Why plants grow better after rain than when WE water them

Ever noticed that when you water your lawn/garden it politely says “thank you,” but essentially doesn’t look much different unless it was drought stricken to start? But then it rains, and it’s like the plant version of the “Hallelujah Chorus”! The plants not only perk up, but they practically leap up and suddenly you have new growth, flowers or a need to mow your lawn. Most people notice, but otherwise don’t think much of it, but some of us look at this dichotomy and think “What? Isn’t my water good enough for you? What does rain water have that mine doesn’t, or is it the chlorine slowing it down?”

Well, here’s the answer, and it isn’t the chlorine in tap water, but what air is composed of:

Most people think that air is primarily oxygen, since this is the gas we need to survive. However, the major component of air is nitrogen – 78.09% of it! Nitrogen is completely inert, meaning it the under normal conditions it has no positive or negative effects on our bodies (unless you scuba dive, but that’s not part of this post). Oxygen is only about 20.95% of the air we breathe, with the final 0.96% made up of trace gasses such as carbon dioxide (0.03%) and argon (0.93%).

So what does this have to do with plants? Nitrogen is a natural fertilizer, and when it rains it washes out of the air and fertilizes the plants as well as giving them a drink. (What a cool way God has designed to both water and feed the plants!)

Why doesn’t the atmosphere doesn’t contain a higher concentration of oxygen? It wasn’t designed to, for (at least) 2 excellent reasons:

  • Breathing pure oxygen for extended periods of time leads to oxygen toxicity (and a particular danger for premature babies that is better understood now than in the past);
  • oxygen is a potent accelerant, so if there was a greater concentration in the air, fires would be more common and more intense.

As Bill Nye, the Science Guy used to say, “Now you know…!”


Gardening humor

That’s all I have to say because I actually pre-scheduled this post because I knew I would be outdoors.

(Sorry Stanley, I couldn’t find a way to link to the image on your FB page, so I copied it.)

I wet my plants




Walnut Spring Moon

I am not a brilliant, or even a good, photographer. In fact, I depend on my camera to do my magic for me, but every now and then something works. I looked out the kitchen window last night and saw the moon behind the early Spring branches of our black walnut tree and was entranced by what I saw.

Hoping to get a picture that somewhat captured the memory, I grabbed the camera, turned off the lights and tried a couple of things, with typically dismal results. I finally turned it on complete manual (except the autofocus lens) and braced myself and…I may just have to write a poem!

I couldn’t decide which I liked best, so I kept them all. Do you have a favorite?


“Sultan’s Pleasure” – Eggplant has never tasted better!

If you have ever wondered how else you can prepare eggplant other than Eggplant Parmesan, grilled eggplant or Baba Ganouj, check out this wonderful recipe!  In Turkey they call this unusual dish Sultan’s Pleasure, for reasons which are obvious as soon as one samples it.  Particularly delicious with chicken.  We also like it as a dip for various breads, like pumpernickel.


Sultan’s Pleasure (Eggplant Cream, Hunkar Begendi)

3 medium eggplant
1 Tbsp lemon juice

6 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp hot milk
3 Tbsp Parmesan or grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Prick the skin of eggplants in several places and set in hot oven (350-400 F) on a cookie sheet, or grill them whole and unpeeled by holding over a flame and turning slowly.

When the skin begins to break and/or the insides feel very soft, cut off end and cut in half and scoop the pulp into a saucepan.

Mix lemon juice with pulp and simmer until very soft, stirring often (10-15 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the butter, then add flour and stir until it makes a brown roux.

Beat the roux into the eggplant mixture (we use a hand mixer for consistency).  Slowly add the milk (more, if desired), and continue beating until mixture resembles mashed potatoes.

Lastly, add the Parmesan or grated cheddar cheese (adjust quantity to taste) and cook several minutes more.  Serve immediately (it’s best warm!).



WHY bees are disappearing AND something you can do about it!

I expect a number of readers may be familiar with the frightening trend of bees disappearing, and some may even actually be very concerned. I’ve been following this for a time and, in case you didn’t know yet, there seems to finally be an answer/answers. Watch this, but don’t be depressed, because there are things you can do.

