Dandelions- More than just Weeds

Show of hands, how many of you have a yard full of dandelions this time of year?  Well, if you don’t treat your yard chemically, you are probably blessed with hundreds of these weeds.  But these perennials are more than just weeds; they’ve long been noted as a resourceful plant for eating because the entire plant can be consumed.  For example, the root can be boiled or stir fried as a vegetable.  Its flowers can be sautéed.  The leaves (greens) can be enjoyed in a salad in its raw state or it can be cooked, like spinach.

Dandelions also have been prized for their medicinal qualities as they are chocked full of vitamins A, K and C.  Well known for their laxative and diuretic properties, the greens help to boost digestion.  They also have been noted to reduce inflammation and swelling.

Some Thoughts:

  • Only used dandelions from clean areas where no pesticides or herbicides may have been sprayed.
  • Pick the leaves before the plant flowers, as they will be tenderer and less bitter.
  • Rinse and dry with paper towel.  Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer for three to four days.

Controlling Algae Growth in a Pond

An established pond will most likely experience algae growth at some point. Moderate amounts of some forms of algae are actually healthy for the overall pond ecosystem, but maintaining control over that amount is important. Excessive algae can rob your pond of oxygen, causing fish illness or worse, fish death.

Algae are simple structured plants that have no root systems, leaves or any of the other similar characteristics seen in higher plant species. The two most common types of algae are planktonic algae and filamentous algae.

Planktonic algae can be identified by green, blue-green, yellow-green or even red colored water, also known as a bloom.  Blooms can encompass the entire surface of a pond and resemble a pea soup consistency if left untreated.

Filamentous algae initially form around the perimeter and the bottom of the ponds in the spring in a mat-like fashion and take on the characteristic of being stringy. It’s common to see this type of algae on rocks and even waterfalls, making these surfaces slippery. These algae provide no real benefit to a pond’s ecosystem.

Algae thrive off of:

  • Excessive sunlight
  • Low oxygen-high carbon dioxide levels
  • Excessive nutrients

Excessive Sunlight

Excessive sunlight helps to fuel the photosynthesis process, which also relies on carbon dioxide, and water.

Long Term Solutions: The main goal here is to allow less sunlight to enter the pond. One natural way to achieve this is to add shade bearing plants, such as water lilies, to your pond. These plants can easily cover a large percentage of the water surface and will also offer a natural protection from predators for your fish, as well as, provide a great spawning environment for your fish.  Plants also naturally compete with algae for nutrient requirements.  So, plants are a win-win situation for your pond.

Another option is to add shade dye to your pond. This eliminates how much sun can penetrate the water, inhibiting the photosynthesis process.

Excessive Carbon Dioxide

Excessive carbon dioxide fuels the photosynthesis process.

Long Term Solutions: Increase oxygen levels by providing aeration and filtration. Air diffusers and waterfalls are some examples of ways to infuse oxygen into the pond. It’s also important to remove decaying plant life, as this robs oxygen levels.

Proper mechanical and biological filtration can be achieved through the use of skimmers, filter media, UV lighting and beneficial bacteria; just to name a few.  Beneficial bacteria are a topic all by themselves.  To understand the importance of beneficial bacteria, a great reference article, “Your Pond’s Nitrogen Cycle” is here for your reading.

Excessive Nutrients

Excessive nutrients that help algae to thrive consist of nitrogen and phosphorus. Several sources for these nutrients are local phosphorus-rich fertilized areas, such as treated farm fields or yards, that wash into the pond. Other sources include nitrogen found in excessive uneaten fish food, decaying vegetation and fish waste.

Long Term Solutions: Eliminating or maintaining these nutrient sources properly will help alleviate that part of the problem. Clean all decaying vegetation from the water and only feed fish the required amount of food as recommended by the food manufacturer.

Please Note: If a quick fix solution is needed to control algae, there are algaecide products available. Be aware that after treating your pond with these products, the decaying of the algae will result in additional oxygen loss due to the decomposition process. This can lead to fish kill. Always follow all instructions on any products you use.

 

Herbs and Spices

Considering growing herbs or spices in your garden?  Researchers have found strong correlations between a wide range of health benefits and many herbs and spices.  While research is still quite preliminary, many of these herbs and spices have been treating modern ailments for thousands of years.

For your own safety, it’s always best to research for yourself to assure that there will be no complicating effects on your current health conditions.  For example, preliminary research indicates that ginger is believed to potentially act as a blood-thinning agent.  So individuals taking blood thinners should be cognizant to this information.  This is just one of many such examples of why understanding the risks is important.

