Saturday, December 29, 2012

Recap of Garden Talk for December 29th

For the last post of 2012, I’ll recap some of the questions Dr. Sue and I received on “Garden Talk” this morning. If you have not heard the show, it’s on every Saturday morning at 8:00 on WNOX-FM 100.3, and is sponsored by Stanley’s Greenhouses and Ellenburg Nursery.  [] I am filling in as co-host with Dr. Susan Hamilton of UT Gardens. Listeners can call in with questions like these:

I received a plant called “sweet box” for Christmas. How should I grow it? Sweet box (Sarcococca) is an evergreen creeping shrub from Asia that grows best in partial shade is moisture-retentive soil high in organic matter.  Sometimes called “Christmas box” it blooms very early in the season, usually in February in the Tennessee Valley. The relatively insignificant flowers are sweetly fragrant and perfume the air near the plant. Sweet box is an excellent subject for edging or for softening corners in a shaded garden space. It is rarely bothered by pests or disease.

Another great question concerned controlling the Colorado potato beetle. This insect is a native American pest that even has its own web site

While it is susceptible to the natural pesticide, spinosad, the beetle can also be controlled by taking advantage of certain aspects of its behavior and life cycle. For example, beetle pupae overwinter in the ground and emerge when the weather warms. They literally walk to the potato patch from wherever they were hibernating. Therefore, locating this year’s patch a good distance from last year’s can be effective. This won’t work, however, on a small property. Another approach that works is to dig a narrow trench all around the potato patch, and line it with plastic sheeting. Potato beetles fall into the trench but cannot climb up the slick plastic sides. Periodially flooding the trench with water drowns them.

Because Colorado potato beetles appear as the weather warms, getting potatoes in the ground early and choosing an early-maturing variety can allow you to bring in a crop before the beetles pose a serious threat to the plants. Popular varieties in the Tennessee Valley are Kennebec and Red Pontiac. The traditional time to plant potatoes around here is St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

Now is a great time to be planning your garden for next year. Seed catalogs will soon appear in your inbox or your snail mailbox. So stay warm inside and garden with your laptop. Recent months have seen the appearance of many gardening apps for smartphone and computer. You can access a garden planner from Mother Earth News that offers many useful features. The web site provides a free 30-day trial, after which they charge a modest annual fee. This type of help for the novice vegetable gardener is almost like having a personal gardening coach, and is highly recommended.



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Q & A on "Garden Talk"

If you missed “Garden Talk” on WNOX-FM 100.3 this morning, what follows is a partial recap of our discussion. I have the pleasure of co-hosting this radio broadcast with Dr. Sue Hamilton, Director of UT Gardens, every Saturday morning at 8:00 from now until January 12, 2013. It’s a call-in show.
Call us at 865-243-TALK (8255) between 8:00 and 9:00 next Saturday.
This morning, one caller asked us to indentify what turned out to be hen-and-chicks (Sempervivens), a great little plant for containers and edging in hot, dry, sunny locations. It’s an old-fashioned plant that now comes in a wide assortment of cultivated varieties. Either in pots or in the border, it pairs well with sedums, which like the same conditions.

Another caller is designing a fragrance garden, and wanted to know about fragrant spring bulbs. He already has a large planting of hyacinths, arguably the most fragrant bulb of early spring.  Fortunately for Dr. Sue and me, there are lots of other fragrant bulbs we could suggest. She mentioned grape hyacinths, which smell like grape jelly, and noted that selected varieties of dwarf iris and some cultivars of tulips are fragrant. I mentioned several of my favorites among the large narcissus family. A late blooming Narcissus, ‘Actaea’ is also called “pheasant’s eye” narcissus. It is a richly fragrant white flower with a yellow center. Another narcissus cultivar, ‘Thalia’ blooms pure white in mid-season, and a few blooms can perfume a room when brought in as cut flowers.
Our special guest, Nancy Schneider of Stanley’s Greenhouses, mentioned that paperwhite narcissus, widely available as a forced bloom for Christmas, can also be planted outside and will overwinter in a protected spot. Like gladiolus, it may winter kill during severe weather, but you are likely to get several seasons of repeat bloom.

