Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Native Perennials for Lasting Beauty

Gaillardia
Gaillardia, also known as blanket flower, is a beautiful and bright addition to any perennial garden. Native to the US, blanket flowers are low maintenance and tolerate poor soil as long as it is well-drained. They will please the eye with bright yellow to red blooms with brown to deep red centers. Blanket flowers are a very good choice if you are planning a pollinator garden as they attract bees and butterflies of many varieties. Gaillardia can be sensitive to rich soil and over-fertilization. So be mindful not to fertilize these gorgeous bloomers too often. They will grow best in full sun and tolerate heat very well. If you are planting from seed your blanket flower will most likely bloom in its second year. However, if you purchase plants from a local garden center you will see blooms likely on the plant when purchased or shortly thereafter.




Coneflower
Echinacea or coneflower as it is commonly known is not only a beautiful native perennial, it has also been used as an herbal remedy for generations. The purple coneflower was used by the plains Indians and early settlers for internal illnesses such as the common cold or upset stomach. External wounds were often treated with salves made from the plant. Teas made with the leaves and petals have been thought to boost the immune system and fight off viral infections as well. It is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties as well.  While science has studied these claims for many years their findings have been less than impressive. In spite of this, many still depend on its healing power in the form of supplements added to their daily diet. However, you should discuss it with your doctor before taking any herbal derivative as it may interfere with any other drugs you may be taking.
If you decide to add a coneflower to your perennial or pollinator garden you will not be disappointed with the results. With big beautiful flowers, they will have the bees, butterflies, and birds visiting you often. They will grow best in full sun with well-drained soil. Fertilize lightly.


Blackeyed-Susan
Rudbeckia or blackeyed Susans are found all over the United States. They brighten the sides of many back roads across the map. You can plant them from seed or buy them from your local garden center. Not only are they native, but they also attract a variety of pollinators in the summer and birds in the fall and winter as they produce seed. These plants are tough. They will grow in poor soil and are drought tolerant. They love full sun but will tolerate some shade. If you take time to deadhead these beauties. you will encourage more blooms to develop and help to build a sturdier, more compact plant. If your area is prone to visits from local wildlife such as deer and rabbits, you may want to think about planting some repellent plants such as rosemary or lavender nearby to keep them from feasting on your blackeyed Susans.

Yarrow
 What's not to love about this stunning native? Yarrow is a hardy plant that withstands a lot of adverse conditions from poor soil to drought but what it doesn't like is shade. Plant this lovely perennial in full sun but be mindful of your spacing as yarrow can become invasive. Give it plenty of room to grow. If it has to battle for the territory it will undoubtedly win. Early Native Americans used this plant medicinally for the treatment of mental disturbances such as depression and anxiety. There have been some studies that have suggested, though not proven, that yarrow can offer some help for ADHD. However, do not take any herbal derivative prior to speaking to your doctor. Yarrow is also an excellent choice if your goal is to attract pollinators. Butterflies and bees will flock to your garden to visit these beauties daily.




Coreopsis

Coreopsis or tickseed as it is commonly referred to is a tall delicate looking flower that grows well in the moderate climates of zones 6 through 8. It isn't delicate as it has been spotted growing in traffic islands in the heat.
If you pinch off spent blooms often you will encourage new blooms throughout the summer. If you cut the plants back by one third about halfway through the summer it will generate new blooms late summer into early fall. 
Tickseed is named such because of the resemblance of its seeds to ticks. The seeds are a favorite of the goldfinch in the fall and winter and the flowers are a favorite of many pollinators throughout the summer. 
These gorgeous summer bloomers love poor well-drained soil and are still surprisingly drought tolerant once established.
Mulch well in the winter and say hello again in the spring. 


















Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Lasagna

2 medium zucchini sliced thin lengthwise ( I use a mandolin to slice)
1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce
1 lb ground beef 
1 small onion (chopped)
1 bell pepper (chopped)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup Ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese grated or sliced

Brown ground beef and add onion and green pepper. Cook until veggies are tender. Add minced garlic and let simmer for 3 minutes.