The Difference between an Herb and a Spice

The main difference between an herb and a spice is the location on plant:

  • Herbs typically come from the leafy part of the plant.  You can buy herbs fresh or dried.  For a more intense flavor buy or grow your own fresh herb. 
  • Spices typically come from the seeds, roots, bark or flowers of the plant.  They are often ground into a powder.  You can purchase many spices as powder, seeds, pods or sticks.

The following are a list of some of the more common herbs:

Oregano

Benefits:  Oregano is noted for its major amounts of antibacterial and antioxidant levels, believed to originate in the oils of the leaves.  There are studies that suggest it may play a vital role against breast and ovarian cancer as well.  It’s even thought to slow the aging process. 

Complimentary Foods:  Italian and Mediterranean dishes.

Rosemary

Benefits:  Rosemary is thought to help fight cataracts, invigorate the circulation, and relieve headaches and breathing problems. 

Complimentary Foods:  Enhances chicken and pork dishes.

Thyme

Benefits: Thyme may protect against several detrimental bacteria found in gastrointestinal tract.  It has been used throughout history to help relieve chest and respiratory problems.

Complimentary Food:  Sprinkle on asparagus, potatoes and other vegetables for a twist.

Basil

Benefits: Basil has shown evidence of inhibiting some bacterial growth, which is believed to be found in the oil extracted from the leaves.  Basil oil has been studied for its anti-inflammatory affects as well.  It’s also a great source of vitamin A and magnesium, making it heart healthy.

Complimentary Foods: Meats and soups are two common complimentary foods.

Some of the more common spices are listed below:

Cinnamon

Benefits: Cinnamon is derived from the dried inner bark of tropical evergreen tree.  It is believed to help regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol and protect against Type 2 diabetes. 

Complimentary Foods:  Cinnamon is known to compliment many breakfast components, including: hot coffees and teas, oatmeal, toast, etc.  It’s also a popular baking ingredient.

Ginger

Benefits: This root has a long history for being used for nausea and other digestive complaints.  Ongoing research into the medicinal properties of easing arthritis pain and even easing the side effects of cancer and hepatitis C treatments.

Complimentary Foods:  Widely used in Asian cuisine.

Turmeric

Benefits:  Turmeric is believed to have outstanding anti-inflammatory, anti-Alzheimer properties.   Even more promising to researchers it’s known to contain a compound called curcumin, which is widely speculated in protecting against breast cancer.

Complimentary Foods: Commonly used in Thai and Indian dishes.

Red Peppers

Benefits: Red peppers contain capsaicin, which has been approved by the USDA as a treatment for topical use in arthritis and muscle soreness.  It’s also believed to be an anti-inflammatory agent and help to fight the cancer-causing agent, nitrosamine.   Much research has been conducted that supports the fact that it contributes to weight loss by increasing thermogenesis (heat production) and oxygen consumption.

Complimentary Foods: Use in soups, salads, pizza and meat.

My Pond Mistake

Well, I made a mistake last fall.  You know, the kind of mistake that is the result of saying, “Ehh, I’ll worry about it later.”   My procrastination, or should I say mistake, caused me a lot more work this spring because this pond is located directly under a huge oak tree.  To say I had a lot of leaves in the pond was an understatement.  Had I taken the time to buy a net to place over the pond last fall, I could’ve prevented a lot of work for myself. 

All winter long, the leaves sat in the pond.  The resulting smell alone from the decaying leaves, worms and the newly established algae was enough to knock you down from a standing position.  I didn’t house any fish in the pond which is why my negligence for this situation happened.  If I had fish in the pond, I would’ve taken the time to clean it.  I do value their little lives. 

What’s the moral to this story?  Maybe this will motivate all of you to not procrastinate like I did.  But in the meantime, if you’re faced with this same situation, here’s some food for thought:

  1. Skim out as many leaves as you can with a net.  I actually purchased a pool net from a local hardware store.  This made the job a lot easier. 
  2. I then proceeded to drain the pond with a pump.  I actually don’t have a sump pump so I used the actual pond pump and just attached an old hose to the top of the outlet.  It’s not the best scenario, but the pump is strong enough to pump out the water at a decent rate. 
  3. Clean/replace your filters and proceed to refill your pond.  It’s wise to check and clean your filter more periodically than normal because of the extra contaminates in the pond.  Don’t forget to add any supplemental watering treatments to your water before are adding fish to your pond.

