Archive for September, 2008

First frost

We’ve been lucky to escape an early  frost this year in Eastern Iowa. But when is the average first frost?

 

    Different sources say different dates. I’ve seen the average listed for Cedar Rapids – where I garden –  between Sept. 16 and Sept. 25. The Farmer’s Almanac says it’s Oct. 7.

   For Decorah, in northeastern Iowa, it’s about the same, or even earlier. One listing says Sept.  18 and, according to Iowa State University, between Sept. 22 and Oct. 4.

  South in Iowa City, Iowa State University lists the average first frost a bit later, between Oct. 1 and 13.

 

I usually try to note when the first frost is in my gardening journal, but couldn’t find anything for 2007 until Oct. 24. Was it that late last year? And then it didn’t even appear to be a killing frost. In 2006, according to my notes, it was more obvious. On Oct. 11, after a stretch of 70-degree days in the preceding week, there was not only a hard frost, but snow!

 

Earlier this week, weather forecasters said we could get our first frost Wednesday night; somewhat fitting, as it will be Oct. 1. That forecast was changed, and frost was taken out for the coming week, at least in Cedar Rapids.  I hope they’re right.  I’m not yet ready to give up on this gardening season.

 

Advertisements

Comments (1) »

Nuts about acorns

  Marion Patterson learned  foraging skills from her parents while growing up in New Hampshire. She’s carried on some of those traditions in Cedar Rapids, where she and her husband, Rich Patterson – director of the Indian Creek Nature Center – reside.

   With abundant oak trees on their property, the Pattersons have put their acorns to use in recipes that Marion brought from her parents, Yvonne and Les Fellows, to whom credit for the following recipes go.

 

   First, the acorns must be processed. Marion notes that with acorns from white oaks, especially, the acorns must be gathered shortly after they’ve fallen. Wait a week or more and the acorns will already be sprouting or will have a worm-like insect in them. (She described acorns from red oaks as a pain in the neck – smaller and more bitter than other varieties –  so white, burr or chestnut oak acorns are preferable.) If you cannot process them right away, they need to be stored in the freezer until you can work with them.

 

   Slice the acorns in half to get to the “meat” inside. Marion uses pruning shears to slice the acorns open, but welcomes any advice from others who may use a better method. Use a nutpick to pry the meat out of the shell. “This is not for the faint-hearted,” she notes.

 

   Put the nut meats in boiling water and keep pouring out and changing the water. Marion does this four to five times per batch “until I get tired of it,” she says. Boil about 15 minutes; drain off the water; add new water; boil another 15 minutes and so on. Drain last time and then…

 

   Spread the nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet, preferably one with edges. Place in a low-heat oven, set at 225 degrees, and flip or stir every 15 to 20 minutes. Do this for 2-3 hours. “The important thing is that they are dry,” Marion says. Take the pan out, and leave out overnight, uncovered, to cool. The nut meats can be stored at room temperature in a glass jar with a lid for a long time – “indefinitely,” Marion says. Don’t try to eat them as nuts as they’ll break your teeth, she adds. The nuts could be used in stews, which softens the kernels.

 

   To use them in other recipes, use a meat grinder or flour grinder, not a blender, to process into flour.  The flour looks a bit like sand – an earthy brown color. Don’t directly substitute the flour for white flour in recipes, as the acorn flour is heavier and has a more intense flavor. Plus, you’d quickly go through the small batch that comes from  that long and hard acorn processing. For recipes that call for 2 cups of flour, such as quick bread recipes, Marion uses 1/4th cup of acorn flour and mixes it with other types of flour.

 

   Here are two of the recipes that came from Marion’s parents:

 

Acorn muffins:

 

Wet ingredients:

1 beaten egg

1 cup milk

2 tbsp vegetable oil

¼ cup of honey

¼ cup of molasses

1 tsp. vanilla

 

Dry ingredients:

¼ cup sugar

1&3/4 cup of flour

¼ cup acorn flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

 

Mix wet and dry ingredients separately, then mix together gently until just moist. Lumps are OK. Grease muffin tins. Fill 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with honey and butter.

 

Boston Steamed Brown Bread

(A staple of Saturday night suppers in New England – best served with hot dogs and baked beans.)

 

1&1/2 cup wheat flour

1&1/4 cup white flour

¼ cup acorn flour

¾ tsp baking soda

2&1/2 tsp baking powder

1&1/2 tsp salt (or less)

¾ cup molasses

1 cup water

¾ cup milk

Raisins, if desired

 

Mix ingredients. Grease 16-ounce metal can (emptied from soup, etc.) Put aluminum foil over each can, with rubber band or tie around each. This batch makes about 4 cans. Marion uses her pressure cooker with water she’s boiled from a tea pot. Water should go about halfway up the cans. Place on stovetop with lid on and keep at a low heat for 2-3 hours. You could also use a large pot with a good lid. Water should be boiling at first, but then reduce heat and steam for 2-3 hours.

