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.

Begonias… to seed or not to seed…

Those of us who like to start our own plants from seed know you have to get an early start, sometimes a real early start. As a matter of fact, I planted 500 Tuberous Begonia seeds yesterday. I will plant another 500 seeds next week. Spliting up my seeding times helps increase the chances of sucess. If something goes wrong during a critcal time, the second crop will be there to take up the slack.
Begonia seeds are very small, almost as small as petunia seeds, (1/4 to 1/2 the size of a grain of sugar) so they require some special attention.

You have to place the seeds on top of a sterilized planting media such as Jiffy mix and not let them get covered by the soil.

It helps to sprinkle some sand around the seeds after planting to protect them from the deluge of water that happens when you water them. To the begonia seeds, those grains of sand must look like big boulders they can hide behind when watering time starts. Don’t put on too much sand though, you don’t want to bury them.

To water I use a fogging nozzel which puts out a very gentle fog of water, again so the seeds don’t get soil washed over them. At home, you can use a spray bottle, like what you would use to spray on window cleaner, set it on gentle spray.

I also use a clear plastic dome to cover the seed starting flat to help even out the soil moisture, however, a clear sheet of plastic works just as well. I used a sheet of plastic for years before I obtained the plastic dome. Just remember what I said about using sterile starting soil, because mold and bacteria flourish under those conditions too and that’s not good for baby plants.
Now, the hard part of germinating begonia seeds is that you absolutly must keep the soil and seeds at about 74 to 78 degrees. Any more or less will drastically reduce the number of seeds that will sprout. I like to use a heating mat, but any bright, warm place with constant temperature in this range will do.

In about 10 days or so we will begin to see the tiny seedlings emerge. At this stage you can still wash them away so be careful when watering. Keep them moist, but not too moist. Keep in mind those tiny little seedling don’t suck up much water.

Watch out, don’t let them get too dry either! If they get dry they will think its time to form root tubers instead of leaves and will die trying!
There is still time to order some of these early seeds from your favorite seed supplier.  I get my begonia seeds from Stoke’s Seeds. This time of year most seed companies are not very busy and can get them shipped out to you right away.

Don’t count on the harware store or gardening department at the big home supply stores to carry begonia seeds, there is not much of a demand for them by the general public.

Does all this sound like a lot of fussing around just to get a few begonias? Well, it is! If you don’t want to grow your own begonias from seed but still would like to have some for your home, just wait until spring and buy the fully grown plants from the garden center. You can remember with a smile that back in December someone, in a greenhouse somewhere, had to fuss with all those seeds so you didn’t have to.

Doing a lot of fussing but no fighting,

Bob

All in the family

Christmas Day is past. I hope you had a happy one. We did. And our Christmas dinner was wonderful. Everything tasted so good. We had 21 family members to feed and we fed them from the garden. My brother-in-law, Ed, supplied most of it – the potatoes, green beans, corn and brussel sprouts. All grown in his garden. He grew the sweet potaotes too. They grow well in the sandy loam that we have around here. They were huge and tasted great. Still fresh and firm because he stores them in his basement which he keeps at about 50 degrees.

The salad was even home grown – spinach, butter crunch lettuce and Red Grape tomatoes that Bob grew in his greenhouse. Just picked the day before, so they were chock full of nutrition. Before we had this greenhouse available to us, I had often challenged myself to have my own homegrown tomatoes for Christmas. I would pick the biggest and most blemish free green tomatoes just before the first frost in the fall. Wrapped very carefully in newspaper and stored gently in a box in a cool place (which sometime was a cool closet), I would check them occasionally and take out any that were ripening or that had squishy spots on them. I usually ended up with only 2 or 3 by Christmas, but that was enough. Nothing in the supermarket could beat the taste of those tomatoes even though they had been stored closed to 2 months!

One of the pies was homegrown, too. My nieces had picked blackberries last summer from their yard, our yard and Uncle Ed’s yard.

Even the turkey was almost home grown. In Monroe County, anyway. It was one of the prize winners from the Monroe County 4 H Fair that my sister-in-law bid on at the auction.
Here it is the middle of winter and we’re still reveling in garden produce! This is the way to feast!

Bye for now,

Judy

Jingle Bells, Plum Pudding, Cranberry Punch all the way…

In case you haven’t noticed, Christmas is almost here ;). There is something about warm days in the 50’s in Michigan that just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Despite the weather, this is the week we deliver poinsettias as gifts from the greenhouse.

The warm days are actually good for our deliveries; poinsettias can get chilled and damaged if they are exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees for any length of time. We wrap them up in foil pot covers and clear plastic sleeves so that even if it is cold outside, they have their own little “greenhouse” to keep them warm as we move them from car to house.

We grew 5 varieties this year: Freedom Red, Prestige, Winter Rose Red, Jingle Bells, Cranberry Punch, and Plum Pudding. These plants are not grown from seed but from cuttings. Poinsettia breeding and variety development is a huge industry these days. We get our stock as started cuttings, that is to say, they are rooted and have a few leaves on them.

Freedom Red is the most commonly grown poinsettia in the country. This is the red variety that is offered for sale in most stores and shops and is the red poinsettia everyone thinks of whenever poinsettias are mentioned. They are available in other colors as well.

Prestige looks a lot like Freedom but grows a little more upright, that is, their branches hold the leaves up higher. Prestige also blooms a little later than Freedom. We grew red but, again, other colors are out there.

Winter Rose Red has unusual bracts because they are curled and hardly look like a poinsettia at all. I was wondering how these would go over, so I just grew a couple dozen or so. Turns out they are the favorite this year. I have seen these at the stores too.