And by the way, I don’t plan do that again this fall!  Because, I do plan to add fish to the pond this season.  Hopefully I will have some beautiful pictures of fish to show you throughout the year.  Happy spring cleaning to all of you!

Growing Your Own Vegetable Sprouts

I remember as a child seeing my step-mother grow alfalfa sprouts in the kitchen in a mason jar.  She would put on them on her sandwiches and salads.  As a child, I never knew how much I would grow to appreciate these fresh tasting sprouts as much as I do today.  Now, I want to learn how to grow them myself so I can appreciate it even more.  Are you interested?  Keep reading to find out!

What are Vegetable Sprouts?

They are the plant’s first tender stems that emerge from the seed.  Just about any seed can be germinated for this purpose, but some are more common than others.  Some common vegetable sprouts include: broccoli, mustard, radish, onion and chive.  From what I’ve already learned, some of the flavors you receive from these little sprouts can be quite explosive in taste.  So, naturally I can’t wait to experiment with them.  For instance, if you enjoy a little heat, you would probably like radish sprouts.  Mustard sprouts offer a spicy accent to your meal, while broccoli sprouts offer a mild peppery flavor.  And onion sprouts offer a flavor similar to its adult plant without the crying to accompany it.

What are the Health Benefits of Vegetable Sprouts?

They are loaded full of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, B, C, E and K; iron, calcium, potassium and zinc.  These sprouts are also packed with amino acids, proteins and antioxidants.   According to The International Sprout Growers Association, a powerful cancer fighter, sulforaphane, is proven to be packed in broccoli sprouts.  While radish sprouts have 29 times more vitamin C than milk and 4 times the vitamin A.  That’s just naming a few of the outstanding health statistics associated with these little sprouts.

Growing Vegetable Sprouts

Using a wide mouth mason jar, add 1 part seeds to 3 parts non-chlorinated water (treated water can affect sprouting).  Cover with a fine mesh screen or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.  Soak the seeds for 8-12 hours in a cool place, out of direct sunlight.  Rinse the seeds thoroughly and drain.  Repeat rinsing the seeds four times a day until sprouting while storing the seeds in a shaded place.  Between the third and tenth day should generate sprouts, depending on the variety of seed.  Once sprouting has occurred, rinse and drain the sprouts.  Expose the seeds to sunlight.  Once the sprouts have leaves and have turned green, they are done.  For best flavor, it isn’t recommended to allow the sprouts to grow longer than 4 inches.

Final Thoughts

  • For best freshness, keep in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator.  Rinse with cold water daily and dry before returning to the refrigerator.
  • Sprouts should be eaten within three days of sprouting.
  • Avoid conventional garden seeds, because most of these seeds have been treated with pesticides and fungicides.
  • Since sprouts are grown in a warm environment, they are susceptible to food poisoning.  Be sure to eat them while they are fresh.

Four Ways to Utilize Your Extra Garden Seeds

Image compliments of Razief Adlie
Image compliments of Razief Adlie

Many of us may choose to be resourceful enough to sow our own seeds to save money or maybe because we like the plant varieties only offered as seed.  If you’ve ever purchased a packet of seeds, you’ve probably noticed that you are usually given way more seeds than you will use for one growing season.  So, what can you do with all those extra seeds?

Get Involved in a Seed Swap

This is a great networking tool for exchanging yours extra seeds for others you desire. In most cases, you simply create an account, agree to follow their rules and create your posting.  Keep in mind that these are individuals, so seed quality might not be up to par with the commercial seed producers.  There are many of these seed swap sites, below are just a few:

Old Farmer’s Almanac Seed Swap

National Gardening Association Seed Swap

Thrifty Fun Seed Swap

How to Garden Advice Seed Swap

Sow Extra Seeds for a Gift

Mother’s Day and early summer birthdays are great opportunities to pass along some of your extra plants. They make a relatively inexpensive gift that keeps on giving.  If your recipient doesn’t have a garden, dress up the plant in a patio container.   

Use Seeds from Existing Plants for Future Sowing

If you have existing plants, harvest seeds from these plants.  It’s generally best to avoid saving seeds from hybrid plants because they will be not produce true of the original plant.  In other words, there is no guarantee on the quality of plant you will receive from these seeds.  Similarly, avoid saving seeds from cross-pollinated plants, such as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons and corn.  The offspring from these will most likely produce inferior fruit, unless your plants are isolated from other varieties.  In contrast, self-pollinated plants will give you more success.  Some examples of self-pollinated plants include tomatoes, peas, lettuce and beans. For more information on how the pollination process works, read this article.

