Monday, March 31, 2014

Dan Heims' advice on growing perennials in containers

The keynote speaker at this year's Wisconsin state Master Gardener Conference was Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc., a company known for its many new introductions to horticulture.  Terra Nova's breeding programs have produced many international gold and silver medal winners and 700 new plants to horticulture. These new plants are often hybrids, formed when Heims or someone else literally takes a paintbrush and dusts one plant with another’s pollen.  The newbie with growing potential then gets pushed into a tissue-culture lab, where technicians with forceps and chemical augers coax along tiny green growth shoots.

Dan revels in the discovery of new plants and encourages more people to play in their gardens to explore the incredible genetic variations possible in the plant world.  He fondly quotes Walt Disney "It's kind of fun to do the impossible".He is always on the lookout for new genera and hybrids. 'His job description dictates that he must "travel the world and seek the newest perennials".'

Dan made 2 presentations,  “Right Plant- Right Place” Plant Solutions for Problem Areas and "Perennials for Containers".

Some of his containers that caught my eye:


Notes from Dan's presentations on successful container gardening with perennials:
  • good drainage is essential-Dan uses pumice-make sure the soil mix is not too peaty-over-watering probably kills more plants than under-watering.
  • perennials use much less fertilizer than annuals, so use slow-release fertilizers as they will last all season and rarely burn the roots.
  • "marriage of plant to pot"-appropriate container reflects shape(s) of plant(s)
  • practice the "Dan Heims Mathematical School of Plant Combination" or DHMSPC . It ascribes a point for each attribute a plant lends to a pot.  Points are awarded to texture, architectural value, shape, color, flower, fragrance, seasonal color change, evergreen nature, drama, contrast…
  • think of the spot and colors where the container will be placed and choose the container first-then start with the boldest, most architectural plant, and work the other plants to fill in around it while complementing and contrasting with color and texture
  • contrasting colors (color echoes move the eye, green relaxes the eye)
  • contrasting textures-fine with bold, container can pick up texture of plant(s)
  • consider final size of plants (shorter, well-branched plants are less prone to breaking in the wind)
  • determine which plants are "bullies" and which "play well with others" under your conditions 
  • consider using water plants if a container (ie "King Tut") using donut circles to keep mosquitoes away
  • don't always need to have plants in a container-containers can make a statement on their own
  • extrapolation-consider background when locating pots (tree trunk, bamboo mat,…)
  • rebar inserted through hole in in bottom of pot down into soil can help prevent a pot from tipping in windy conditions
  • soil temperature in a container will approximate the surrounding air temperature, so plants in containers will need additional protection (move to garage or basement, surround with packing peanuts, wrap with bubble wrap,…)
  • perennials can be planted in the garden after their "container year" is over or divided the next spring to fill up even more containers.
  • keep plants nearly dry over the winter-cool not too cold-watch for botrytis 
  • when bringing plants out of dormancy: do not bring directly into a warm house, water gently & wait until active growth of begins before fertilizing (Note: do not fertilize roses until foliage is at least 5-6"

What gardeners were buying at the WI Master Gardener Conference

Some gardeners seemed anxious to add some color
 to their homes while we continue to wait for warmer
weather to get things growing  
The Gathered Earth (located at Lowney's in the Fox Cities area)
offered a great selection of colorful miniature items to brighten
up our fairy gardens.
While we still wait for the ground to thaw
enough to get out planting, many of us were
enticed by the beauty of the orchids offered
by Goin' to Pot Orchids
Many of us may be trying to create our own succulent art
after seeing this wonderful living picture frame by
 Victoria's Garden Decor. Unique colorful wood furniture,
sand-casted concrete leaf birdbaths, and concrete trellise
are also produced by this delightful couple.

In addition to painted log bird feeders by Erin Culligan and slumped glass
feeders made by her students. Leif Kutschera, a sophomore at Menasha High,
offered beautiful fused glass art.  His suncatchers have been carried at the
local Bergstrom-Mahler Museum for 3 years and his jewelry, suncatchers,
ornaments, dishes, and plates  can be found at the Plaid Squirrel in Brohtertown
for those who missed the chance to purchas his work.

Our own Outagamie Master Gardeners were selling some beautiful heucheras
and hostas to be planted by gardeners inspired by Dan Heims presentations.
Some of us were drawn by the faint sweet scent of lily bulbs being sold by
Oak Valley Farm from Minnesota-so many choices, so hard to decide!
Magpie Bakery for the Birds offered reasonably priced treats for the hungry
 birds returning to our yards
And Daniel Spielvogel sold darling birdhouses made of natural materials
… while sold ceramic birdhouses and vases.
Some gardeners are looking forward to the sparkle of glass art
by Our Garden Path Designs in their gardens, while others
picked up some stepping stones  from Stone Crete anticipating
 muddy days to come.
Toads will be discovering colorful new abodes.
Dragonflies and golf club birds by Melby
 Works will be new additions to some yards.

