The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

December 3, 2014

Taking care of your holiday rosemary plant

Filed under: Herbs,Indoor Gardening,Potted Plants — bob @ 1:06 pm

Although nowhere near as popular as poinsettias, rosemary plants are becoming a favorite holiday plant.

Rosemary trimmed to a conical shape bears a striking resemblance to a miniature Christmas tree. Though it may look like it, rosemary is not related to pine, spruce or any other evergreen trees. It belongs to the mint family of plants which includes basil, thyme, mint and sage.

Just brushing against the leaves of  a potted rosemary releases its signature fragrance that can fill a room.

In most cases, fresh sprigs can be cut from a potted rosemary and be used in recipes calling for this herb. I say in most cases because sometimes plant growers apply systemic pesticides to their rosemary crop. In that case the rosemary is intended for ornamental use only and not for consumption. Always read the plant tag before assuming your plant is OK to use in the kitchen.

Don't assume your plant is safe to use for cooking, read the tag first.

Don’t assume your plant is safe to use for cooking, read the tag first.

Rosemary is fairly easy to care for if you pay attention to its watering needs. Even though it grows wild in the dry, arid regions of the Mediterranean, to thrive in a home environment, rosemary requires even moisture.

To water a potted rosemary, I like to immerse the entire pot into a bucket of water until the soil is completely saturated. If it floats in the bucket, I leave it in longer. I then set the pot into the kitchen sink to let excess water flow through. When no more water drains out, I know it’s safe to put it back in its foil wrapper or on its saucer.

A bucket is a good way to make sure your rosemary gets adequate water.

A bucket is a good way to make sure your rosemary gets adequate water.

Don’t be tempted to water it and let water stand in the saucer or wrapper thinking that is supplying even moisture. Standing water will drown and kill rosemary roots and eventually the entire plant.

On the other hand, don’t let the plant dry out. The stiff foliage doesn’t appear to wilt much when the plant gets dry, but damage can happen pretty quickly from lack of water.

Try this little trick: try to gauge how much your rosemary weighs before you water it. After the plant has drained in the sink, note how much heavier it feels when you pick it up. After a few times you’ll be able to have a good guess at how dry the plant is. If you’re not comfortable doing that, use a moisture meter — they’re relatively inexpensive and make a great Christmas gift!

Bob

Protect fruit trees from meadow voles

Filed under: Fruit,Other Organisms — bob @ 11:43 am

After the first cold snap of the season, the fruit trees have gone dormant. For now, disease and insect pests have also gone dormant and won’t be bothering the trees until spring. That doesn’t mean the orchard is completely safe from pests.

There’s another kind of pest active out in the orchard during winter; meadow mice, or more accurately, meadow voles.

Voles look very much like mice and are about the same size. They act much like mice in their feeding habits and the way they gnaw on things.

During the winter when the ground is snow covered, voles build tunnels under the snow. The tunnels are built to help hide them from predators and to help keep them warm while they search for food. They travel through those tunnels over and over through the winter.

Meadow voles eat a wide variety of grasses, seeds and other kinds of plant material. Unfortunately, they sometimes develop a taste for the tender bark of young fruit trees, especially if the vole population is large and their other food sources become scarce.

I’ve lost a few fruit trees from voles through the years. One way to keep voles from damaging vulnerable trees is to install a physical barrier around the trees.

Installing a cylinder of wire mesh — hardware cloth — around each fruit tree, keeps voles from gnawing on the tender bark. It’s like having a miniature fence around each tree.

I use 18 inch wide hardware cloth and form it into thin cylinders about six to eight inches in diameter around each tree trunk. This gives the trees plenty of protection in case there is a lot of snow cover. The mesh size has to be one-half inch, less is even better, otherwise voles will crawl right through to get to the bark.

Chicken wire on left, hardware cloth on right.

Chicken wire on left, hardware cloth on right.

There’s a plastic tree-wrap rodent barrier on the market. It’s easier to install at first but needs to be removed each spring and re-installed each fall.  Even though it’s designed to expand, if left on, the plastic material will keep the bark from developing properly.

