Archive for November, 2010

Announcing the Young Gardeners Contest Winners!

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

You may remember that last month we announced an essay contest in which participants were asked to write about a young gardener.  Today we are pleased to announce the winning entry was written by Sharon Reed.  Sharon chose to write about her nine-year-old grandson, Fisher.  Here is her letter and a picture of one of Fisher’s favorite places in the garden.

I am a Master Gardener and provide advice to many gardeners in the community, but the most important gardener to me is my young grandson, Fisher.  He is nine years old, and not a ‘veggie’ person so I thought if I gave him some responsibility for my vegetable garden I could create some enthusiasm for eating the vegetables we grew.  We planted rows of tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, edamame, strawberries, corn, pumpkins, sunflowers and gourds.

At first it was a challenge to get him interested and away from the Wii games he loves to play.  But with a lot of encouragement, he became interested.  We planted our plants and seeds, then covered each row with newspaper covered with grass clippings.  Soon we began to see our plants getting bigger and new plants emerging.  My grandson, Fisher, watched closely the new plants, until he spied a garden toad.  He loves toads and other garden critters.  We made a hypertufa ‘toad house’ placing it in the middle of the garden.  Fisher visited the ‘toad house’ each time he worked in the garden.  He was able to see the pathways created by his friend, the toad, that enabled the toad to get to various parts of the garden under the mulch. He was also fascinated by the family of bluebirds that nested in the bird house in the center of our garden.  He would visit the house regularly checking on the babies.

As the weeks went by, I would find Fisher in my garden.  He was ‘taking care’ of the strawberries, or so he said, but I found his face was always stained with strawberry juice. When the peas began to ripen, he could be found in the pea patch, shelling pea pods, but he was eating them as fast as he could.  So I marked this as a success, my grandson will eat strawberries and PEAS.  Aha, a vegetable!  As time went by, we harvested some ‘flying saucer’ squash and some ‘red kernel’ sweet corn.  We prepared the squash on the grill along with the corn.  Fisher enjoyed both of these veggies as well.  He had a lot of fun picking tomatoes and peppers, but he did not eat them. Maybe next year.  He did not enjoy the time we spent digging potatoes until he found one that looked like a duck.  He was excited about the ‘duck’ potato, and wanted to take some of the harvest home to his mother.

Anytime we had guests, he quickly took the lead on the ‘family garden tour.’  He would tell the guest all about the plants, how they grew, what the plant needed for water and sun, the produce the plant would provide, even how to cook and eat the produce.  He would show everyone the toad house and the bird house.  He learned so much this year.  I know we created a summer garden but more importantly we created lasting memories that far outweigh the initial purpose of getting Fisher to eat and enjoy vegetables.

Congratulations to both Fisher and Sharon!  Fisher will receive a prize package of a CobraHead, a Garden Padd kneeler, and a copy of the book “Good Bug, Bad Bug” by Jessica Walliser.  Sharon will receive a gift certificate for $25 off an order at  Many thanks to all who participated!

Noel’s Grow Light Setup

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

I started playing with LED grow lights three years ago when I bought three small LED spotlights from a vendor I met at the Cincinnati Flower Show.  My initial approach to using the lights was very haphazard.  I mainly used the spots to augment natural light from the south facing glass wall in the sunroom for starting vegetable seedlings in the spring.

The results for enhancing plant growth were noticeable and LEDs are way easier to work with than fluorescents and other lights.   I didn’t like the spots, particularly, because they each had a noisy fan, but I was happy to have discovered them, nevertheless.

Geoff and Anneliese met Larry Schack, the owner of Sunshine Systems and other people from his firm at the 2009 Chicago Flower Show.  Larry and the folks at Sunshine Systems are LED light experts with a superior line of lighting products.  Both Geoff and I have tested their main light products and we are impressed enough to now sell them on our website.

