Saturday, March 30, 2013

Garden Journal Update

Here's How My Garden's Doing ...
Squash ~ Harvested the season's first squash this week.  The other three plants have several good sized fruits as well.
Tomatoes ~ The three steak tomato and four cherry tomato plants have set fruit. Our recent cold snaps did the new seedlings in, but I will be starting more soon.
Carrots ~ I didn't think my carrot patch was going to make it, but I've got dozens of nice looking tops, so my carrot-loving daughter and I are keeping our fingers crossed for a harvest after all.

Strawberries ~ The strawberry plants have
pretty much finished producing fruit for this
season.  I want to plant 20 more in October.
broccoli in back, bush bean,
lettuce, cauliflower in front

Broccoli & Cauliflower ~ All the Broccoli and Cauliflower planted in January are forming heads. One of the Cauliflower heads is almost the size of a baseball.   All are very healthy, and the broccolis planted in February are coming along nicely.

Lettuce ~ All the lettuce varieties are perfectly healthy and thriving.  The more I harvest, the bigger they get.  The leaves are delicious, thanks to our much cooler than usual weather.
Garden Beans ~ The bush beans are healthy with no sign of the fungal gnats and I was able to pick a few more yesterday. I did not plant nearly enough this season. I'm going to sow more this week; the deadline is April, or I'll have to wait until September.

Peas ~ The snap peas are not happy and will probably not make it. I will sow more this week and see what happens.

Cucumbers ~ Two plants have baby cucumbers growing.
Melons ~ The cantaloupe and watermelon seeds have germinated. They should be ready to transplant in 2-3 weeks. In the meantime, I will be preparing the bed. Melons are heavy feeders and need very rich soil.
New ~ This week I will be direct-sowing:

Lettuce 'Black Seeded Simpson'
Garden beans 'Bush, Blue Lake 274'
Snap peas 'Cascadia Sugar Snap'
Green onions 'Evergreen Bunching'
Radishes 'Champion'
Okra 'Emerald'

 Jill A. Tobin 03/30/2013 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Pelargoniums and Geraniums

Members of the Plant Family Geraniaceae

Botanical name: Pelargonium hortorum

Garden Geraniums (sometimes called zonal geraniums), sold at local plant nurseries are actually Pelargoniums.  They are perennials bearing numerous bold, beautiful clusters of hot pink, deep red, salmon, or white flowers, with vibrant deep green leaves which are equally as pretty. 

In most places, Garden Geraniums bloom from April to mid-May and are used as annuals.  Because we rarely experience below-freezing temperatures, in Florida they bloom almost year round.  Cover or bring plants indoors when temperatures fall below 45°F.   

 Garden Geraniums are easy to grow, and are not very picky about soil type, but it must be well-draining.  They are perfect for containers or planting directly in the ground.  They can also be grown indoors with at least four hours of direct sunlight.

 They require minimal watering except during hot, dry spells, and providing good air circulation will prevent powdery mildew, and other diseases.  Geraniums thrive in full sun, but will also do well in partial shade.  Most geraniums are native to southern Africa, and are best suited to very warm climates. However, some are hardy to Zones 7-8.

 They can be propagated by taking cuttings in summer, and by division in spring or fall, and can grow to 3’ in height.

Here’s a brief history on how the botanical name confusion began:  Pelargoniums and Geraniums belong to the Plant Family Geraniaceae.  Originally, they also belonged to the same Plant Genus Geranium.  Carl Linnaeus switched some plants from the Geranium Genus to a new Genus: Pelargonium.  This new plant name just never caught on, and so Pelargoniums continue to be called “Geraniums”. 


Botanical name:  Pelargonium domesticum

Scented-Leaf Geraniums are another type of Pelargonium.  Most are succulent, perennial shrubs in their native habitat.  Scented-Leaf Geraniums are not usually grown for their flowers, and leaves come in a variety of shapes and sizes from velvety, to curly, to thick and hairy.  Their leaves can be very pretty and come in a range of shades from gray to lime green.