A hardware cloth cylinder can be left in place for a few years until the tree matures and has developed coarse bark that is less appetizing to vole.

Bob

Grow paw paw trees from seed

Filed under: Fruit,Seeds — bob @ 11:32 am

I’ve heard experts, farmers and others say for decades that paw paw is on the verge of becoming the next “in vogue” fruit. They may be finally right.

Since current paw paw varieties are so difficult to handle and are impossible to ship because of the soft fruit, only local paw paws are ever available.That makes them well positioned to become popular with locavores and other foodies.

Five years ago I planted eight seeds from a paw paw fruit and ended up with a half dozen seedlings happily growing in pots. Unfortunately, they were lost during a move and I never pursued starting any more. Since it takes five to seven years for a paw paw tree to begin producing,  by now, I probably would have had a small crop to pick this year.

Just this week, I was given a paw paw fruit. I’m inspired once again to save the seeds and start all over again with my future paw paw orchard.

Like most trees native to this area, paw paw seeds must be stratified before they will germinate. Stratification involves exposing seeds to cold temperature and adequate moisture.

In this case, paw paw seeds require 90 to 120 days at 32°F to 40°F while being kept moist. The vegetable crisper of a refrigerator is just the thing to meet those conditions. Just rinse off the seeds, and place them in some moist peat moss in a zip-lock storage bag. Toss the bag in the crisper and forget about it until spring. Don’t let them dry out or freeze, either one will kill the tiny paw paw tree embryo inside the seed.

Paw paw fruit

Paw paw fruit

Next spring plant the seeds into pots of good potting mix. If all goes well, the seeds will sprout in about two and a half to three weeks. Then re-pot as needed in order to give the new seedlings plenty of room to grow.

The most difficult part of the whole process may be finding a paw paw fruit in the first place.

Bob

 

November 5, 2014

Cold temperatures improve the taste of lettuce

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 10:31 am

Our recent frosts have put an end to all of the warm season vegetable crops like tomatoes, peppers and squash.

The cool weather crops on the other hand are still hanging in there, even though the colder temperatures have slowed down their growth rate.

The flavor of leafy vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and the like, is enhanced by light to moderate frosts. Root crops like carrots, and especially parsnips, sweeten up after exposure to cold temperatures.

Light frosts enhance lettuce flavor. Be aware that wintry temperatures will eventually kill them.

Light frosts enhance lettuce flavor. Be aware that wintry temperatures will eventually kill them.

The mechanism behind this phenomenon involves plant carbohydrates. Starches and sugars are different types of carbohydrates that are present in plants. When the plant is exposed to cold temperatures the starches get converted into various sugars that sweetens the flavor. This is the main reason why you should never keep potatoes in the refrigerator, it is the starches that give potatoes their distinct flavor.

Lettuce, cabbage and kale will eventually winter kill as the  season progresses. It takes quite a bit to kill Brussels sprouts, they can survive well into November getting more flavorful with each frost but they too will eventually freeze and die back.

Bob

 

 

 

 

October 23, 2014

Atlanta Botanical Garden “Imaginary Worlds” through October

Filed under: Events — bob @ 10:21 am

If you are planning to drive south this month to escape our Michigan winter, think about adding a stop at the Atlanta, GA Botanical Gardens to experience their Imaginary Worlds exhibition.

Cobra sculpture

Cobra sculpture

The gardeners/artists of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens teamed up with International Mosaciculture of Montreal to create fabulous  works of living art.

Cobra

Cobra ready to strike.

Thousands of annuals are growing on metal forms covered with netting and growing medium to bring to life these fanciful sculptures.

Plants and water together create a wonderful effect.

Plants and water together create a wonderful effect.

Imaginary Worlds is the first major exhibition of its kind in the U.S.

Gorillas in the garden

Gorillas in the garden

The earth Goddess is 25 feet tall.

The earth Goddess is 25 feet tall.

Not much time is left though, the giant topiary exhibition closes at the end of October.

Bob

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