In a 9 x 11" baking dish put 3 Tbs of the pasta sauce in the bottom and spread evenly.
Add a layer of zucchini slices.
Spread the ground beef mixture.
Add a layer of pasta sauce.
Add a layer of mozzarella.
Add another layer of zucchini.
Spread all of the ricotta cheese as evenly as you can (can be warmed in the microwave to help spread).
Add a layer of mozzarella.
Add a layer of pasta sauce.
Add a layer of zucchini.
Add a generous layer of pasta sauce and the rest of the mozzarella.

Bake at 350 until the cheese is golden and zucchini is tender.

Monday, June 29, 2020

July's To-Do List in the Garden


Things to do in the Garden in JULY



Check plants and treat for insects or disease.

July presents us with the perfect time to give our gardens a proper check-up.  First, you probably want to rid the area of weeds. Weeds will compete and ultimately win the competition for space, water, and nutrients. If you keep the weeds to a minimum, your vegetable plants can give you their maximum. Weeds also harbor insects that will attack your crops. Check the plants closely. Look at everything. Start at the base of the plant and look for signs of disease or damage caused by insects. Be sure to check the underside of leaves and the areas where leaf and stem meet. If you see anything out of the ordinary now is the time to treat the problem and rid the plant of the stressors.

Plant for late harvest
You can still do some planting in July to continue the harvest into the fall. Squash, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, and dill will still grow fast enough to produce a harvest before frost. A late crop of tomatoes may still be planted in early July. If you have extra tomatoes, chop them and freeze for sauces and soups later. If you are growing for the goal of preserving, you may want to plant successive crops two to four weeks apart to keep the bounty coming. This will allow you time to prepare each crop for preserving without being overwhelmed. Likewise, if you are planting just for consumption, planting in succession will keep fresh veggies coming to the table for you and your family well into the fall.

Fertilize your heat-loving plants

You should have fertilized your plants when you planted them. Now is the time to do it again. Replenishing the ground with nutrients can help your plants make it through the hottest part of the summer without all the stress. If you use a slow-release fertilizer you likely won't have to do it again this season. But, if you prefer to use a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro, you may want to do it about every week.

Plan Your fall veggies.

On the really hot days, you may want to stay inside and put some thought into planning your cool weather crops. It is still a bit early to plant as most cool weather crops do not grow well in the heat of summer. Hence, their cool weather classification. If you are like me, making a plan is the easy part. Executing it is when the real work begins. Now is the perfect time to do some research and plan what, when, and where you want your cool crops to go.

Last, but not least, you may want to keep a journal of your garden journey if you are new to the gardening scene. Write down what you have planted, where it is, how it is doing along the way, and how many you planted of each.
Make a note of any pruning or fertilizing you do as well as the varieties that you planted. If something didn't work so well this year, make a note of that too and do something different for next year. Once you get something that works, make a note of that as well so that you can repeat it in the following years. It is also good practice to make note of the weather, maybe not daily but at least weekly so that you can use that as a reference tool for the future. A rain gauge is cheap and helps you track the actual rainfall.

Gardening is not complicated. However, there is a science to it for sure. If you are a novice, you will learn from your mistakes. If you are a seasoned pro you have learned from your mistakes and will continue to make new ones. There is no way to have a perfect plan. Sometimes you will get it right, and sometimes everything goes wrong. We cannot control every aspect but we can do our best to put all the pieces into play that your plants will need to grow successfully. When mother nature gives you drought, you water, water, water. Watering should be done in the morning to afternoon. Be careful not to water in late day so plants won't stay wet all night, which causes disease. Always be sure there is no hot water in the water hose when you water. When she gives you rain, you pray, pray, pray. No matter how it turns out, enjoy the journey and the challenges. After all, that is what it is all about.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Judy,s Broccoli Casserole

Judy's Broccoli Casserole

3 cups of fresh broccoli, chopped and lightly steamed
1 cup cooked rice
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 medium onion chopped and sauteed in 1/2 stick of butter
1 stalk celery chopped and sauteed with onion
Dash of paprika
1 cup chunked Velveeta cheese

Mix all ingredients.
Pour into a casserole dish.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.