Scented-Leaf Geraniums are only hardy in Zones 10 and 11, but can be grown as houseplants if provided plenty of sunlight.  Allow plants to dry out between watering.  Most varieties are about 2-3’ tall, and 1-3’ wide.  There are also a few dwarf varieties. 

Scents, which come from the leaves, include Apple, Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Lemon, Peppermint, and Rose, among others.  Sandy, well-draining soil is preferred because a soil too rich will minimize their scent. 

Scented-Leaf Geraniums rarely have problems with pests or disease.  Plants are edible, and can be used to add flavor to foods, especially jellies and other sugary treats such as ice cream, butter, or tea.  Leaves also lend well to making potpourri.  Additionally, leaf oils have been found to have a relaxing affect, and are used in aromatherapy.

The tuberous roots of some Pelargoniums have long been used for medicinal purposes.  Most commonly, to treat intestinal ailments such as Chron’s Disease.  Other uses include relieving cold and flu symptoms, kidney problems (it is a diuretic), and wound care. 


Botanical name:  Pelargonium peltatum

Ivy-Leaf Geraniums are often used in hanging baskets due to their trailing habit.  They otherwise bear a striking resemblance to Garden Geraniums, except for their leaf shape, and flowers are not quite as showy.  Caring for Ivy-Leaf Geraniums is the same as for the Garden Geraniums and Scented-Leaf Geraniums.  Pelargoniums and Geraniums are very low maintenance plants.

Botanical name:  Pelargonium x domesticum

Regal Geraniums are often referred to as Martha Washington Geraniums because they were arguably the most popular variety in the 1800’s.  The primary characteristic differentiating them from Garden Geraniums (Pelargonium hortorum), is their flowers have a more pansy-like shape.  Like the other Pelargoniums, Regal Geraniums are beautiful, and very easy to care for, rarely affected by pests or diseases.  They require well-draining soil, and are somewhat drought tolerant.


Botanical name:  Geranium spp.
(spp. stands for “species plural” – the Genus is Geranium, not Pelargonium)

True Geraniums are often referred to as Cranesbill Geraniums because seed pods are said to resemble a crane’s bill.  Other common names include Perennial Geraniums, Hardy Geraniums, and Woody Geraniums.

True Geraniums are spreading, but not invasive, perennials.  Most have attractive, toothed foliage, and cup shaped flowers.  The most common colors are blue and purple, but can also have magenta, pink, or white flowers.

They grow well in Zones 4 - 8, and are three inches to two feet tall.  The most commonly grown type is a dense ground cover.  The leaves are usually serrated or lobed, and 1” flowers on thin stems attract butterflies and bees.

As with Pelargoniums, True Geraniums require little to no maintenance once established.  Dividing plants will keep them from spreading, and shearing will encourage new blooms while keeping plants neat and attractive.

Good air circulation is recommended.  High humidity may cause mildew and rust, and slugs can attack young plants. 

Article Written by Jill A. Tobin, 03/29/2013



Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Adventure Every Child Will Love

Instead of going to the park this afternoon, Take your child on a Garden Adventure!  It will be a fun, memorable learning experience.    

 Visit your favorite local plant nursery and tell your child that today, they get to buy their very own plant.  It can be strawberries, tomatoes, or flowers that attract butterflies.  Or they can choose an indoor plant like lucky bamboo or a peace lily to keep in their room. 
 Consider guiding them toward something that will keep their attention.  Because my four year old loves looking for ripe strawberries, being responsible for watering the plants and checking for weeds is fun.

 Explain to your child that the plant they choose is just for them and they’ll need to learn how to take care of it.  Read the care instructions on different plant labels with your child and find out where they want to plant it when they get home. 

 Start with the basics:
        ü  Sunlight – Some plants like to be in the sun while others need shade. 
       ü  Food – Plants need food and water to stay healthy, just like we do.  Help your child choose soil that has the right nutrients for their plant. 
      ü  Water and Air – Explain that both are important.  Children get excited and want to be proud of how well they can take care of their plant.  From their point of view, more is always better.  Understanding that their new plant will drown if given too much water will help your child restrain from overwatering it. 

