Category Archives: Around the Household

March Garden Calendar

 

As I’ve stated many times, The Department of Horticulture at Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service has tons of a great publications.  The particular one that I want to share a portion of with you today is Spring Garden Calendar (HO-91-W).  This article outlines some monthly Spring activities that will help make our indoor and outdoor plants and lawns to be more ready for summer.  It is time to start preparing for Spring!

Indoor Plants & Activities

  • Apply fertilizer to houseplants according to the label directions.   As the days grow brighter and longer, the new foliage growths will require a high-nitrogen fertilizer; while blooming plants will require a higher amount of phosphorus.
  • Remove spent leaves and flowers regularly to improve appearance and encourage blooming.
  • Start seeds of cool season plants for transplanting outdoors later in spring.  Check your local zone requirements.

Woody Landscape Plants & Fruit Trees

  • Prune trees and shrubs while plants are still dormant.  The spring bloomers should be pruned after the flower fades.
  • Fertilize woody plants before new growth begins and after the soil temperatures have reached 40°F.  Two pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet should be broadcast over the entire root area.
  • Remove winter coverings from roses as soon as new growth begins.  Keep mulch close for protection from late freezes.  Prune and fertilize as needed.
  • Apply superior oil spray to control scale insects and mites on landscape plants and fruit trees when tips of leaves start to protrude from buds.
  • Remove tree wrap from trunks to prevent scalding due to overheating of the bark.

Lawn

  • Rake to remove leaves, twigs and other debris.
  • Mow lawn as needed.  The first mowing should be slightly lower than normal to encourage green-up.

Flowers

  • Prepare garden soil for planting.  Do not work the soil while it is wet.  Soil should crumble when squeezed in your hand when it is ready to work.  If it forms a solid ball when squeezed, it’s still too wet.
  • Fertilize soil as needed.   If you’ve had a recent soil test, that will help you determine your fertilization and pH needs.
  • Start seeds of warm season vegetables and flowers indoors.
  • Watch for blooms of early spring bulbs such as daffodils, squill, crocus, dwarf iris and snowdrops.
  • Remove old asparagus and rhubarb tops, and then side dress with nitrogen or manure.

More great articles can be viewed on Purdue University’s Extension website.

Adding Hours to Your Flowers

Cut flowers are a nice addition to bring a color into your home.  Whether they come from the garden or from the florist, maintaining their beauty is the same.

All flowers have three important characteristics that determine how long they will remain attractive and useful:

  • It’s need for internal water content.
  • It’s need for food to carry on life processes
  • It’s inability to handle toxic air and water substances

Ten Procedures for Longer Lasting Flowers

  1. Re-cut the flower stems using a sharp knife or shears. Remove at least one-half inch of the stem to expose a fresh surface.  A freshly cut stem absorbs water freely.  Cut at a slant to avoid crushing the stem.  Re-cut often to allow for water absorption.
  2. Use special methods to treat cut stems for certain plants.  Some flowers, such as poinsettia, heliotrope, hollyhock, euphorbia, and poppy may need this special attention. The milk fluid that flows from the stems plug easily and this won’t allow for proper fluid flow through the stems.  This can be avoided by placing about 1/2 inch of the stem in boiling water for 30 seconds or charring the end of the stem in a flame.  Protect the flower tops from the heat by wrapping in paper.
  3. Remove excess foliage.  Excess foliage exposed to the air increases water loss.  Also remove submerged leaves, which decay and encourage microbial growth.
  4. Use warm, uncontaminated water.  Place stems in 100-110° F water.  This warm water is more easily moved up the stem.  Contaminated water, or water high in fluorides or salts, will lead to early death.  If this is the case, consider using filtered or distilled water.
  5. Use a flower preservative in the water.  These preservatives provide food, as well as, inhibit bacteria and fungi.  They also promote water and nutrient uptake.
  6. Wrap the flowers until they are crisp.  After the flowers have been placed in warm water, wrap a piece of paper or plastic around them.  This helps to reduce water loss.  After about 2 hours (flowers are crisp), arrange as desired.
  7. Wash the container with soap and water.  Always wash containers after each use to remove bacteria.  Bacteria can multiply and clog the water conducting tubes of the flower stems, which cause wilting.
  8. Avoid excessive heat or moving air.  Do not place flowers in direct sunlight or over a heat source.  Heat reduces flower life.  In addition, drafty locations remove the water from the flowers faster than it can be absorbed.
  9. Keep flowers cold when not in use.  It is possible to double the life of your flowers by placing them in a cold room (above 35°F) or in the refrigerator at night, when not in use.  This practice is not recommended for orchids (not below 55°F).
  10. Do not mix fresh flowers with old or damaged flowers or with fruits or vegetables.  Damaged, aging flowers and many fresh fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas that shortens fresh flower life.  Carnations will close and snapdragons will drop florets prematurely when exposed to ethylene.