It doesn't get much easier than this.
This can be made ahead and frozen until you are ready to bake
or you can keep it in the refrigerator overnight to be baked the next day.


 Optional additions:

Chopped cooked chicken
mushrooms
chopped fresh spinach

You may add bread crumbs to the top before baking to add a little crunch
or crushed Ritz crackers on top for a buttery flavor.

Avoiding Crowded Spaces: The New Norm?



Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen the world take on an entirely different way of life. Small businesses have closed, large businesses have chosen to close some of their locations permanently and the general public has spent more time at home than they have in decades.
While it seems like we can't wait to get back to normal, we have to ask, what will that be?
Social distancing is not the worst thing that could happen, but it does make daily life a little more inconvenient. We have taken our daily tasks for granted in the past and paid no mind to who was around us. Now we watch each other closely so as not to infringe on anyone's space and to make sure that no one is invading our own bubble.

With the easing of our state-mandated stay at home order, parks and trails that had been previously closed are opening back up. People that have been home for a while are ready to get out and enjoy the outdoors only to find enormous crowds of people in these areas. This can be a little scary if you or a loved one is at risk. However, there are a lot of places where you can enjoy nature and avoid the crowds that may not show up in your first line of thought. This is where agritourism comes in. There are many farms, orchards, and vineyards as well as nurseries and greenhouses that welcome visitors. They are off the beaten path and out of the mainstream public eye. While you are almost sure to find others there, you probably won't find the hoards of people that are now inundating our public parks and recreation areas.

Check online in your area for businesses that welcome visitors. Or, if you prefer, you can just take a stroll down your local Main Street. Meander down the side streets and visit local businesses of the mom and pop locations that are the backbone of our communities. You will see things that you don't see on a daily basis and you will be getting your exercise while supporting local businesses. We have lost interest in our Main Street businesses. Now would be the perfect time to rekindle the love. You do not have to be on a trail to walk and enjoy the sunshine. You just have to be present.
Think outside the box, explore agritourism. The only thing you have to lose is the need for structured trails and parks. Get off the beaten path. Don't follow the masses. Support your local businesses and explore new resources for recreation and shopping. Let agritourism be the new norm for a new way of life.

Garden Companions

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3c/18/67/3c18673b8e727ddd269a597367a5df05.jpg
Garden Companions


Plants are living breathing things that need food, water, and sunlight to grow and flourish, not so different from we humans. It is human nature to search out companionship from others. When we have this suitable companionship, we tend to flourish in our lives and live a richer existence. Did you know that plants fair better with companions as well?
Maybe you have heard of a three sisters garden. That is a method of planting that incorporates three different vegetables planted near one another so that they may aid each other as they grow. One is corn. Corn will grow tall and will act as a trellis of sorts for the next plant that is placed in front of each stalk and that is climbing beans. As the beans mature they will climb the corn stalks and save you from having to trellis them. Last, you would plant squash between each stalk of corn to help keep the weeds at bay and aide in maintaining moisture for the other plants by shading the ground. While this may be the most common companion planting, it certainly isn't the only one.
Your tomatoes will enjoy the company of some basil and marigolds. Basil is thought to produce a sweeter taste in tomatoes when grown together. Though there is no scientific proof of this claim, gardeners have sworn by its validity for ages. Some gardeners even claim that they taste a hint of basil in their tomatoes. But aside from the claims that basil improves the taste of tomatoes, there is scientific proof that planting basil and marigolds with tomatoes can ward off some unwanted pests. Insects that normally wreak havoc on tomato plants and their fruit are kept away by the pungent scent of the basil and marigolds. Marigolds planted between tomato plants also help to repel root-knot nematodes. These pesky little plant-parasitic nematodes are responsible for about 5% of the world's crop loss every year.
If you plant marigolds or nasturtium among your cucumbers you will be able to keep the aphids and beetles away. However, you don't want to plant aromatic herbs with cucumbers as they may stunt the growth of your cukes.
Basil planted with peppers is thought to improve flavor and keep away aphids and spider mites. Also if you are planting onions you can plant them alongside your peppers to help keep insects away.
Planting rosemary and summer savory with your beans help to keep away beetles. Summer savory will also improve the growth rate of most climbing beans. A customer mentioned that she always puts savory in her beans when she cooks them.
If you want to try your hand at carrots, plant onions with them to help keep the carrot flies away. Generally speaking, you should not plant root crops with other root crops so that they will not compete for available phosphorus in the soil. However, onions are an exception to the rule. Planting sage and rosemary among your carrots is thought to keep some foraging furry friends at a distance as well.
Mint planted among your lettuce and leafy vegetables is a tremendous help with keeping away slugs. It is also thought that spearmint and peppermint actually help to sweeten the taste of your leafy plants. It is best to keep peppermint and spearmint in a container as they are aggressive.
In general, a good companion just makes life sweeter and less stressful. Without all the pests to bother them, your plants will grow happier and be more productive.