Comments (4) »

Hosta lovers alert!

 

Hosta - Guacamole

Hosta - Guacamole

Hosta lovers won’t want to miss a talk by Bob Solberg on Saturday, Oct. 4 at the Coralville Public Library, 1401 5th St., sponsored by the Harshbarger Hosta Society. 

 

Bob has introduced more than 50 hostas to date and has plans to add five or so to that number each year. His speech,  “Hostas the past 10 years,” will be 1-4 p.m.

   ‘Guacamole’, introduced in 1994 and Hosta of the Year in 2002 is probably his best known cultivar and is probably in your garden.

  ‘Orange Marmalade’ PP#16,742 is his first patented hosta and destined for a wide distribution.  ‘Corkscrew’, ‘Ginsu Knife,’ ‘Baby Blue Eyes,’ ‘Coconut Custard,’ ‘Cracker Crumbs,’ ‘Barbara May’ and ‘One Man’s Treasure’ are some of his other introductions.

   Bob has been very active in the American Hosta Society, serving as editor of the Hosta Journal, the principle publication of the American Hosta Society, (1988-1990) and Vice-President for the Genus Hosta,

(1998-2001). He was the recipient of the 2003 Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Award.

   Bob is a nationally known lecturer on the subject of hostas and author of many articles on hostas. He has edited the “Green Hill Gossip” for the past 13 years and the “Gossip Jr.”, a twice yearly subscription newsletter since 2004. When the hostas are up and glowing in the garden you may find him on the road, bringing hostas and hosta stories to a town near you.

   For questions, contact Judi Pohorsky at (319) 396-6116.

Leave a comment »

Love me tender

James Romer, Iowa Master Gardener Coordinator at Iowa State University Extension, offers the following on tender perennials:

Tender perennials are an integral part of many home landscapes in the Midwest. Most have a long blooming period and put on excellent displays of color until it freezes in the fall. The biggest problem with tender perennials is that they will not survive Iowa’s harsh winter weather if left outdoors. The following tender perennials should be dug in the fall and stored indoors until spring graces our doorsteps once again.

Tuberous begonias (Begonia xtuberhybrida) come in a wide assortment of colors and types. Some of the flower forms include camellia, cascade, carnation, picotee and non-stop series. Container-grown plants can be brought indoors for winter enjoyment. Those tubers left outside should be dug after a killing frost. To properly condition the tubers for storage, place them in a warm, dry location for approximately two weeks. Then bury the tubers in a box or sack filled with sphagnum moss or vermiculite. Store them in a cool, dry location.

Caladium (Caladium xhortulanum) is a great plant in the shade. The caladium is grown for its colorful foliage rather than its flowers. When the foliage dies back in the fall, carefully lift the tubers out of the soil and find a warm, dry place to cure them. Typically the process is complete in two weeks. Store the tubers in dry sand, vermiculite or sphagnum moss in a cool (50 F), frost-free area.

Gladiolus (Gladiolus hybrids) is stunning in the garden and in arrangements, but they need to be dug and tucked away for the winter months. The gladiolus or glad develops from a growing structure called a corm. A corm is a short, thickened underground stem where food is stored. When the foliage has yellowed, lift the corms carefully, cut off the foliage 1 to 2 inches above the corm and allow drying for a week in a sunny location. Corms can be treated with a fungicide to prevent disease while in storage. Remove and discard the remains of the old mother corm located at the bottom of the large, healthy corm. Place the corms in old onion sacks or nylon stockings. Then store the corms in a cool, dry, frost-free location until spring planting occurs.

Though calla lilies (Zandedeschia spp.) are tropical in appearance, they can be successfully grown in the Midwest. After the foliage has been damaged by a frost, cut off the tops about 2 inches above the soil line. Dry the calla rhizomes in a warm, dry location for one or two weeks. Bury the rhizomes in vermiculite, sawdust or peat moss, and store in a cool (45 to 55 F), frost-free area.

The large, banana-like foliage of the canna (Canna xgeneralis) stands out in the garden. Some can get to be about six feet in height, while others top the two to three-foot range. After a killing frost, cut the stems back to about 3-4 inches above the soil. Carefully dig up the rhizomes, let them dry for a few hours, and then place them in crates or mesh bags. Store at 35 to 45 F.