Source:  Department of Horticulture at Purdue University Publication HO-158-W

Honeysuckle Named Color of the Year

Pantone LLC, the world-renowned authority on color and provider of professional color standards, has announced PANTONE 18-2120 Honeysuckle is the color of the year for 2011.

While the color for 2010 was PANTONE 15-5519 Turquoise and served as an escape for many, this year’s new chosen color is seen to be as encouraging and uplifting by many.  “In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits.  Honeysuckle is captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®.  “Honeysuckle derives its positive qualities from a powerful bond to its mother color red, the most physical, viscerally alive hue in the spectrum.”

Honeysuckle-colored home and fashion products can be found at www.pantone.com

Terrariums

Bromeliads work great in a terrarium environment

A terrarium is essentially a garden in an enclosed glass container that provides adequate humidity preferred by tender tropical plants.  It can also be used to start new plants or freshly cut un-rooted plants.  While many of you have probably seen a prepackaged terrarium kit that provides all the materials needed to make your own “garden under glass”, you can assembly your own with some items you may already have around your home.

Container

Almost any clear glass container with a lid can be used for your terrarium.  Cloudy or colored glass is not recommended because it filters out too much light, while non-lidded containers wouldn’t provide the humidity and moisture needed.  If the container doesn’t have a lid, clear plastic wrap and a rubber band or cellophane tape will work.

Keep the scale of the relative to the container size.  For example, small evergreens or deciduous tree seedlings can be grown in larger containers such as aquariums, while smaller plants could be grown in a fish bowl, goblet, etc.

Soil and Drainage

The ideal soil mixture is one part of each: sand, peat moss and loam.  Ordinary garden soils are considered too heavy for plants to grow well in this environment.  One teaspoon of 5-10-5 fertilizer should be added to a six-inch potful of soil mixture.

Drainage should be employed using a layer of moss.  For larger containers, a layer of sand or gravel is recommended before adding the moss.

Planting and Care

  1. Cover the bottom of the container with 1-3 inches of gravel or sand.
  2. Place a fine layer of sheet moss over the drainage material.
  3. Place the soil mixture over the moss.  Just enough soil is needed to hold the plants in place.  Roots do not need to be completely covered as the humidity will keep the roots from drying out.
  4. After planting, wet the soil with a fine mist.  Water only until it seeps through the moss layer.  Do not allow water to stand in the bottom of the terrarium.  If this happens, remove the cover for several hours a day until the excess water evaporates.
  5. Water only when the soil surface becomes dry and add only enough water to moisten the soil.  The condensation from the terrarium will drip back down onto the plant helping to keep it moist.
  6. Place your completed terrarium in a well lit location, out of direct sunlight.
  7. Pinch back plants that become overcrowded or too tall.
  8. An annual re-design will be needed.  At this time, replace mosses and reuse plants if possible or employ new for a fresh look.

Plants

Below is a list of recommended plants that will adapt well in a terrarium environment.  Keep in mind that because of the moist environment, un-rooted cuttings can be used, as they will eventually form roots.

Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension

Houseplant Problems

Root Rot: Several contributing factors include:

  • Overwatering
  • Heavy soils (too much clay)
  • Containers that lack adequate drainage holes.

