent and as such may be useful in very small amounts in food preservatives. As cinnamon slows the emptying of the stomach, it acts as a blood sugar control; it is a good source of fiber, manganese and calcium.

In olden times it was used to treat snake-bite, freckles, colds and kidney ailments, but be aware that excessive amounts of cinnamon, which contains coumarin, may cause liver damage. This isn’t the only warning that should be noted concerning cinnamon – college students pay attention – the so-called Cinnamon Challenge (a person tries to eat a spoonful of powdered cinnamon) is a potentially dangerous undertaking. The spice triggers a gag reflex and the resultant intake of breath draws the powder into the lungs where it sticks and eventually causes scarring and inflammation not unlike emphysema. Pretty fun stuff – huh?

It would be much better to brew this soothing winter beverage: simmer cinnamon sticks with soy milk and honey, or prepare the seasonal wassail – simmer cinnamon sticks and cloves in apple cider. Yum!

It has been suggested that cinnamon is an insect repellant but no testing has been done to date, but a cinnamon spray as a plant fungicide is in widespread use. When your indoor potted plant grows white fuzzy stuff on the soil surface prepare the following:
Mix 2 tbsp powdered cinnamon in 1 pint of isopropyl alcohol; let sit overnight; strain through a coffee filter and use the liquid to spritz the soil.

Things that make you say ‘Hmmmmm’ by Tina Clinefelter

When I planted up a container earlier this year with pineapple sage, ornamental peppers, petunias and dusty millers, I didn’t bargain on it requiring quite so much care – or that it would still be going great guns up until Halloween. OK, the petunias have given up the ghost, and the peppers are on the brink, but the dusty millers are thriving and the pineapple sage is in its glory. I knew to expect red flowers in the fall and until then the foliage was lovely throughout the summer losing only a few leaves due to neglect (forgetting to water every day…) But NOW is the jackpot – the red tubular flowers have been producing for at least a month, have gone through two hard frosts and just today I discovered that they are wonderfully fragrant and have many secondary flower clusters waiting to open. The honeybees are having a ball!
Next year I shall plant some directly in the garden (saving on all that daily watering), making sure they have at least a 3 x 3 foot space all their own. Great plant! Who knew!
This question was posed recently: Is it true that roses can be propagated by sticking a cutting in a potato? Answer: it depends on whom you ask!
I did a number of Internet searches and found a slew of conflicting information ranging from – ‘all I got was potatoes’ to ‘that’s how everyone does it back in Poland’.
(Honest – that was a legitimate quote…)

After much condensing of suggestions, here’s what you can do to test the validity of this propagation method:
In the fall, take 6-8 inch tip cuttings that have recently bloomed (sterilizing the blade between cuts with a 10% bleach solution). Cut off the lower leaves and the spent flower, and soak overnight in a willow rooting solution (soak small pieces of willow twig in rainwater that has been boiled). Punch a 3” hole in a small potato (eyes removed) (ouch) and insert the rose cutting (should be a tight fit). Bury the potato in some good potting soil in a pot with drainage so that there are 3 inches of cutting above the soil. Keep in indirect sunlight in a warm location. Maybe a plastic baggie over the top of the pot will keep in moisture, but watch for rotting. With a little luck, maybe this will work and you will have some new rose bushes ready to plant out next spring (after appropriate hardening-off procedures). Let me know how this works for you…

Just in case you want to dance attendance on a potted gardenia throughout the winter months here are the how-to’s:
Please be aware that experts feel that gardenias are somewhat picky house-plants, but if you persist in trying, provide the following – medium light, average temperatures (65-75*F), and high humidity, misting often. Feed once a month with ½ strength acid fertilizer; keep moist, but with reduced watering during the time spent indoors. Use soft, tepid water.
No blooms – too warm; may drop flower buds if overwatered/under-watered or too low humidity.
Re-pot annually or every 2-3 years (depends on which book you read) in good organic soil. Prune in late winter or early spring after blooming. Gardenias are prone to scale insects, mealy-bugs, aphids and spider mites. Don’t you have something else to be doing?