I am sure there are plenty of other ideas to help people begin to address this in practical ways, but since I hate kvetching without offering something that can be done, my initial guerilla/grassroots response will be to buy bulk quantities of the following (untreated) seeds:

  • white clover
  • red clover
  • alfalfa
  • as many of those native wildflower packs (that few ever use) as people will send/give me beyond what I will buy (oh, here is a source: Wildflowermix.com)
  • Whatever native flowers will grow easily.

Like many places in this country our city (Rochester, NY) and surrounding areas have plenty of abandoned properties, former business “properties,” ignored bits of land, barely acceptable parks, neglected back alleys, lots long empty after the city has torn down the houses, neglected and/or abandoned farms/farmhouses, fence rows along the side of highways (let your imagination run wild) that could be “beautified.”

There are also old railway lines, and we have large areas along the Erie Canal that span from Albany to Buffalo (remember the song?). So I am going to do like Johnny Appleseed and make and carry a mix with me and sprinkle seeds wherever I go biking, hiking, walking or deliberately meandering ANY time of year. It’s that easy because you don’t even need to break ground for them to grow – think of dandelions which, by the way, are popular with bees, so (deep breath) leave them alone, or just dig them up where you don’t want them instead of using chemicals/herbicides. Oh, and stop spraying your lawn for insects; there are more natural ways to manage them.

Oh by the way, that pretty pink pea-like flowering groundcover you see along highways are completely unattractive to bees. Stop and see for yourself – then sprinkle some useful seeds. Anyone have some other useful ideas? Would love so see them!

More Squash Practice – Differentiating Squash Species

Another one of my eclectic interests is winter squash and pumpkins (BTW, I am still hard at work on the squash guide!), so for those vegetable gardeners who want to be able to identify the difference between their plants while they are still young (“Did the seed seller send the right seeds?”) here are some clever tips based on leaves (and stems).

Squash Practice

Despite my patterned planting method to help identify the seedlings coming from seeds I plant, I still have trouble with confusing squash volunteers showing up in the hills.  This year I clearly noticed the interlopers only after blossoms were starting to set fruit.  However, I could have picked up the problems earlier if I had carefully tried to distinguished the  C. pepo species from C. maxima.  Often, the differences are subtle, but it is possible to reliably tell them apart before they start to fruit.

You can tell the two species apart using the characteristics of leaf shape, prickles, and the fruit stem. Pepo is pricklier and has more deeply indented leaves, and the leaf margins are more sharply toothed.

Both species are very diverse and have a wide range of leaf shapes.  The pepos, particularly, can either be spiky like the Zucchini leaf or it can have much more…

View original post 210 more words

Identifying Types of Pumpkins, Winter Squash and Gourds

*****NOTE: I have updated the published date to get renewed attention and some help. Given the number of hits this article regularly gets, I’ve been aggressively working on a longer article with pictures for as many open-pollinated/heirloom types as I can find. My only problem is that I don’t know how to manage an article of that length/magnitude in a BLOG (it is over 30 pages, and I reduced the font to 10 pt!). SEEKING SUGGESTIONS/IDEAS!

= = = = = = = = = =

There are many beautiful varieties of pumpkins and winter squash, but it is hard to keep them all straight. I own some little guidebooks that identify trees and ferns by a series of questions about their features, eventually identifying those plants with considerable accuracy, but there isn’t anything similar for pumpkins and winter squash. You would think that what constitutes a pumpkin or a winter squash would be clearly understood and defined, especially by those who make a living growing and selling them, but that is usually not the case,  and I have found out that information on the web is rife with errors (especially the pictures!). According to The World of Gourds (an extremely informative and accurate site):

Sorting out all the varieties of edible cucurbits with their correct species identification is very difficult, although it is nicely summarized in Hortus Third by L.H. Bailey and E.Z. Bailey, 1976. A more updated summary is given in Cucurbits (Crop Production Science in Horticulture 6) by R.W. Robinson and D.S. Decker-Walters (1997).

For the benefit of those interested in identifying and growing the different species (particularly if you want a variety with seeds suitable for toasting ), More

Gardens and Grasshoppers or “A plague on those locusts!”