Solution:

  • Always water thoroughly until water comes out the drainage holes.  Do not water again until just below the surface of the soil is barely moist.
  • Use a quality potting soil which will adequately allow for drainage
  • Assure that containers have drainage holes

If root rot is suspected, remove plant from the container and visually inspect the roots.  Healthy roots will appear fibrous with white root tips.  The presence of rot will have roots that have blackened tips and slimy brown-black decay.  If root rot is not extensive, try to improve drainage by employing the solutions above.

Nutrient Deficiency: There are several nutrient deficiencies possible:

  • Nitrogen deficiency is displayed by leaves that turn pale green or yellow
  • Potassium deficiency is displayed in brown and dying of leaf margins.
  • Phosphorus deficiency is a little harder to define.  Some symptoms could include the leaves turning a dark, dull green or bluish green.

Solution:  If nutrient deficiency is suspected, fertilize appropriately.  Always read and follow the instructions on the fertilizer bottle.

Hot &/or Dry Air: This problem is most severe in the winter months where a lack of humidity and high heat are issues.

Solution:  If heat and humidity are a concern, keep plants away from heat ducts, vents or radiators.  Increase humidity by placing container is a shallow bed of water covered pebbles, being careful that the plant does not sit in the water.  Placing the plant in a room where a humidifier is available.

Insufficient Light:  Symptoms include pale, yellow, small leaves and poor growth.

Solution:  If insufficient light is suspected, determine the proper light intensity for the plant and place it in an appropriate location.

Accumulated Salts: A noticeable white or yellow crust on the soil surface and plant stems is a good indication of accumulated salts.  Plants that have been established in a pot for a length of time may accumulate this from fertilizers or hard water.

Solution: At least once a month, apply enough water to the top of the soil to thoroughly leach all excess salts to the bottom of the pot.  A loose porous soil helps with this leaching process as well.

Pot Bound Roots: Pots that have been growing in the same pot for extended periods of time can become pot bound.  An easy indicator is to lift the plant out of the container and note roots circling around the potting soil.

Solution:  Repot the new plant using a pot that is 1-2 inches wider and deeper than the previous pot.

Sudden Change in Environment:  Sudden leaf drop is a good indicator that a plant’s environment has changed.  Environmental changes that can cause this include: rapid temperature change, drafts or dry, hot or cold air, change of location from sunny to dark.

Solution: Understand your plant’s environmental needs and follow them.

Fungal Leaf Spot: Minute black dots on the leaves are an indicator of this fungus.

Solution:  Keep the foliage dry, and pick off and destroy infected leaves if infection is minimal.  Keep this plant isolated from all other plants.

Water Spots: Some plants, such as African violets, are susceptible to water spots when leaves get splashed with cold water.  Aerosol sprays, sun shining on wet leaves, hot grease spattering can also irritate some plant leaves.

Solution:  Take caution not to get water on the leaves.  Also avoid other spattering sources.

Mites and Insect Problems:  Bronzed colored leaves and webbing can be noticed on plants infected with spider mites.  Also, placing a white sheet of paper under a leaf and tapping the plant can identify spider mite damage.  The mites will fall onto the sheet of paper and will resemble very tiny dots.

Solution: Preventative measures are important by using the identifiers listed above.  Spider mites are attracted to plants under stress.  Keeping plants healthy will help to solve this.  Also a steady stream of water applied to your plant every 2 weeks can help rid the problem.  Insecticidal soaps are also effective at eliminating spider mites.

In general, be careful to consider the plant’s best location, surroundings, water requirements and history.  These can also give you good indicators as to what your plant is experiencing.

Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension

Forcing Branches for Winter Color

Forsythia

As dreary as it can look outside for most of us in the wintertime, bringing a little early outside life indoors can surely brighten our spirits.  As most early spring flowering trees and shrubs form their buds in the fall before going dormant, it’s possible to force them into early blooming for our enjoyment in a floral arrangement or an accent piece indoors.  This article is compliments of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Department of Horticulture.  I was fortunate enough to receive many similar articles through my Master Gardener’s training that I intend to share.

