Monday, February 17, 2020

Friday, February 14, 2020

Show love for the Earth this Valentine’s Day by Vicky Spelman

Photo graphic credit: Teresa Watkins
Here are some great ideas and activities for eco-conscious ways to make your Valentine’s Day sustainable and teach science. 

Valentine’s Day, February 14, is a day filled with cards, sweets, flowers and gifts. Like many holidays, its celebration can create unintentional environmental side effects, such as the consumption of natural resources. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Here are some suggestions:

Thursday, February 13, 2020

St. Valentine and the Gift of Fresh Flowers by Carol King

Photo fellowshipofminds
Legends and lore abound on why we celebrate Valentine’s day by giving flowers to our loved ones.  Here’s one of my favorites. This one involves the lore of forbidden love and has been favored over other stories by hopeless romantics.

Emperor Claudius II issued an edict forbidding marriage because he felt that married men did not make good, loyal soldiers to fight in his army. They were weak because of the attachment to their wives and family. St. Valentine was a priest who defied Claudius and married couples secretly because he believed so deeply in love. Valentine was found out, put in prison, and later executed.

The law of irony then came into play, as St. Valentine fell in love with the daughter of the Emperor. Prior to his beheading, St. Valentine handed the lady a written note and a single red rose - the very first valentine and the very first fresh flower.  From this, the gifting of flowers for Valentine's day began.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale) by Sally Blanchard

Photo: Sally Blanchard
If you were dragging your hoses to water your thirsty yard and garden in January, perhaps you spied many perennials poking through their mulch blankets including these Oriental Poppies, Papaver orientale brilliant. With their glowing orange blossoms and fuzzy, fern like foliage, oriental poppies are the ‘bling’ in the late spring and early summer garden. They are deer and rabbit resistant and attract bees and butterflies. They grow to approximately thirty inches and spread slowly. 
Oriental poppies are very frost hardy and thrive in Zones 3-7. After many failed attempts at starting from seed, I gave up and purchased a small potted plant at the local nursery.  Choose a location with six hours of full sun. Choose wisely; poppies can be fickle about being transplanted. They like sandy soil but have flourished in my unamended clay like soil. They do not like wet feet so be careful not to overwater. The plant will turn brown and go dormant in the heat of summer. I just cut back the brown foliage and tuck in a few sun loving marigolds near the poppy plant. In the fall, the foliage re-emerges as a relatively low ground cover.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Need a Winter Boost? by Vicky Spelman

Courtesy of Pexels
Need a winter boost?  Try growing herbs inside.  Lots of the Gardening Centers have a stock of herbs already planted and growing inside – give them a call a see what is available.

Herbs grown indoors offer many benefits including fragrant foliage, various foliage colors and shapes, & a constant supply of herb leaves for cooking.

Herbs that grow well indoors include: chives, horehound, winter savory.
Herbs that DO NOT grow well in containers include: horseradish, fennel, lovage.

Courtesy of  Pexels
Unlike common houseplants, herbs need conditions to be just right for optimum growth, or their health will rapidly decline.  Rotate pots often so that each side gets enough light for uniform growth. Most herbs need six hours of direct sunlight - either a sunny location, or 6 to 12 inches from two 40-watt, cool white fluorescent bulbs for 14-16 hours. Rotate pots so each side gets light for uniform growth.
  • Keep herbs in rooms that have at least a 65-70°F day and 55-60°F night temperatures.  Although most herbs can survive temps that are in the mid to low 40s, others cannot.
  • Herbs also require a proper balance between a humid environment & adequate air circulation.
  • Herbs should be grown in containers with a drainage hole & in a potting mix that will aid water drainage.
  • Fertilize herbs with a low dose of water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks. A soapy solution, 1-2 tablespoons of a mild soap such as dishwashing soap to 1 gallon of warm water, can be used to control most insect pests. Spray infested plants with the solution once a week while pests are visible. Always wash leaves off before using.
  • Repot when roots grow through the drainage hole.
  • If you would like to place your herbs in containers outside during the late spring and summer months, acclimate them to higher light levels & intensities produced by the sun. Start by placing pots outdoors in partial shade, & then slowly expose them to more & more light every few days.
    Penn State Univ – via Ext MG -Prepared by Kathleen M. Kelley, asst. professor of consumer horticulture and Elsa S. Sánchez, asst. professor of horticultural systems mgmt. 

    For additional information: Herbs

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Gardening Power to the People: Cleaning Your Garden Tools (Video)

January is a great time to prepare your tools for the upcoming gardening season. Master Gardener Gail demonstrates an easy way to sharpen and clean all your devises.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Help! I Got An Orchid For Christmas!

Phalaenopsis orchid, photo courtesy natural

Contrary to what you may have heard, orchids are not difficult to grow. With the proper amount of light, water, humidity, temperature and fertilizer, orchids can thrive! Some types of orchids such as Phalaenopsis or Cattleya can be easier to care for.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Use Caution with De-Icing Salts

De-icing salt applicator, photo courtesy
Winter is in full swing in Jefferson County! Even though it's been a warm winter, snow and ice are inevitable. In addition to shoveling all that snow, many people also apply de-icing salts to make the walkways safe and passable. While these products can certainly help ensure safe footing in treacherous conditions, they can also damage the landscape plantings that they contact. So – what to do? Protect your footing or protect your plants? It’s possible to do both.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Vanilla Bean Orchid by Vicky Spelman

Creative Commons License

Do you do a lot of baking with vanilla?  Ever wonder why it is so expensive?

The cultivation of vanilla is extremely labor-intensive.

Vanilla is a genus of orchids that contains roughly 110 species that span the tropical regions of the globe. They are vining orchids, climbing trunks of trees in an attempt to make their bid for the canopy. Some Vanilla orchids have lost their leaves entirely, relying solely on their green, photosynthetic stems and roots. The species that gives us the highly coveted vanilla flavor is Vanilla planifolia from Central America & Mexico.

Vanilla planifolia plants themselves don't even start producing vanilla beans until after 3 years, & when they do produce flowers they are very short-lived. They open up as the sun begins to rise and are mostly closed by the afternoon. Vanilla is not self-fertile so if the flower has not been fertilized by afternoon, it will simply wither and fall off. In the wild, Vanilla relies on stingless bees for pollination. In most cases, Vanilla growers do not rely on the bees, because, if they are present, fertilization rates are often extremely low. If the bees are not present, the plants will not reproduce on their own. Because of this, Vanilla growers must hand-pollinate all the flowers individually.

It's a labor-intensive process that must be done at just the right time if it is to work. This is harder than it sounds considering the flowers are opening every day at different times. It takes 9 months for the seed pods to mature enough to harvest & every pod matures at a different rate requiring workers to harvest daily. Following the harvest, the seed pod curing process takes another 3 months.

There is no rushing the production of pure vanilla extract, which is why this liquid spice remains so expensive.

Sources: In Defense of Plants, 09/14/15 via Extension Master Gardener 12/13/19.  Vanilla and Vegetable gardener contributor Chris McLaughlin.  Vanilla2