Half-way Point

Ground Hog’s Day has come and gone, I hope yours went well.

When I was a kid growing up in the Ida area, Ground Hog’s Day was always a big deal. This was due, in large measure, to the rural character of that part of Monroe County at that time.

Farmers who kept livestock would always take note of how much hay was in the mow and how much corn was in the grainery. February 2nd, they always said, was the half-way point between the last harvest of the previous year and the arrival of the first pasture for the upcoming spring. If more than half of their hay was left on that date, then they had enough feed to last through the rest of the winter. That whole ground hog shadow hullabaloo was there just for fun.

We as gardeners should follow those old farmer’s example. This is the perfect time to check your items in storage if you haven’t already done so. For example, today we checked our canna and dahlia roots dug last fall ( to be re-planted in the spring ) for any signs of decay. The bad ones were discarded to keep the remainder from rotting. We inspected the geraniums in the cold storage room and they looked fine. This year we also tried keeping our extra banana plants in cold storage instead of in the greenhouse since we were running out of room for them. They look pretty rough, however, I believe the growing points deep inside the trunk are dormant and just fine.

We also checked the refrigerated cooler, as it is located in the same storage building. A few red onions are beginning to sprout. That is to be expected because that variety is not a ” keeping ” variety. So we will have to use those up first. The yellow ‘Copra’ onions look as good as the day they were placed into storage. The garlic, put into storage last August, are in fine shape too.

The cooler is also the winter home to our hyacinths we will begin forcing in the greenhouse, next week. They were potted up last fall, five bulbs to a six inch pot. The tiny ‘Tete-a-tete’ dafodills looked great as well. Those of you who potted bulbs for forcing, should check the bottom of the pot to see if the roots have grown through the drainage holes. This holds true whether you keep them in a ‘fridge or outdoors. This will give you some idea how far they have progressed. Most of our hyacinths have strong healthy roots just pushing through the drainage holes. Hence, our plan to bring them into the greenhouse on Monday.

One other unexpected item came to light during our annual Ground Hog’s Day inspection, the refrigerated cooler had broked down sometime during the last couple of days. Instead of cooling the inside of the cooler, it seemed to be heating it instead! The temperature inside the cooler was 67 degrees F. The storage room where it was located was 45 degrees F. That’s how I realized something was wrong. 😉

So you see, Ground Hog’s Day really does serve a useful purpose.

… looking forward to 6 more weeks ’til spring,


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,


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.



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!


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!


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,*


* 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,


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,


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.