This week’s “Plant of the Week” was, what else, the poinsettia. Dr. Sue reminded us that the familiar Christmas plant is native to Mexico and was introduced to cultivation in the United States by Poinsett, who is commemorated in the name. She dispelled the myth that these plants are harmful or toxic, telling the story of a professor at Ohio State University who used to demonstrate their harmlessness by actually eating a few leaves in front of the class. Nancy pointed out that a potted poinsettia is the ideal starting place for a beautiful Christmas arrangement with greenery cut from your yard and bits of traditional Christmas ornamentation, like tinsel. To illustrate, she brought along some beautiful examples of her work at Stanley’s Greenhouses. If you have never seen 50,000+ poinsettias in bloom in the same spot, visit Stanley’s and take your camera.
If you decorate your home with poinsettias this season, here's a tip for keeping them looking great: drop two ice cubes into the pot each day, and keep the plant in bright light. The ice cubes provide just enough water without keeping the soil to soggy. You can place a poinsettia anywhere you like for a temporary decoration. For long term maintenance, however, the plants should receive sunshine, ideally from a south-facing window. For those interested in re-blooming their poinsettia next year, Dr. Sue suggested using Google to find detailed instructions.
We’ll be back after Christmas with another edition of “Garden Talk” on December 29. Please join us!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Join Me for "Garden Talk" December 22

Please join me for "Garden Talk" on WNOX-FM 100.3 tomorrow (December 22nd) beginning at 8:00 AM. I will be co-hosting with Dr. Sue Hamilton, Director of UT Gardens. Listeners can call in with their gardening questions.

I will be posting information and questions/answers from the program on this blog tomorrow afternoon.

Garden Talk is sponsored by Stanley's Greenhouses. If you haven't seen what 50,000+ poinsettias in one place looks like, you should pay them a visit. I was there earlier in the week and the scene is stunningly beautiful. No pictures. You gotta go see for yourself.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holiday Gardening Gifts

In case you missed it this morning, I co-hosted "Garden Talk" on WNOX-FM 100.3 with Dr. Susan Hamilton of UT Gardens. I'll be filling in for Andy Pulte, the "Garden Guy," from now until January 12. Please join us and call in with your gardening questions!

Today's topic was "Plants To Give As Gifts." We focused on plants that look great this time of year, and that will be available in the local garden centers for gift giving. Because winter is the best time to transplant trees and shrubs, our discussion focused mostly on woody plants. But there's something for every garden in the list we made: big, little, slow-growing, fast-growing, shade and sun. The perfect plant for that special gardener in your life is out there waiting for a new home.

Here are some of our top choices:

  • Winterberry holly, especially the cultivar 'Red Sprite' (pictured above)
  • American holly, the traditional, slow-growing tree
  • Yaupon holly, especially the dwarf, weeping cultivar introduced by Don Shadow
  • Pyracantha
  • False-cypress, many varieties to choose from
  • Dwarf Alberta spruce
  • Arborvitae, many varieties to choose from
  • Virginia sweetspire, especially the cultivar 'Henry's Garnet'

We also suggested looking at the many planted containers offered by local garden centers such as Stanley's Greenhouses and Ellenburg Nursery. These usually feature dwarf evergreens, along with flowering annuals such as violas and pansies, that will last through the winter and in many cases can be planted out next spring.

We received a great question from a local caller: Which evergreens should I choose for fragrance? We seldom think about this aspect of the contribution that many conifers make to the garden, so it took both Sue and I a moment to come up with balsam fir, Abies balsamea. This tree is native to northeastern North America, from Newfoundland south to West Virginia. Further south, it is replaced in the mountains by Abies frasieri, Frasier's fir, a plant now threatened with extinction due to infestation by the balsam wooly adelgid. Balsam fir likes colder conditions that we typically experience in the Tennessee Valley, but may adapt if it receives some afternoon shade in the summer. A good substitute would be Korean fir, A. koreana. Much easier to grow, Colorado blue spruce, Picea pungens, received its botanical name due to its strong scent. The dwarf cultivar 'Baby Blue Eyes' remains small enough for most backyards.