I was reading a post at Town and Country Gardening about drought and grasshoppers (http://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/home-gardens-drougth-dry-winds-grasshoppers-whats-next/#comment-1513). He lives in Oklahoma and has my sympathy because the Great Plains have traditionally been a challenging place to garden/farm.

Oklahoma Dust Bowl – 1930’s

Some suggested “climate change” but I am a bit of a history geek, and the Dust Bowl of the 30′s is something most of us actually know very little about, but if you talk to some very old people they will tell you it  was pretty bad. Here are some places to start (all links are safe and secure – I went there myself and checked):

Observed precipitation in the great plains region of North America 30ªN to 50ªN, 95ªW to 105ªW (boxed area on maps) compared with precipitation calculated from an atmospheric general circulation model forced by observed sea-surface temperature data. The calculated precipitation has been smoothed to remove fluctuations with periods shorter than six years. The thin black lines are 14 different simulations. The variation shows some of the uncertainty of the calculated precipitation. The green line is the average of the 14 simulations. The maps show the anomaly of precipitation averaged from 1932 to 1938.

That being said, here are some helpful suggestions I gleaned from Garden’s Alive! (“Getting a Grip on Grasshoppers!”) about natural grasshoppers controls: http://www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=775. Yes, it is a commercial site, but they have “environmentally responsible products that work,”  to use their own words. Here are a few suggestions with a few brief quotes from the page:

  1. Nosema locustae, “a microscopic protozoan parasite of grasshoppers. Often just called ‘Nosema’, it is currently available under a variety of brand names, including ‘Nolo Bait’ and ‘Semaspore.’ It’s a living organism with a relatively short shelf life, so it’s best to buy it just before you use it—which would be in the Spring, when you see the first baby hoppers in their “nymph” stage; a half-inch or smaller. (It doesn’t have much of an effect on adults). Your local county extension agent should be able to identify the right time for your specific region.”
  2. Fowl: Domestic – Guinea fowl (very effective!) and chickens. Native – attract them (specific suggestions in article).
  3. Spun polyester row covers. ‘Nuff said.
  4. Tilling: “Tilling your soil early in the Fall and again in Spring will expose many of those eggs to predators and desiccation.”
  5. Heavy mulch: Grasshoppers lay next year’s eggs later in summer and heavy mulch (at least 2 inches of old hay, straw, wood chips, shredded leaves, etc.) applied over the winter will prevent many of next year’s young from being able to emerge from the soil (I leave mine on year-round).
  6. Molasses is a favorite folk cure that may help right now. Back when I was editor of ORGANIC GARDENING, a Canadian reader reported great success from spraying the perimeter of her garden with a dilute mixture of molasses; apparently, it clogged the pores of hoppers hit by the spray and ones who ate the sprayed plants. Several other readers recommended molasses traps: Mix one part blackstrap molasses with ten parts water, fill wide-mouth jars and buckets a third of the way with this mix and place around the infested area; the hoppers hop in but they can’t hop out.”
  7. Neem – “Spraying those plants with neem—a natural pesticide made from the seed of a tropical tree—is virtually certain to protect them. In fact, our good buddy Bill Quarles, director of the BIRC—the Bio-Integral Resource Center in Berkeley, California—tells us that neem’s pesticidal properties were first investigated because neem trees were the only plants spared during locust attacks. Bill says that ‘grasshoppers would rather starve to death than eat a plant that’s been sprayed with neem.’ ”

A fistful of locusts – or lunch?

BTW, a little know fact: According to the Bible (Leviticus 11: 20-23), locusts are the only insect that may be eaten: “Every flying insect that uses four legs for walking shall be avoided by you. The only flying insects with four walking legs you may eat are those with knees extending above their feet, [using these longer legs] to hop on the ground. Among these you may only eat members of the red locust family, the yellow locust family, the spotted gray locust family and the white locust family. All other flying insects with four feet [for walking] must be avoided by you.”

Perhaps it was God’s way of giving the people something to eat (in addition to a little culinary vengeance) any time locusts ate their crops.