Growing Great Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes should come easy, right? Not for everyone. You may have trouble getting them to grow and produce fruit without losing them to blossom end rot or blight. Growing beautiful tomatoes really is a science but it is not rocket science.

Planting is best done at depths beyond the depth of the pot. Lay your plants on their side and bury them up to the top few leaves. This will allow roots to grow all along the stalk. The more roots the plant has the stronger the plant will grow. You will have to be careful not to drive your stake or cage through the roots or stalks. If you prefer, you can dig a deeper hole and just plant your tomato upright, up to its top few leaves. Either way the plant needs strong roots to grow a strong plant.

#1 SUNLIGHT

Sunlight is a huge factor in the amount of fruit that you will get from your tomato plants. The more sun they receive, the more fruit they will produce. Tomatoes love heat and direct sun. But the love of both makes watering a full-time job. 



#2 SOIL



Beef up your soil to provide the best start for your tomato plants. you can purchase a soil pH test at your local garden center or obtain one from your local cooperative extension office. Your tomatoes will grow best with slightly acidic soil. 6.5 to 6.8 is prime. If your soil is too acidic, add dolomite lime. If it is too alkaline, add sulfur or compost to your soil. Adding a calcium source is always a good idea and will help to ward off blossom end rot. You can use crushed eggshells or you can add calcium tablets to water and pour around your plants. Magnesium also can help to prevent some forms of blight and blossom end rot. Add a timed release fertilizer as most soils do not have enough. Plants need feeding just as we do.

#3 WATER

Tomatoes require regular watering. Inconsistent watering can lead to fungus and a plethora of other diseases and problems. You cannot let them dry completely out and then drench them in an effort to compensate. Keeping the soil at an even moisture should be your goal. If you know it is going to rain then you can skip water till the rain subsides. Don't leave it up to mother nature alone to take care of your tomatoes. This past year has been an indication of how unpredictable and unstable she is. Do not trust her with the well being of your tomato plants! Once established, plants should be watered only once or twice a week, depending on the temperature. Water so the water soaks throughout the root zone. Water in early morning, so the foliage will dry before evening.



#4 CAGE OR STAKE


Your tomatoes will need support. You can give them what they need by purchasing a tomato cage or by staking and tying as they grow. Whichever method you choose will ensure that your tomatoes have the support they need to keep their fruit off of the ground. Being on the ground often causes disease and rot. Not to mention, being on the ground makes them easy targets for critters looking for a quick meal.


#5 PRUNING



Removing suckers from the plant and bottom leaves will allow the plant to produce more abundantly. 

If you take the time to tend to their needs, tomatoes will provide you with fruit for your family. You can share with family and friends or you can preserve them in many different ways to get the most from your efforts. Or even better, send some to a local food pantry.