Jingle Bells you may have seen before, it is red with festive pink spots. These were also very popular with our folks this year.

Cranberry Punch has a very striking color – red with a background of almost florescent pink. You would almost say it glows!

No one really knew what to think about Plum Pudding. This variety grows very upright and has destinctive purple bracts. Even so, some rebels out there chose those over the more common red ones.

Every year someone asks if poinsettias are poisonous. The answer would be, no, they are quite harmless. However, despite the tasty sounding names some of them have, they are not something you would want to put into your salad.

I hope you enjoy your poinsettia this year too.

No dashing through the snow this time.
Bob

Honeyleaf

I know we discussed herbs just a couple of blogs ago, but since I repotted about 50, four inch, root bound pots of Stevia into six inch pots today, I thought it might be a fun idea to write a little bit about it.

For those of you who are not familiar with Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), it is an herb just starting to gain attention by the general public in this country. In South America, however, it is commonly used as a natural sweetener. Cane sugar is also a natural sweetener but Stevia is up to 300 times sweeter and has no calories!
I was introduced to Stevia about 6 years ago when I obtained some seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. It is a quite startling sensation to pick a green leaf off of a potted plant and taste that overwhelming sweetness. In its raw state right off of the plant, I think it has a slightly “green” taste along with the sweetness. After a little preparation, the green taste disappears.
You can purchase Stevia at most health food stores as a powder or liquid, or you can grow your own from seed. It is a tender plant, much like a tomato, so if you grow it outside, treat it like an annual. I find that in the greenhouse it tends to attract whitefly (a common greenhouse pest) more readily than other plants. It commonly grows from 18″ to 30″ tall. You would think that it would look like something really special, but it is a “plain Jane” in the garden and could easily be mistaken for a weed.
Japan and Brazil have regulations banning artificial sweeteners. So instead, the soft drink bottlers in those countries use Stevia for their diet pop. We are talking about companies such as Coke and Pepsi as well as the local brands.

In case you were wondering about the title, Honeyleaf is just another name for Stevia.

Those 50 or so pots of Honeyleaf will eventually be given away as gifts. Those folks will use the leaves to sweeten drinks ( 1 Tbs dry = 1 cup sugar) or brew a cup of Stevia tea.

Gotta go and check on my sweeties,
Bob

PDA gone PDQ

As Charlie Brown used to say……….A-A-R-R-G-G-H-H!!
Today my handheld PDA died. It has been “acting up” the last few weeks, I had not been able to download entries from it into my computer. You guessed it, I lost a ton of information…all my garden logs since mid October. I’m not prone to being anti-technology but I think I’m going back to using an old fashioned note book. I have to confess it was pretty out dated and should have been replaced, but I still have garden tools that belonged to my Grand parents, and they bought those used!

I’d better keep reading TechBox on blogsmonroe to keep up with this stuff.
Back to pushing a pencil for now,
Bob

Nothing to sneeze at

Actually, there was a lot of sneezing going on. Have you ever tried crushing a one gallon zip lock bag full of dried cayenne pepper and packing the resulting product into tiny containers?

Today we prepared and packed herbs to be given away for people to use for preparing their holiday meals.

There was about a dozen or so packets each of sage, rosemary, cilantro, cayenne, and oregano. We also picked coriander seed this fall, but it is very tedious and time consuming to pick any kind of volume. We ended up with only about a snack-sized zip lock bag full of coriander.

I sowed 2 flats of thyme late in the summer but never got them planted, they have been frozen and snowed on but still look happy outside. I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way. I will probably pot most of them into larger pots sometime during the next couple of weeks. I’m sure we should be able to harvest enough for our personal use later on this winter.

The plan this spring is to expand the number of varieties of herbs we plant.

Freshly dried, home grown herbs are a delight!
Just ask Dave at LunaPierCook on our blogsmonroe site.

Rhyming and thyming,

Bob

Why, Hello there little sprout!

You get the whole cycle of gardening… planting, growing, harvesting. Yes,ML (comments), I believe sprouting counts as gardening.
This blog is not just for people with gobs of money, fancy greenhouses and stuff. A homemade coldframe for example, can be used in place of a greenhouse well into the fall.

I still have 4 coldframes with lettuce growing in them right now.

Good things from the garden… Bob

Is sprouting gardening? Definitely. There are plants there that are growing and you keep an eye on them till they reach the right stage, and then harvest. That’s gardening. Nutrition wise , it’s loaded.

The sprouter that I have is ingenous. It has five trays set on top of each other. Water is added at the top and floods that top tray, wetting all the seeds. Then the water , thru siphoning action, flows up and down a tube to the next tray and floods that one. Same thing with the third and fourth tray. The fifth tray at the bottom just collects the water until I empty it. This gets done once or twice a day for 3 to 5 days. If the sprouter is put in the sunlight the last day, the sprouts will turn green. The sprouts can be harvested all at once, rinsed well in a colander to get the seed hulls off and stored in the fridg. I would think that the harvest could be staggered but I haven’t tried that. I use brocolli seeds but there are others to choose from.

It’s a lot of fun and does satisfy that need to be tending a growing thing.

Bye for now, Judy

BAM!

Reader Dave just kicked it up notch! (see comments)

For great garlic:

Highly fertile soil, organic matter, water etc., etc. you heard it all before, but it goes double for garlic. No weeds at all: none,nada, zip, zilch. The big secret is to plant in the fall and mulch in Dec.
Bob