If you do purchase trees and shrubs for holiday gifts, remember that these plants are accustomed to being outside in the cold at this time of year, and should not be brought indoors for more than 24 hours. Enjoy them during Christmas, then transplant them to the garden as soon as possible. Last year, we kept two evergreen trees on the front porch. We slipped the nursery containers inside two large decorative pots, and then trimmed the trees with lights. After New Year's we moved them to the garden, where they are thriving and look great against a backdrop of dark foliage from our Leyland cypress trees.

Please join us next week for another edition of "Garden Talk," Saturday, 8:00 AM, WNOX-FM 100.3

Friday, December 7, 2012

Food Gardens and Curb Appeal

People often say to me they would grow more veggies but they don’t like the look of vegetable gardens. What they undoubtedly have in mind is the traditional garden with rows of beans on poles and caged tomatoes. While gardens like that have a certain charm, one would look out of place in front of the typical suburban home. I recently had this discussion with a friend of mine who is thinking about growing garlic next year, but worried that it would not look very pretty in the yard. As the photo from UT Gardens illustrates, food gardens need not be boring and ugly.

Here are some of the points I made:

1) Garlic is not ugly; it just doesn’t offer much to the eye. But that is also true of, say irises, when they are out of bloom. One way to deal with this issue in the design of the landscape is to surround the boring thing with something eye-catching. Annual flowers are cheap, readily available, and in many cases edible. They also come in a sufficient array of colors as to work with any other features of the landscape. Another approach to redirecting the eye is to create a focal point in the middle of the bed. For this, you could use a daylily. They are perennial, carefree, and edible. They also come in a wide range of colors, to blend with existing plantings, if necessary.
2) Very low-maintenance plantings can be created with perennial herbs. You get flavor, seasonal flowers and foliage all year from rosemary, French thyme and Greek oregano.

3) Lettuces, annual herbs (basil, cilantro, dill, parsley) and numerous other salad greens are highly decorative, although more trouble to grow than perennial herbs.
4) Another possibility is strawberries.  They remain compact, bear all season long and have brightly colored foliage at this time of year.

These are but a few examples of things that could combine with a garlic patch to render it not only attractive, but also productive, easily repaying the costs involved by food production. Furthermore, the spot will be re-used year after year, and consequently will get better and better at production as the soil improves. This seems to me to call for a permanent border, so why not have one that is also productive?
Also, please remember that a food garden need not be rectangular in shape nor laid out in rows. Free form designs, or anything that works with existing landscaping is the way to go. But instead of filling with flowers and shrubs, you fill with food plants that perform the same visual functions in the landscape.

You can find a lot more tips on attractive food gardens in The New American Homestead. It is available both in paperback and as an e-book wherever books are sold.
Let me please offer one more observation that I hope will be encouraging: a successful food garden  more often results from a lot of mental effort rather than a lot of physical effort. If well designed, a space the size of my parlor rug could produce an amazing quantity of fresh food.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Homemade Holiday Gifts

The gift-giving season is upon us yet again. We have jars of jam and jellies, along with dried peppers and various other foodstuffs that we made last summer and fall. I like to create food baskets for gift giving. For packaging, I save the little wooden crates that clementines are shipped in, and re-purpose them as holiday baskets. Lined with tissue paper or even clean, dry pine needles, they can hold an array of goodies. Don't forget to include a copy of The New American Homestead for your gardening friends.

If you grow herbs, any cook on your list will appreciate a bundle of fresh cut rosemary or other fresh herb tucked into the gift basket. Tour your yard for other possible decorations, such as pine cones, evergreen boughs or hollyberries, rather than purchasing artificial items.  