Others will be adding their gracebull swans to their yards.
Deer fashioned of sheet metal by Jim Hatton
will be acquiring an appealing rusted color
outdoors in yards around the area.
Gardeners will be enjoying the ease of
weeding, cultivatins, scalping, edging,
digging, furrowing, planting, transplanting
de-thatching, and harvesting with the
the Cobrahead Weeder and Cultivator
-"think of the CobraHead® blade as a
"steel fingernail®" (an appealing image
for those of us gardeners whose nails
remain short and brokenthroughout
the growing season.)

Treadlight Gardens was offering a sturdy new tool
to try for cultivating gardens.
To preserve some of the beauty from our gardens this year to enjoy during
our next long, cold winter, some of us were tempted to purchased flower
presses and paper making kits offered by Arnold Grummers.
Unfortunately, I will not be snuggling beneath the gorgeous wildflower quilt,
lovingly crafted by one of our members, that was raffled off at the event.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Searching for signs of spring

We woke up to another inch of snow this morning.

Looks like the resident rabbit was out & about
hunting for more plants to nibble on in the garden.
The raised bed not ready for spring prep work yet.
Evidence of a brutal winter with gusty winds off the lake.
But this robin sitting in a crabapple tree seems to think spring is on it's way.
"Listen, can you hear it?  Spring's sweet cantata.  The strains of grass pushing through the snow.  The song of buds swelling on the vine.  The tender timpani of a baby robin's heart.  Spring.!"
-  Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure

Thursday, March 20, 2014

First day of spring

Springtime is the land awakening.  The March winds are the morning yawn.  
~Quoted by Lewis Grizzard in Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You

This year, the vernal equinox takes place on Thursday, March 20 at 12:57 p.m. EDT. At this time, the sun is crossing over from the southern hemisphere into the northern hemisphere. During this process, the sun is shining directly over the earth's equator, bathing the earth's northern and southern hemispheres in nearly an equal amount of sunlight. Daylight will continue to growin length until the summer solstice which occurs on Saturday, June 21 at 6:51 a.m. EDT

Few signs of spring here, aside from slowly melting snowbanks as temperatures rose to near 40 degrees.   

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"The last day of winter" ???

More snow on the "last day of winter"-fortunately it melted quickly with the warming temperatures during the afternoon.  But there is still a fair amount of snow on the ground an ice on the lake.

Maybe we can try to appreciate observing the changing shapes of the snowflakes, as warmer weather tends to produce the sonwflakes with extensive branching paterns.

Snowflakes form when cold water droplets freeze onto dust particles.  The resulting ice crystals will grow into different shapes based on the temperature and humidity of the air where the snowflakes form.

Effects of temperature and humidity on snowflake formation.
Image Credit: Kenneth Libbrecht.
Snowflakes formed in temperatures below – 22 degrees Celsius (- 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit) consist primarily of simple crystal plates and columns whereas snowflakes with extensive branching patterns are formed in warmer temperatures. The most intricate snowflake patterns are formed when there is moisture in the air. Snowflakes produced in drier conditions tend to have simpler shapes.

Just curious to find out more about "fractals" after hearing these lyrics from the movie Frozen so often lately:

My power flurries through the air into the ground.
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I'm never going back; the past is in the past!
-Idina Menzel - (Disney's Frozen) Let It Go Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

Crystallizing water forms repeating patterns in snowflakes and on frosty surfaces illustrating examples of fractals found in nature.

From sea shells and spiral galaxies to the structure of human lungs, the patterns of chaos are all around us. Fractals are patterns formed from chaotic equations and contain self-similar patterns of complexity increasing with magnification. If you divide a fractal pattern into parts you get a nearly identical reduced-size copy of the whole.The mathematical beauty of fractals is that infinite complexity is formed with relatively simple equations. By iterating or repeating fractal-generating equations many times, random outputs create beautiful patterns that are unique, yet recognizable.