Gathering Branches

Select young healthy branches with numerous buds throughout the tree or shrub.  Keep in mind that the voids you create might show in the spring so space your cuttings accordingly.  Follow good pruning practices, which include cutting approximately ¼ inch above a side bud or branch so that no stub is left behind.  Cut your branches 6-18 inches long.

Getting Branches to Bloom

After you have gathered your branches:

  1. Make a second cut diagonally above the previous cut.  If the temperatures are below freezing when you cut the branches, immerse the branches completely in cool water for several hours or even overnight.  This deters the blooms from bursting prematurely.  This isn’t necessary for temperatures above freezing.
  2. Put the branches in a container to hold them upright.  Add warm water (110°F) no higher than 3 inches on the stems.  Flower preservative (See below preservative recipes) can also be added to prolong the branch life.  Allow to stand for 20-30 minutes and then fill the container with additional preservative solution.
  3. Keep the container in a cool, partially shaded solution, making sure to maintain the water level.
  4. Once the buds show color, move to a well lit room avoiding direct sunlight.  They can now be removed from the original container and arranged in the desired fashion.  Ample water is needed to prolong your blooms.
  5. Rooting might occur on branches during this forcing period.  If this is desired, remove the branch when the roots are ¼ to 3/8 inches long and pot individually.  The plant can be transferred outdoors after the warm weather arrives.  Protection may be needed for several years on this newly formed plant though.

Preservative Recipe #1:

  • 2 cups lemon-lime carbonated beverage
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach

Preservative Recipe#2:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • Mix with 1 quart water

Preservative recipe #3:

  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • Mix with 1 quart water

Suggested Plants for Forcing

Suggested Plants for Forcing

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.

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.

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.

Ten Ways to Green Your Home

There are countless ways to create a healthier and more environmentally friendly home.  And many of them are fairly inexpensive to accommodate into your lifestyle.  Here are 10 such ideas:

  1. Clean your air ducts and fans regularly.  This will help by eliminating the pollutants in your home that can lead to allergy problems.  Replace your furnace filter monthly for more efficiency and better air quality.
  2. Avoid products that do not list their ingredients on the back of the packaging.  Check labels for 3rd party certification by using organizations such as Green Seal  and EcoLogo
  3. If you aren’t in the habit of taking off your shoes before entering your house, now is a good time to start.  This healthy practice cuts down on the outside pollutants that are being tracked into your home.  Just the thought of all the public places my shoes travel disgusts me enough to keep this habit!
  4. If new flooring is in the near future, consider an alternate flooring option to the traditional carpet, which traps dust mites, mold and other pollutants.  Bamboo and cork flooring are being raved as great environmental alternative flooring.    There are many pros and cons to these alternative floorings though, so it is wise to see if these products fit your needs.  Some benefits of bamboo state that it is a rather quick renewable resource but currently there are few companies that are producing the flooring without harming the environment by use of pesticides, deforestation and other items that cause for degradation to the planet.  
  5. Are you in the market for a new vacuum cleaner?  Consider investing in a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter-style vacuum cleaner which captures up to 99.97% of particles. 
  6. Are mold and mildew a concern?  If so, many experts recommend keeping the humidity level in your home below 60 percent to eliminate this worry.
  7. Decorate with low-VOC and no-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints.  They release fewer toxic fumes, which are released even after the paint dries.  Typical traditional house paint has been linked to respiratory problems and even worse, some types of cancer. 
  8. Cotton is a heavily pesticide sprayed crop.  Invest in organic grown cotton products without pesticides.  Some readily available household cotton products include bedding, towels, clothes, etc.
  9. Remove your name from junk mail lists, which creates 4.5 million tons of waste annually. 
    1. The Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are allowed to include your name on lists pertaining to insurance and credit card offers. You can opt out though.
    2. The Direct Marketing Association is mail management service that allows you to opt out of mail solicitation or just focus your solicited mail based on your interests.  
  10. Clean naturally by using lemon, salt and baking soda. Here’s a few cleaning ideas for you.