Didn’t put up any canned goods this summer? Not to worry. You can create delicious, Earth-friendly homemade products with store-bought ingredients. Consider this recipe with pineapple and pecans, both in season in the markets now.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake Jam
  • 3 ¼ cups chopped fresh pineapple (from one whole pineapple, trimmed, or about 2 lbs)
  • 3 oz pecan pieces
  • 1 box pectin
  • ½ teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pound cane sugar
  • ½ pound light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine fruit, pecans, butter and pectin in a large pot. Combine the sugars in a separate bowl and reserve. Bring the fruit mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar all at once, bring to a full rolling boil again, stirring constantly. Boil exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim foam if necessary. Stir in vanilla. Transfer to hot half pint jars, adjust caps. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Here’s another recipe for a great homemade food gift:

Market Bean Soup

The dry ingredients for this soup constituted the first gift of food I received when I moved into my first apartment in 1971.  I have been perfecting my own formula, and giving this wonderful winter soup as a gift, ever since.  Be sure to copy the recipe to include with the soup, so friends and family can make their own gift jars. You can purchase a decorative jar or canister for the soup mix, or just use an extra canning jar.

All the dehydrated ingredients are available in well-stocked groceries. Mine come from the bulk department at Three Rivers Market. Don’t have a kitchen scale? No problem. Just use the scales at the market. The plastic bags come from there, also, and at no additional charge. As long as the total weight of the beans is one pound, the recipe will work. The bean mixture is separated into parts one and two because the legumes in part two do not need soaking and have a tendency to break down after long cooking. Preparing the soup in two stages avoids this. Nevertheless, you can just mix all the legumes together if you prefer. It will taste great and no nutrients will be lost. By the same token, feel free to use different combinations of dried legumes. As long as the ones that need soaking get it, they will be tender when the soup is finished.

Here’s a tip for going greener: Instead of wasting a disposable canning lid, purchase plastic re-usable lids for Ball™ canning jars. They are great for storing unused home-canned products in the refrigerator, and are typically available wherever canning supplies are sold. They are dishwasher and microwave safe, but don’t try to use them for canning.

Soup Preparation Instructions
  • 1 Ib mixed beans (See below.)
  • seasoning mixture (See below.)
  • 1/2 pound ham or kielbasa, chopped (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste 
  • Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese or croutons (optional)
  • soy sauce (optional)
1. Soak Part One of the bean mixture overnight in water to cover by 1 inch. 

2. Drain.  Place soaked beans, Part Two of bean mixture, and three quarts water into a large pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer 1 hour.  Add seasoning mixture.  Simmer 1 hour.  Add ham or kielbasa, if used.  Simmer 1 hour longer. Taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve topped with cheese or croutons, or both. Pass soy sauce at the table, if desired.
Bean Mixture:
Part One
  • 3 3/4 ounces dry white baby lima beans
  • 2 1/2 ounces dry red kidney beans
  • 1 1/2 ounces dry great northern beans
  • 1 1/2 ounces dry black turtle beans
Part Two
  • 2 1/2 ounces dry green lentils
  • 2 ounces dry green split peas
  • 1 3/4 ounces dry red lentils
  • 1/2 ounces dry yellow split peas
Seasoning Mixture:
  • 1/2 ounces sun dried tomatoes, in small bits
  • 1/2 ounces dehydrated chopped celery
  • 1/2 ounces dehydrated chopped carrot
  • 1/2 ounces dehydrated onion flakes
  • 1 tablespoons dried basil leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoons dehydrated Worcestershire sauce*
  • 1/2 teaspoons dried lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic
*For a vegan version, substitute an equal amount of nutritional yeast for the dehydrated Worchestershire sauce. Substitute mushrooms for the ham or sausage. Omit the cheese.

To Prepare for Gift-Giving:
Combine the seasoning ingredients and place in a small plastic bag secured with a twist tie. Place Part Two of the bean mixture in a second plastic bag. Place Part One of the bean mixture in the bottom of a large jar, stuff the plastic bags inside and cap. This will keep for months in a cool dark place.