 If their new plant will be kept inside or on the porch, let your child pick out a container for it.  There are many colors and shapes to choose from, but it would be a lot more fun to decorate a plain pot with markers, stickers, glitter, or ribbons.

Weeds steal food and water, and plants don’t like to be too hot or cold.  Mulch can include shells, rocks, sticks, leaves, marbles, or pieces of foam.  If your child is artistic, they can paint their own design on a thick piece of cardboard (use only non-toxic paint).  Let your child use their imagination and be creative.

Have fun!  The more excited your child is about their project, the more likely they will be to take care of their new plant.  You will both be very proud, and your child will remember the things they learned.  It’s these types of bonding experiences that can inspire a life-long joy of gardening, and a love for nature.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Starting Cantaloupe and Watermelon Indoors

Yesterday morning I started cantaloupe ('Sierra Gold') and watermelon ('Sugar Baby') seeds indoors. 
Sowing melon seeds indoors is generally discouraged because they do not transplant well.  However, if you are careful not to disturb the roots your plant should be fine. 
Peat pots work really well.  Because they are biodegradable, seedlings can be planted without removing them from the container they were started in.
The roots will grow through the pot as advertised, but it takes a little more work for them to do so because the peat pot has to decompose a little first. 
I have had better success with cutting or tearing off the bottom of the pot before planting it in the ground. 
Water in seedlings as soon as they are transplanted, and keep the soil slightly moist for the first few days.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Garden Journal

Suggestions and comments are always appreciated! Share your experiences with us :D

03/19/2013 -
~ Strawberries benefit from being planted with beans, peas, borage, garlic, lettuce, onions, spinach and thyme. Avoid Brassicas, fennel, and Kohlrabi. 
~ Strawberry plants are getting scorched by the sun, so I have decided to relocate them to a garden in the front yard and interplant them with perennial peanuts. There they will receive 6 hours of morning sun and afternoon shade.

 ~ Harvested 4 bush beans from a third plant. They are hard to see and I missed them yesterday.
Because I have no experience preserving vegetables, I experimented by blanching and freezing the ones from today (yesterday's were really good raw). Here's the method I used:
  1. Bring water to a full boil in a large pot
  2. Place beans in fryer basket; submerge into pot of boiling water
  3. Boil for two minutes
  4. Remove basket and rinse to stop cooking process
  5. Blot dry; put vegetables in ziplock freezer bag
  6. removing as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn
  7. Label, date, and seal the bag
  8. Store in freezer at 0' for up to 12 months
~ Squash plant has 7 developing 1-4" fruits
~ Three 'Better Boy Hybrid', and four cherry tomato (unsure of variety), plants are flowering and should start developing fruit in 2-4 weeks (sow date: 02/09/2013).
~ Transplanted five more 'Better Boy Hybrid' seedlings because I haven't had much luck with steak tomatoes in the past due to pests, birds, and diseases.
~ Cucumber plants ('Marketmore 76'- Sow Date: 02/09/2013) are especially healthy and doing extremely well. They have produced several large, beautiful flowers.

New! Garden Journal

I started a gardening journal today so this first post contains several entries. Share your experiences with us so we can all learn from one another! I'll posts results of my experiences as I go.

03/18/2013 -
~ Harvested 9 green beans (Blue lake 274 - sow date: 02/09/2013) from 2 plants (would have been more to harvest if fungus gnats had not become an issue). I will be planting more.
~ Research indicates bush beans should be picked when they are 4 inches in length (minimum) for good quality, but before they get lumpy. If you keep them picked, they should keep flowering. It may depend on the variety, but if you can avoid diseases, pests, and bugs, you can keep them going until frost. Harvest when plants are dry to prevent diseases. Another gardener says they should be harvested when the beans are the diameter of a pencil. An 80ft row produces 2.25 bushels.
~ Pole beans, snow peas, and sugar snap peas can also be grown in containers; 25 plants can be sown in a square 12"x12" pot. 1)Place container in full sun. 2)Plant 2 seeds per hole every 2". 3)Cover with clear plastic to keep soil moisture even until germination 4)Thin to one plant every 2"
~ 1 sugar snap pea pod from one plant almost ready to harvest (Cascadia Sugar Snap - sow date: 02/09/2013). I will be planting more of these also. One plant died because, I believe, it was not staked properly. Just learned that plants have to be tied to stake. Tied all plants to stake with cotton string
~ Research indicates pea pods are ready for harvest 50-60 days from sow date; approximately one week after flower starts to die, and new pods should be ready for harvest every 3 days. Look at plants closely as pods are very hard to see (the plant camouflages them really well)