Store for Next Year

Store your extra seeds in its original package in a jar.  Place the jar in a cool place such as a closet or a refrigerator.  While many seeds are good for 1-3 years, others lose their ability to germinate rather quickly. Always be sure to read the seed packet for more specific instructions.

Sow Extra Seeds for a Plant Swap

There are some great forums and plant swaps, which, again, are a great way to network with others that share the same interest as you.  I’ve met some helpful and friendly people on these websites.  Here are a few such sites:

Plant Swap.net

My.gardenguides.com

TheIntimateGardener.com

Do you have more ideas? Let’s hear them!

When Life Gives You Lemons

 

Well, we’ve all heard the phrase, “When life gives you lemons”, but lemons are good for more than just making lemonade.  And while I’ve actually never taken the time to make lemonade the old-fashioned way, I sure do love a good lemon shakeup at the Annual County Fair.  Here are a few suggestions on other uses for lemons around the house:

As a Freshener:

  • Place some lemon peels in the fire of your fireplace for a refreshing smell throughout your house.
  • A bowl of lemons in the any room of your house adds not only an inexpensive decoration, but a livening smell as well.
  • To remove the odors coming from onions, garlic, fish and bleach that are on your hands and cutting boards, rub with a slice of lemon.
  • Grind lemon peels into your garbage disposal to freshen it up.

As a Cleaner:

  • Clean grease and oil from your hands by rubbing with a slice of lemon.
  • Clean your oxidized copper with a paste of lemon juice and salt.  Rub on the exposed areas.  Rinse with water and dry.
  • Soak your dull-looking glass in a mixture of lemon juice and water or rub sliced lemons onto the glass surface to renew the sparkle.  Rinse with water and dry.

And if you decide to actually make lemonade, try this recipe from Sunkist®:

Sunkist® Old-Fashioned Lemonade

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup freshly squeezed Sunkist® lemon juice
  • 4 Cups water
  • ¾ Cup sugar
  • 1 Sunkist® lemon, cut into cartwheel slices
  • Extra sugar to taste (optional)
  • Ice cubes

Directions:

  • Combine Sunkist® lemon juice and ¾ cup sugar in large pitcher and stir to dissolve sugar.
  • Add water and blend well.
  • Sweeten to taste by adding extra sugar if desired.
  • Pour over ice into a tall glass and garnish with a lemon cartwheel slice

Makes 4 (12 oz.) glasses

Add 1 to 1-1/2 cups of pureed strawberries, raspberries or blueberries for a refreshing twist on this traditional recipe. 

You’ll find more recipes and tips from Sunkist® here.

Attracting Hummingbirds

These tiny creatures, most of them weighing in around 3 grams, bring huge joy to many of us in the summer.  If you’re like me, then you want to continue to attract these creatures.  To accomplish this, you should not only provide them an ample food source but also you should consider their shelter and nesting needs as well.

Food sources are very important to hummingbirds.  With a high metabolism, the ability to flap their wings up to 53 times per second and their flight speed of 27 mph are all reasons why they eat their body weight in nectar daily and can eat up to 2,000 insects a day.  That’s quite an appetite!  So, let’s look at a few ways to assure they can obtain their two main food sources:

Two Food Sources:


  1. Nectar

Hummingbirds have two main sources for receiving their nectar nourishment: through flowers and nectar feeders.

Flowers-Planting native flowers, shrubs and vines that are colored orange, pink or red with tubular flowers are most popular as a nectar source.  Plant for constant blooming all season as this will give an uninterrupted nectar source for the hummingbirds.

Nectar Feeders– Proper care of nectar feeders is needed to assure for a healthy nectar source for the hummingbirds.  Be prepared to clean the feeder every 2-3 days by discarding old nectar and disassembling the feeder.  Scrub with hot water and a bottle brush to remove deadly fungus.  Do not use honey in the feeder as this creates a deadly virus for hummingbirds.  You can buy nectar just about anywhere you purchase your feeder.  You can also make your own sugar water solution.  The National Audubon Society recommends a recipe of boiling a mixture of 1 part sugar with 3 parts water.  Microwave boiling isn’t recommended because it molecularly alters the nutritional value.  Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.  Adding red food coloring is not recommended.

Location is important for the nectar feeders.  They should be placed in a shady, open area to prevent the premature spoiling of the nectar and ease of access for our feathered friends.