Last year for my initial trial of these lights I hung them in an out of the way spot in the basement.  I had my heat mat and flats on the floor and it was not a good setup.  I didn’t have room to manipulate the lights or the flats easily.  So this year I cleaned out a back wall next to the furnace and set up a 24″ x 48″ folding table.  I screwed in some eye hooks to the rafters to hang the lights.  The GlowPanel 45 LED is the square light panel on the left in the picture and the GrowUFO LED is the round light on the right.  Geoff and I used both these lights with great success.  I just started seeds, but Geoff has been getting year round production out of them and I’m about to do the same.

I have the heat pad resting on a solid bed of 2 x 4’s and above that a solid bed of cutoffs leftover from the CobraHead tool displays we make.  I’ve got dozens of these 6 1/2″ x 8″ x 3/4″ plywood blocks.   They come in handy for lots of things.  Above the heat mat I’ve got a solid sheet of 1/2″ plywood.  I can use more small cutoffs for spacers above the heat mat and plywood if the flats get too hot.

I’ve got the 2 lights set up to one timer.  I’ll probably do 14 hours on and 10 off for the lettuces and other greens I have planted, but I’ll do some reading up on optimal light times, too.

The heat mat is on a separate timer and is set up to be on only for a half hour, four times a day to start.  The heat mat thermostat gave out long ago.  If I just left it on it would take soil temperatures in the flats to well over a hundred degrees, so I have to monitor it and keep its heating potential corralled with the timer. The furnace itself throws out a lot of heat, so I think this is going to be a very good setup and I won’t need all that much heat from the mat.  Unlike fluorescents and other lights, the LEDs put out almost no heat, so auxiliary heat is often necessary at least at the seed starting stage.

I’ve got three sheets of white foam sheeting from old signage to bounce some light back to the plants – one is an obsolete CobraHead sign, not quite white, but still with some good reflectivity.

The set up holds 3 of my 11″ x 19″ flats close to perfectly.  There is a little extra room for some cups or smaller pots, too.  It’s easy for me to slide the flats in and out to move them around, to rotate them in the light, to harvest, or to change them out.

I’ve seeded all three flats;  two with various salad mixes and Asian Greens and one with basil and spinach.  I hope to keep them in production until I start my regular seeds in March.  I have the lights on to help germinate the lettuce, but I’ve  cut some cardboard covers for the flats that work better than newspaper to hold the moisture in the flats and to keep light out when I don’t want light.

I expect to be writing about the good lettuce and greens we are harvesting indoors while its freezing outside, very soon.

Grape Crabapple Jam

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Grape Crabapple Jam

After almost 25 years of living on our 4 acres of partially wooded property Noel ‘discovered’ a crabapple tree.  Apparently we were never in that scruffy corner of the woods at the right time or maybe the seed just blew in one year when we weren’t looking and grew fast! Anyway, I was directed to the tree and asked to make crabapple jelly.

I picked about 4 quarts of crabapples that ranged in size from a quarter to a golf ball. I washed them and Noel helped me quarter them & remove the bugs and bruises. They were then barely covered with water, brought to a boil and simmered on low for about 10 minutes. I sent Noel to the local hardware store to pick up some cheesecloth for straining and we were on our way to ‘somewhere’.

I lined a colander with the cloth and let the crabapples drain for a couple hours until they stopped dripping. Everything I’ve read said don’t stir, press or mush the apples or your jelly will get cloudy.

Then I tasted the juice . . .  the flavor was almost non-existent. I could have added cinnamon but I couldn’t picture myself eating cinnamon jelly. So here’s where the grapes from our little arbor came in. In the past I’ve made grape jam from my trusty old basic cookbook, ‘Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book’. The ‘Spiced Grape Jam’ recipe calls for a cup of water so I used the crabapple juice instead. The juice definitely gave the grape jam a little different flavor and it turned out delicious.

1 ½ pounds Concord grapes (Our little arbor has 3 different kinds of grapes- dark purple, light purple and green. They were already planted when we moved here so I don’t know the official names.)
1 cup crabapple juice or water
2 ¼ cups sugar

The original ‘spiced’ recipe calls for 1 T. grated orange peel, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon & 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. I love the flavor of the grapes by themselves so I don’t add the spices.

