Vegetable makes national news

Every once in a while, during a rare harmonic convergence, the fashion and design industries intersect with the gardening world. Earlier this month, it happened again; the folks who decide such things, picked out the ” Color of the Year ” . This no doubt is old news to some of you, however, I just found out about it a couple of days ago.

I can hear it now, voices saying, ” where the #$X* you been?, in a cave? ” I just find it hard to keep up with current events.

So what does all of this have to do with gardening?…. everything! You see, the Color of the Year is ” Chili Pepper ” . Actually to be more accurate, its offical name is “Pantone 15-1557″.

They describe it as ” a deep, spicey red”. Leatrice Eisemen, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, was quoted as saying, ” in 2007 there is an awareness of the melding of diverse cultural influences, and ‘Chili Pepper’ is a reflection of exotic tastes both on the tongue and to the eye. At the same time, ‘Chili Pepper’ speaks to a certain level of confidence and taste. Incorporating this color into your wardrobe and living space adds drama and excitement, as it stimulates the senses. ”

It looks like to me, we can all look forward this year to seeing this color in everything from hats and shoes to easy chairs, toasters and wall paper.

This is not the first time that gardening and the fashon/design industry have collided. In 2005, the ” Color of the Year” was ” Tulip Violet “, sometimes known as ” 16-3823 “.

You my not know this about me, but I have already worn this 2007 color. It showed up on my shirt completely by accident last week after my second helping of Judy’s home made chili !

For more color fun, I suggest you visit Colorstrology.com to find out what your own personal color is. Using your birthday as a starting point, this site uses a mix of astrology and color science to come up with your color. Mine by the way is “17-4320 “, its uncanny how accurate thay are!

Not seeing red, but Adriatic Blue instead,

Bob

Monroe Conservation District Annual Tree Sale

The Monroe Conservation District has sent out its order form for the Annual Spring Tree and Shrub Sale.

This tree sale has been going on each spring for as long as I can remember. Back when the sale first started, The Monroe Conservation District was known as the Monroe County Soil Conservation District. The new name really fits the organization much better because they are involved in so much more than soil conservation these days.

If you check their web site www.monroecd.org you can see a whole list of Conservation issues they address: Forestry, Ground Water, Erosion Control, Karst and others.

I hope you still have your copy of the yellow order sheets that were sent out in the local newspapers. If by chance you missed placed your form, you can call them at 734-241-7755 extension 101 and get another copy.

One part of this sale I like is the fact that trees can be purchased in lots as small as 10 trees all they way up to multiples of 100. So if you need just a few for the back yard you can order just ten, if you need a few thousand to build that wind break for the back 40, you can do that too.

In addition to trees and shrubs, Michigan native plants and wild flowers are also available. A quick look at their list shows plants such as: Bottle Gentian, Lady Fern, Obedient Plant, Wild Lupine, Woodland Sunflower and more. These plants are sold in 1 quart pots.
They also offer an assortment of supplies and such. One item that caught my eye was the “regulation size” bat house that can house up to 300 bats.

Keep in mind that most of the trees and shrubs sold here are seedlings, so 50 trees will easily fit into a 5 gallon bucket. Some larger, older plants are available as well.

The order deadline is March 30th, which will be here before you know it.

Proceeds from the sale supports the District’s various conservation programs that happen right here in our community.

Bob

Ice

I haven’t been able to post here on the old blog for a couple of days because of the ice storm that blew through earlier this week. The greenhouse is located in the area that was without power for a few days. Thursday was the first day we had all the power back on and we had a lot of catching up to do.

The temperature dropped to around 34 degrees ( colder at floor level ) for two nights in a row before we were able to get an electrician to correct a wiring problem we had with our boilers. After he left we were able to limp along on generator power. We had heat, but the generator could not handle the water well.

The generator sent a couple of power surges and blew out a few fuses in our greenhouse ventilation system but no real harm was done. However, I was still finding blown fuses in some of the equipment today.

Remember those begonias that I wrote about awhile back that had to be in the right temperature range in order to germinate? Well, apparently the germination process had started and was well under way when the power went down. It looks like we had a good germination rate as there are plenty of seedlings today and seem to be doing well despite the frigid start of their young lives.

Time will tell if the bananas were damaged as their growing points are buried inside the trunk of the plant. No damage was done to the Easter Lilies, citrus and tomatoes. The Coleus and Ipomea ( sweet potato vine ) that we use for taking cuttings (for starting new plants for spring ), did get “burned” by the cold but did not die. The Strobilanthes (Persian Shield ) was fine as well as the Chicken Gizzard Plant.

A bright note in all this was the Pansy seedlings ( Viola ), they absolutley loved the 30 degree nights and 50 degree days we had inside the greenhouse.

A disaster was averted by the use of propane heaters ( before the electrician arrived) and a generator. So now its back to normal and full speed ahead.

From now on I’ll take my weather like I take my Vernors, without ice!

Bob

How Are Things In Gloccamora?

The reason I ask is, begosh an’ begora, our “Shamrocks” arrived Friday! Every year we grow potted plants to give away on St. Patrick’s Day. As you know Shamrocks are the traditional plants, however, Oxalis is more commonly grown these days because they are much more showy and reliable than the originals.

I’ve grown real Shamrocks in the past and they are rather plain compared to our newer varieties. There is still a small patch of them growning against the west side of the greenhouse.