       2.    Insects

Providing a natural environment for insects to congregate is way of assuring a food source for the hummingbirds.  In a natural setting, weed patches are native habitat for insects.  Obviously if you live in a subdivision or other areas where this is unacceptable, consider planting native plants that insects are attracted to, such as: purple coneflower and bee balm.  They are also visually appealing, and butterflies love them as well.   Trees that bear fruit are another way to attract insects.  It might be practical to hang a nectar feeder from this fruit tree to further increase your chances of attracting more hummingbirds.

Nesting/Shelter

Hummingbirds build nests using soft-lined plants such as pussy willow flowers and the fluffy seeds from dandelion and thistle, among others.  They take shelter in trees.

Predators

Just like any other creature, hummingbirds have predators including: housecats, preying mantis, snakes, to name a few.

Other Considerations
  • Avoid Pesticides which can be ingested by the hummingbirds that eat infested insects.  Instead, encourage the hummingbirds to be your natural insect control.
  • Provide a water source for bathing.  Just like other birds, hummingbirds like to bathe in shallow water, a water mister or a small waterfall.
  • Know your region’s migratory dates for native hummingbirds.  This will allow you to provide your feathered friends a welcoming nectar source after their long journey.  There are several hummingbird migration maps available.  Here is a website that has several such maps for the ruby-throated and the rufous hummingbird.  These maps, which are updated weekly, give the dates of when the hummingbirds were spotted.

Understanding the Fertilizer Numbers (N-P-K)

If you’ve ever bought fertilizer of any kind, you’ve probably seen the 3 large numbers, such as 24-4-8 or 10-5-8, prominently displayed on the package.  Always displayed in the same order, these numbers represent the percentage in weight of nitrogen, phosphorus (P2O5), and potassium (K2O), or collectively seen as (N-P-K).  So, a 15-12-5 fertilizer has 15% nitrogen, 12% phosphorus and 5% potassium. 

Each of three ingredients has a specific purpose as being a beneficial nutrient needed for plant health and growth.  These nutrients are usually missing from the soil because large quantities are needed for healthy plant growth and survival.  Take note that there is a wide variety of these weighted percentage formulations.  Knowing when to use what particular formulation is important and will depend on your specific application.   

The first number, nitrogen, is the primary nutrient responsible for plant growth.  It is also needed in order to produce chlorophyll, which gives our plants the green tint.

The second number, phosphorus, aids in root growth and blooming.  You’ve probably seen packaging promoting Bloom power fertilizer (see photo at right).  High phosphorus fertilizer would benefit applications such as a newly transplanted tree or aiding in the blooms and the overall establishment of the plants in your garden.

The third number, potassium, helps with the overall health and vigor of the plant.  It also helps the plant withstand stress due to large temperature changes and drought.   Fall fertilizers have high potassium percentages, which help to overwinter the yard.

Before applying any fertilizer to your soil, it’s wise to have your soil tested.  That will give you a baseline of the current condition of your soil.  There are several options for testing your soil:  You can purchase a store-bought soil test kit from your local hardware store or contact your local Cooperative Extension Service.

How Vegetables in the Garden are Pollinated

 

Interested in saving seeds from your vegetable garden to share with others or use next year?  It’s important to understand why some seeds are more worthy of saving than others.  It’s as easy as understanding how your garden vegetables pollinate.  In order to produce those veggies, pollination must occur.  Vegetables are naturally pollinated (open-pollinated) in one of two ways: self-pollinated or cross-pollinated. 

Self-Pollinated Plants

The pollination process in this type of plant is self contained within the same flower without the aid of insects or wind.  Each flower contains both male and female flower parts.  The seeds from these types of plants will produce future plants that are by and large a clone of their parent, or often it is stated, “It will produce true”.  This will result in quality, good tasting crops.  Vegetables that are self-pollinated include: tomatoes, beans, lettuce and peas.

Cross-Pollinated Plants

The pollination process in this type of plant is not self contained within the same flower.  Instead, insects or the wind will transfer pollen between the male and female flowers on the plant.   It’s possible to cross-pollinate other varieties or strains of neighboring plants.  This won’t affect the vegetables you receive from the current season’s plants, but it could result in seeds that won’t be true in future generations of plants.  For the average gardener, cross-pollinated plant seeds are not ideal to keep, unless each plant variety is isolated to control unwanted pollination.  Some vegetables that are cross-pollinated include: squash, beets, spinach, pumpkins, corn, melons and most cucumbers.

Hybrid Plants

Hybrids are the intentional cross-pollination of plants to acquire each parent’s best traits.  Some of the traits that are sought after are disease and pest resistance, fruit production, etc.  It is not recommended to save these seeds as they generally won’t be true.