Wash grapes; separate skins from pulp. Reserve skins. (Be ready to have purple fingers for a couple of days.) Cook pulp on low temperature a in 3-quart saucepan until soft; sieve gently to remove seeds.  Add grape skins (I zap in food processor first so the pieces aren’t so big) and crabapple juice to the grape pulp along with the sugar; cook over medium-low heat until it starts to get thick. It takes about 30 minutes but keep checking – it does thicken more after it cools. Pour into hot scalded jars and seal.  Makes about three ½-pints. After the jars cool store in the refrigerator.

More True Life Adventures

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

I was digging horseradish roots out of the compost area when I uncovered a little spotted salamander.

They seem out of place here.  I would expect them in much wetter areas, but I come across them frequently so I guess they like the garden surroundings.

Judy was cleaning up our leek harvest nearby so I put the salamander in the wheelbarrow she was using while I fetched the camera.  I took the picture and returned the little creature back to where I had found it.  Then I went back to work on the horseradish.

Garlic 2010

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Yesterday, two weeks past my target October 24th plant date, I got my garlic into the ground.  That’s a lot better than being six months late, and with the very warm fall we are having, I’m sure the garlic will do just fine.  Here in Wisconsin, garlic does best when it’s planted in the fall and covered to protect it from the hard winter freezes.  The cloves start setting roots under the covering long before the snow is gone.  The crop is larger and healthier than it would be were the cloves planted in April.

One year, when I did not get around to a fall planting, I did start garlic in April.  The plants turned out fine.  They ended up ripening at just about the same time as a fall start crop, but the bulbs were noticeably smaller than those that would have overwintered.  So now I make sure I always get the garlic going in the fall.

I’ve described the three hills I make in my beds and my garlic planting method back in 2007 – Garlic Under Straw.

This year we planted red and white hard neck garlic of unknown variety.  The cloves are from bulbs we grew last year, which were from bulbs we grew the year before.  That year, we had planted a lot of nice garlic of different varieties we had purchased at the Minnesota Garlic Festival, but I did not do a good job of keeping the varieties identified.  We just save the biggest and best, so now it’s just red and white.

Garlic gets better as it acclimatizes to a particular garden.  Saving your own bulbs to seed produces healthier and stronger garlic than cloves brought in from the marketplace or elsewhere.  The several times that I’ve brought in garlic from somewhere else, it did okay, but the second year after a season in my garden, both the plants and the bulbs were bigger.

I space the larger cloves 6 inches apart.  Normally, I just lay a yardstick down and move it along as I plant, but this year I laid out all my 6 inch markings with the BioMarker plant markers we are now selling.  It probably was just a little bit more time consuming, but I wanted to try it and it worked fine.  I put in 35 markers in one trough and planted the three ridges with 105 cloves total, about half white and half red.

After planting, I removed the markers and the bed got covered with two bales of straw.  Come spring we’ll see the new garlic flags poking through the straw.

Madison Herb Fair

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Saturday was a beautiful day to be out in Southern Wisconsin.  It was sunny and crisp with a high temperature of about 47 degrees.  For the first week of November it was quite pleasant.  Our fall has been a lot warmer and drier than normal.

As nice as it was outside, Judy and I spent most of the day indoors doing a little show called The Herb Fair sponsored by the Madison Herb Society.  But the nice weather got a lot of people out so we had a good crowd and sold enough CobraHead tools and other garden products to make it worth our while.

The Herb Fair is held every November in Olbrich Gardens, Madison’s largest botanical garden.  Olbrich is an excellent, well laid out park with many very scenic areas.  Even with the several hard freezes and gusty winds that have stripped most of the leaves, the gardens had a lot of color to contrast with the sharp blue sky.  The larger reflecting pools had been drained and the smaller pools had a thin layer of ice on them, but it was truly a wonderful day.  With winter fast approaching it was great to take a little stroll though the gardens and enjoy what is left of our thus far spectacular fall.