Normally, Oxalis is grown from small roots or tubers. A few are placed in the bottom of a pot and the plants grow from there. This year we decided to try something different, we ordered tissue culture produced starter plants from EuroAmerican, a large plant propagator out in California. They have developed a method of growing Oxalis from tissue culture which is a way of growing Oxalis without seeds or tuber by using nearly microscopic pieces of the plant.

This method has been around for quite a few years. I acually worked on tissue culture back in the late ’70’s when it first got started… but I digress. Some plants are easier to propagate this way than others. For example, nearly all Hostas are now grown by tissue culture. EuroAmerican has the size and budget to develop these types of products. As a result they have come up with six different varieties of Oxalis, three of which are new this year. We opted for the more tradional looking ‘Charmed Jade’ variety which has green leaves and white flowers. Others have yellow flowers and or reddish or purple leaves.

This line of plants from EuroAmerican are sold around the country and locally under the PW or ” Proven Winners” brand.

Time will tell wether or not we will abandon the old method of growing Oxalis and continue with the new after this season, but I’m excited by the possibilities of the new method. The tissue cultured varieties are only hardy to zone 8 so they will not survive a Michigan winter. The older varieties are hardly to zone 5 which makes them a perfect addition to our perennial gardens.

Top O’ the Mornin’ to Ya!

Bob

Green Dreaming

The catalogs have arrived filled with photos of lush green plants and delicious looking vegetables. And now a cold snap has arrived too. If you’re feeling the need to be near some green living plants, you might want to take a trip north to Ann Arbor to visit the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens’ conservatory. The tropical house is warm (around 80 degrees), moist and earthy smelling, a gardener’s paradise! It also has a temperate house and a desert house filled with plants.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum are celebrating their Centenial Anniversary this year. Special exhibits and informative signs will be on display later in the season.

You can get to the MBG by going north on US-23 to Geddes RD. exit. Turn right, get in the left turn lane immediatlely and turn left on Dixboro Rd. Take it north for a few miles and look for the two big signs on the right that say Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Admission to the Gardens is free; admission to the conservatory is $5 for adults. Friday afternoons are free and it is open six days a week from 10:00am till 4:30pm. On Wednesdays its open till 8:00pm. Information: 734-998-7061 or online at sitemaker.umich.edu/mbgna
We only have a little over four months until the average frost free date in May!

Happy green dreaming, Judy

Stalking the Wild Chickweed

I don’t know about you, but I like to have a salad at least once a day. For me, lunch is the most convieneint time to prepare may salad since my lettuce is right there for the picking in the garden.

This year with our mild “El Nino” winter, we really haven’t had to use the greenhouse for growing lettuce. All our lettuce harvested this fall and winter, has been growing under plastic covered beds. I’ll bet some of you are doing the same thing.

Every year in my covered beds, we get an extra bonus…Chickweed. That’s right, that common lawn and garden “pest” Chickweed ! ( Stellaria media )

By now you probably have guessed where I an going with this train of thought, I pick Chickweed along with my lettuce and use it in my salad. For example today my lunch was a mixture of Romaine and Buttercrunch lettuce, freshly dug carrots ( a real treat in its own right), spinach and chickweed. Now to some people the thought of eating “weeds” ranks right up there with eating road kill, but I assure you it really is tasty.

This time of year, under the protection of the hoop coverings, the Chickweed is especially good. It is very tender and has that wonderful “crunch” we like to have in our fresh salad greens. Even the stems are tender and not stringy as they are apt to become later in the spring and early summer.

Chickweed tastes sort of like spinach; plus it has a certian sweetness all its own. Maybe that accounts for the recipes of Chickweed wine that you see in references to wild foods. Heck, I even ran across a recipe for chickweed bread.

Fresh Chickweed is nutritious too; 100 grams ( about 3-1/2 oz. ) provides you with 49 mg of vitamin C. That compares very well with the 50 mg you get in a 100 gram serving of oranges.

The name Chickweed comes from the fact that chickens and wild birds love the stuff. If you keep birds as pets you can feed it to them as a treat as well. If you are unsure about feeding Ckickweed, ask Dr. Whiting over at Pet Talk blog about it. Like anything else, it would be prudent to feed this in moderation.

All of the above ground parts of this plant are edible, including the tiny seeds. Even though each plant produces hundreds of seeds, there is really no point in try to pick the seeds because they are so small. The good part ( in this case ) is that you don’t have to plant Chickweed, it seeds itself. The bad part is that it seeds itself ( as a weed in the spring ). If for some unkown reason you don’t have Chickweed in your garden, Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers them for sale in their catalog. Buy some and you will never have to worry about having enough Chickweed ever again!

The plant itself has some very interesting behaviors…. that’s right, I said behaviors. For one thing it likes to close up its flowers at night as if getting ready to go to sleep. Then, when it wakes up in the morning, the flowers open back up. ” So what” you say, ” lots of plants do that “. Yes, that is true, but Chickweed adds another wrinkle to this behavior; it closes its flowers before it rains! How it knows its going to rain is a mystery to me!

As with any plant harvested from the wild, be sure you know what you are picking before you eat it.

Later on this winter, as the cold temperatures return and finally kill our lettuce, there will still be Chickweed there in those beds waiting to be picked and enjoyed.

With apologies to Euell Gibbons,*

Bob

* the late Euell Gibbons was the author of Stalking the Wild Asparagus and many other books. You may remember him on TV as spokesman for ” Grape Nuts” cereal.