Dahlias (Dahlia hybrids) stand out like beacons in the summer garden. With more than 40,000 varieties to choose from, it’s difficult to not like at least one. After a killing frost has destroyed the foliage, the top of the dahlia should be cut away, and the tubers should be carefully dug and labeled with the variety name. Wash the tubers with water to remove as much soil as possible. This lessens the chance for soil insects to destroy the tubers while in storage. Dry the tubers in a site protected from strong winds and out of direct sunlight. When the tubers become dry to the touch, remove any portion of the stalk that remains and place the tubers upside down in vermiculite to ensure that any water in the remaining crown tissue drains out.

Although all of these plants require more work to keep than your average perennial, their attractive flowers and foliage are well worth the extra effort.

Leave a comment »

Wrapping up the garden

   Brucemore gardeners Deb Engmark and David Morton will demonstrate and discuss the tasks involved in preparing individual plants and the garden for winter during a “wrapping up the garden” workshop at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1.

   Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for Brucemore members. Reservations are required. Call (319) 362-7375 to reserve a spot.

   Brucemore, Iowa’s only National Trust Historic Site, is at 2160 Linden Dr. SE, in Cedar Rapids.

 

 

Leave a comment »

Assessing the beds

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

 

Euoooooooo!  I sure don’t like little four legged critters running unexpectedly across my feet!   Now I ‘m not afraid of little four legged critters.   I just don’t like them not giving me any warning.

               A chipmunk apparently had plans to create a winter habitat in a pile of leaves under my peony bushes.  The little fellow and I had to come to an agreement that he and I are not sharing that space at the same time.   I’m raking the leaves out of the way to eliminate the unwanted habitat and potential damage to flowers and shrubs in the bed.  Removing diseased leaves and branches at the same time will help reduce diseases next season. 

My peonies are going to stay all together this year.   They seem to be doing fine.  I am going to move the Iris though.  They’re located in a rather out of the way bed and will be much too beautiful in the spring to not be enjoyed.  Iris can be dug and divided right now and do not need to be planted deeply in the soil but do need to be kept moist after transplanting. 

But then the decision must come, where do  I transplant them.  Now is a perfect time to pour a cup of coffee, wander through the gardens and assess the beds. Examine each bed from several angles.   Be critical. Keeping a seasonal pictorial journal using a digital camera is such a great idea.  Pictures don’t lie:  do you need more height, more color, more  diversity?  Several Master Gardeners routinely keep a garden log.  Now, you may not want to be as involved in your gardens as a Master Gardener, but even placing some markers next to your plants and keeping your purchasing receipts provides a record of what you bought when and from whom in case the plant(s) is performing fantastically or not so much and you want to add or eliminate that species. 

Trees and shrubs can be transplanted now, too.  If a “honey do” on your list involves moving a large tree or shrub, a word of advice is to telephone One Call and determine where your underground utility lines are located.  Safety first is always a great motto.
Did you know that weeds often set their seeds in the fall for the coming year?  Continue weeding until Jack Frost arrives and plan next spring to plant a ground cover where weeds now reside. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Leave a comment »

Attracting pollinators

Most people would rather keep bees at bay, but Steve Hanlin, entomologist with the US Department of Agriculture research station in Ames, Iowa, understands their value as pollinators. To Steve, bees and other pollinators have a multi-billion dollar impact on what we eat and wear.

Steve spoke at Sunday’s Honey Fest at the Indian Creek Nature Center. His mention of Osmia bees was met with a round of applause by some of the beekeepers in the audience. That type of bee, also known as the Mason bee,  does not sting.

  The USDA mostly uses honey bees for their pollination of heirloom crops, which are raised by staff in Ames, but Steve called the bumblebee the “best wild pollinator there is.” The cost of bumblebees is more prohibitive, so they’re not used as often by his group.

For people with apple orchards or other plants in need of pollination, Steve said it’s best to not spray weed beds and to not use a rototiller. Both destroy habitats where bees like to live.

Old mouse nests are an ideal spot for bumblebees, but encouraging mice to live nearby raises its own questions. Basically, bumblebees live in undisturbed sandy soil.

Steve said osmia bees can be attracted by placing cardboard straws in an empty Pringles can where the bees can live. Plastic straws don’t work, as the bees would suffocate. The cardboard straws are what mail-order bees are shipped in, he said. Another “bee house” can be seen in the photo above.

 As an aside, Steve said moths also pollinate, but only night-blooming plants.

Also, some types of cactus are endangered because their pollinators, bats, are declining in number.

Honeybees don’t pollinate trumpet-style flowers, he said, and while bumblebees make little “honey pots” Steve doubts that people who buy bumblebee honey are getting the real thing. The honey, produced in tiny quantities, would have to be extracted by micro-pipette, he said.

Comments (1) »