Maybe reflecting on some of quiet beauty over the past winter, will remind us of the beauty of the season this year with it's continuous snow cover.  (The snowmobilers seemed to appreciate it…)

As "winter" comes to an end astronomically speaking, reminiscing with some of my favorite shots of winter of 2014 taken at nearby High Cliff Stat Park by our son, Bryan.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St Patrick's Day

St. Patrick’s Day, the saint’s religious feast day, is celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. St. Patrick used the shamrock in the 5th century to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as he introduced Christianity to Ireland. The original Irish shamrock is said by many to be white clover (Trifolium repens), a common lawn weed originally native to Ireland. It is a vigorous, rhizomatous, stem-rooting perennial with trifoliate leaves. Occasionally, a fourth leaflet will appear, making a "four-leaf clover," thought to bring good luck.

Oxalis plants are small house plants, native to South Africa. Oxalis house plants have three leaflets on a single stem, and small, delicate white flowers with five petals. Place oxalis near the window and keep soil moist, but not waterlogged. Oxalis leaves open during the day, and at night or on a gloomy day they clamp down to the stalk like miniature umbrellas. 

St. Patrick’s Day falls during the Christian season of Lent.  The Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived on St Patrick's Day, so people would dance, drink, and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

Like many of today's St. Patrick’s Day traditions here in the United States, it turns out corned beef and cabbage is the result of transformation and reinterpretation of traditions imported from the Ireland.  Irish immigrants brought traditional foods with them to the United States, including soda bread and Irish stew. The preferred meat was pork, particularly Irish bacon, a lean, smoked pork loin similar to Canadian bacon. In the United States, pork was more expensive so Irish immigrants began cooking beef. Members of the Irish working class in New York City frequented Jewish delis and lunch carts, where they discovered corned beef. Cured and cooked much like Irish bacon, it was seen as a tasty and cheaper alternative to pork. And cabbage offered a more cost-effective alternative to potatoes. Cooked in the same pot, the spiced, salty beef flavored the plain cabbage.

Reuben sandwiches made with corned beef have become a  family tradition on March 17 each year in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, being preferred over the traditional corned beef served with cabbage. 

Reuben sandwiches

8 slices rye or pumpernickel bread
1/2 c.  Thousand Island dressing
1 lb.  corned beef, thinly sliced
8 slices Swiss cheese (Jarlsberg preferred)
1 c.  sauerkraut (Bavarian style with caraway seeds preferred)
 butter or margarine, softened

Spread 4 slices of bread with Thousand Island dressing.  Layer each slice with 1/4 lb. corned beef, 2 slices of Swiss cheese, and 2 T. of drained sauerkraut.  Spread remaining 4 slices of bread with Thousand Island dressing and place dressing-side down on top of the slices with sauerkraut.  (Some variations on this recipe call for spreading Dijon or coarse-grain prepared mustard on 1 slice of bread and dressing on the other.)  Melt butter in a large non-stick skilled over medium-high heat.  Place sandwiches in pan when butter begins to sizzle and grill 3-5 minutes until golden brown.  Turn sandwiches over and continue to grill 3-5 minutes until cheese is melted. (Alternatively, spread softened butter or margarine on outer surfaces of both sides of sandwiches.  Broil or grill slowly 3-5 minutes until cheese melts and bread browns.)

Thousand Island Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. tomato ketchup
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped (opt.)
2 T. sweet pickle relish
2 T. minced fresh onion
1 t. Worcestershire sauce or prepared
horseradish (opt.)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Stir all ingredients together in small bowl until well blended.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

So, what exactly is "corned beef".  Alton Brown of the Food Network provides the following instructions for brining beef:

Corned Beef

2   qts.      water
1    c.        kosher salt
1/2 c.        brown sugar
2    T.       saltpeter
1               cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
1    t.         mustard seeds
1    t.         black peppercorns
8   whole  cloves
8   whole  allspice berries
12 whole  juniper berries
2               bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 t.         ground ginger
2    lbs.      ice
1    4-5 lb. beef brisket, trimmed
1    small   onion, quartered
1    large    carrot, coarsely chopped
1    stalk    celery, coarsely chopped

Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, saltpeter, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine.
After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water by 1-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

Over the years many symbols came to be included in St Patrick's Day festivities reflective of Ireland's folklore, culture, and national identity including ethnic foods, shamrocks, leprechauns, and wearing green.

In Irish folklore, leprechauns were shoemakers who hid treasure in pots at the end of rainbows, or scattered them around in mountains, forests, or rocks.  The sound of the mischievous fairy's shoe hammer was said to entice humans searching for the elusive pot of gold, which would ultimately be snatched away in an act of leprechaun trickery.

As Irish immigrants spread out over the United States, regions developed their own traditions. Chicago’s annual dyeing of the Chicago River green started in 1962. City pollution-control workers using dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges, began a unique tradition of releasing green vegetable dye into the river, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Closer to home, St Patrick's Day parades are held in a number of Wisconsin communities, including Fon du Lac on the south side of Lake Winnebago.