Anyone ever tried them and have any comments or recipes?

Mulch Garden Diary – squirrels in the corn

I visited the garden this morning and was pleased to see that the asparagus seeds are sprouting – nice surprise! However, not all is well in Mulch Land. I discovered that squirrels have bitten the top off some corn plants – yes, the plants. I was surprised that this happened to me, but at the same time not actually surprised that it happened at all. If you ever have the opportunity, take a chew into the stalk of a corn plant that is still fresh and growing and you may be surprised to find that it is mildly sweet, which is why the squirrels did it. Farmers who raise both cattle and corn taken fresh harvested field corn and chop up the whole stalks into silage, which is kept in silos and then fed to the cattle, who love it (and it smells wonderful!).

Anyhow, I don’t have a field of corn, just about a dozen plants, so I can’t afford the sacrifice. I had to do some hard thinking about how best to handle this since this won’t stop anytime soon. I considered creating some kind of barrier, but that is not practical. I then thought of unpleasant smells. I checked some fish emulsion and kelp emulsion I still have around, but found that they were “deodorized.” Then I found some moth crystals I still had around and sprinkled a bit near each plant – we will see if that works, otherwise I will have to resort to making a hot pepper spray from some wickedly hot chili peppers (chile pequin – http://tasteoftx.com/recipes/chiles/pequin.html), which requires some caution, and I would prefer not to do at this time.

Has anyone successfully dealt with this problem and/or have some suggestions that don’t involve shooting or trapping (too much time or trouble, and I’m disinclined to do either, anyway)? Please let me know. I’m not horribly annoyed yet, but then again I don’t want to become so.

Mulch Garden Diary – Not much rain, but…

It’s been dry all over and most gardeners (and farmers) are concerned and watering regularly. Western New York has also been dry, although we have had a few days when small fronts have come in from Canada over the lakes bringing scattered pop-up showers which, although welcome, have only been a drop in the proverbial bucket.

I began gardening late this year – I do every year, but I have finally made my peace with it. As long as we homeschool, the ideal planting time of late April/early May falls close to the end of the school year with co-op lessons, end-of-the-year mandatory testing (NY…), reports and other required NY paperwork (blah, blah, blah…).

Anyhow, my usual routine depends on “volunteer” plants, select nurseries for specific plants, and seeds of some vegetables that don’t mind (or even prefer) starting later. So I thinned out and/or moved some volunteers, purchased and put in a few vegetables and dibbled a few holes for late-purchased seeds (Baker Creek). The mechanism is simple: I pull back mulch and plant, wait until the plants are large enough, then push it back. Because I was late, and it’s been hot and not raining my husband has been spot watering in the morning, but when I first started and pulled back the mulch the soil was still moist, and the worms were just at the surface of the soil under the mulch happily turning straw and hay into soil gold. On the other hand, own lawn doesn’t look as good as my neighbor’s lawn (you can see it in the back) because he waters his, but we haven’t watered ours.

Today I wandered about in the garden in my bare feet (I love the feel of the top layer of dry mulch). I pushed it back up to most plants, dropped some spare mulch on some thinner places and did some random checks in the open places between plants, causing worms to flee. All good. Other than my husband using a watering can to water of certain places and one good watering of the strawberry bed in the middle (it got quite thin there and was drier and I couldn’t re-mulch until the berries were done), the rest is fine. I pulled about 5 little weed upstarts and took some more pictures.

This is just the main vegetable garden as of today, I have five other narrow ones around the yard. This one has tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, corn, scarlet runner beans, eggplant, broccoli, collards, cilantro, Russian purple fingerling potatoes, bush zucchini, bush buttercup squash, cucumbers and okra (I also put in some asparagus seeds but don’t expect anything this soon). The “volunteers” in this garden are the strawberries, collards, cilantro and potatoes. In my other beds I have leeks (volunteer), garlic, basil, parsley, peppermint (volunteer), cilantro (volunteer), black raspberries (volunteer), dill, walking onions (volunteer), chives, more okra and strawberries (volunteer) and sunflowers.

I will try to post other pictures as it progresses, for I know it will fill in surprisingly.

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