And, if you ever happen to be in San Francisco, on St Patrick's Day (or any other day, for that matter), stop at the Buena Vista Cafe, at the Powell-Hyde Cable Car's last stop in Fisherman's Wharf, for their famous Irish Coffee.  Their Irish Coffee recipe, served since 1952, was developed in attempts to recreate the Irish Coffee served at the Shannon Airport in Ireland.

Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, celebrated on March 17 in 2014

In 2014, Holi (also known as Dol Jatra, Basantotsav), the Hindu festival of colors, will be celebrated on March 17. Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter season, on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalguna.  Holi celebrations begin on the eve of the festival with bonfires and prayers. On the day of Holi, people throw colored powder and liquids at each other.
Holi is observed with great fanfare by Hindus all over the world. Holi celebrations are particularly riotous in India as social rules are relaxed. Many people consume bhang, an intoxicating drink made from the female cannabis plant. Social barriers are broken as people of all ages, genders, castes, and wealth gather together and celebrate the festival.

I recently enjoyed a historical novel by Shona Patel who draws upon her experiences growing up in India as the daughter of an Assam tea planter during the tumultuous years after World War II in writing her debut novel, TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY.  It tells the tale of Layla, a young woman who fears she is astrologically doomed never to marry and Manik, a man whose education and arranged marriage seem to have him destined for success. But Manik chooses instead to enter the colonial and sequestered world of British tea plantations, becoming the first Indian tea planter, determined to marry Layla and bring her to join him in Assam.  But this colonial world is at a tipping point as tectonic political shifts rock the tea industry and Layla and Manik find themselves caught in a perilous racial divide that threatens their very lives.

India was a colony of Great Britain for two hundred years until after World War II when India sought independence. Tea plantations had been owned and operated by the English since the early 1800s, and Indians were hired only for manual labor. Shona's father was among the first Indians to be accepted by one of the largest tea companies as its first assistant manager. 

Long before the commercial production of tea started in India in the late 1830s, the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of north east Assam.  In 1823 and 1831, Robert Bruce and his brother Charles, an employee of the East India Company, confirmed that the tea plant was indeed a native of the Assam area and sent seeds and specimen plants to officials at the newly established Botanical Gardens in Calcutta.  Over 80,000 tea seed collected in China were planted in the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta and nurtured until they were sturdy enough to travel 1000 miles to the newly prepared tea gardens. But the Chinese seedlings struggled to survive in the intense Assam heat, subsequent plantings were made with seedlings from the native tea bush that had been flourishing in the area.
Today, India is one of the world's largest producers of tea with 13,000 gardens and a workforce of more than 2 million people. Assam’s almost 1,000 plantations produce around one-sixth of the world’s tea.
Plantation workers brought to what is now the northeastern state of Assam from central India by the British in the mid-19th century, have been treated as  little more than indentured servants, even after the British Raj gave way to Indian democracy. The Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School released a report on Amalgamated’s operations, which employ more than 30,000 people on 24 plantations in Assam and neighboring West Bengal, painting a grim portrait of life on the tea plantation.  Despite promises made in 2008 when Amalgamated  took over the plantation to transform it into a model for sustainable and responsible labor policy through an employee shareholding program, the report detailed dilapidated and crowded housing, hazardous water and sanitation conditions, the denial of basic benefits like health care for workers’ dependents, widespread disregard for occupational safety measures, and pitifully low wages.
 Tea worker’s rights groups say the Plantations Labor Act has perpetuated the feudal system created by British companies when they first developed the plantations. Today’s plantation workers descend almost exclusively from tribal populations transplanted in the colonial era, having inherited jobs from their parents. The manual labor they perform has changed little in 150 years.

In February 2013, three local NGOs, filed a complaint to the World Bank Group’s Compliance Advisor/ Ombudsman (CAO), raising concerns about inhumane labor and working conditions on the plantations.   The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group, invested $7.8 million in a project to enable the setting up of a company, Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), to acquire and manage 24 tea plantations in northeast India.  IFC owns approximately 20% of APPL, and Tata Global Beverages, a subsidiary of the Tata Group, owns just under 50% of the company.  Tata Global Beverages owns and markets the Tetley brand, making Tata Global Beverages the second largest player in the global tea market.  The Complaint cites long working hours, inadequate compensation, poor hygiene and health conditions, coercion and pressure of plantation workers, and lack of freedom of association, in violation of the IFC’s Performance Standard 2 (PS2).