~ My Homemade Insecticidal Soap Recipe:
(other recipes from various gardeners can be found at the bottom)
I have not tried any of them (not even my own before today)

3tbsp Dishsoap
2tbsp Hydrogen Peroxide
1/8tsp ground cinnamon
Combine all in an 32oz spray bottle

~ Used above original recipe 3/18/2013 on entire plants,flowers and all:
Peace lilies (red spider mites or thrips?)
Orchid (red spider mites or thrips?)
Bush beans - 2 in main veg garden (fungus gnats)

~ Sprinkled fresh ground cinnamon straight from the bottle on ground around all plants in main vegetable garden (fungus gnats)

Organic Recipe 1)
1 liter of water,
1/2 liter of alcohol,
100 g* of tobacco (the best is that one sold in pieces, if not possible, use that one from cigarettes),
100 g* of garlic 50 g of hot pepper (chilly).
(* I don´t know the pounds weight – In Brazil our metric unit of weights is “kilogram”)
How to prepare:
- During 5 minutes boil 100 g of tobacco in 1 liter of water (it is necessary to prevent mosaic tobacco virus).
- Once did that wait to the liquid be in normal temperature.
- Cut the garlic and chilly in small pieces (as if you were using for cooking) and join them in the tobacco´s water, mixing also half a liter of alcohol (that one for domestic usage).
- Save this organic mixture in a dark glass bottle (to use when necessary).
- After 3 days, percolate and use it pure, spraying in the regions of the plant where the plagues are.
- Just once is necessary to destroy all the insects etc.
As it is organic, it doesn´t prejudice the plant or our health. A natural protection to our plants!
Greetings from Brazil! José Luiz.

Organic Recipe 2)
10 drops dishsoap
1.8 ml cinnamon extract (about 1/2 tsp.)
2 cups tepid water
adjust ingredients as needed.
This is great for cleaning leaves, bacteria and fungal infections, bug teterrant, and now bug and slug killer!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

MILK - Does It "Do A Body Good?"


A ctritical topic is the link between dairy consumption and hormone dependent cancers (breast, prostate, and testicular).  Consuming "r-BST free" milk/dairy products won't solve the problem because they still contain extremely high hormone levels due to the fact that cows are milked during late stages of pregnancy when hormone levels are at their highest.  The real solution is to either drink skim milk (the hormones are found in milk fat), and/or only consume dairy product from cows that aren't milked during pregnancy.  Buy r-BST free products because, man should not interfere with Mother Nature.



Ganmaa Davaasambuu, a Mongolia-trained medical doctor, a Japan-trained Ph.D. in environmental health, and a current fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study: 'The milk we drink today may not be nature's perfect food.' (Staff photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)

Hormones in milk can be dangerous

By Corydon Ireland
Harvard News Office

Ganmaa Davaasambuu is a physician (Mongolia), a Ph.D. in environmental health (Japan), a fellow (Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study), and a working scientist (Harvard School of Public Health).

On Monday (Dec. 4), she drew on all those roles during a lunchtime talk to most of her fellow fellows.

Ganmaa's topic was lunch-appropriate: the suspected role of cow's milk, cheese, and other dairy products in hormone-dependent cancers. (Those include cancers of the testes, prostate, and breast.)

The link between cancer and dietary hormones - estrogen in particular - has been a source of great concern among scientists, said Ganmaa, but it has not been widely studied or discussed.

The potential for risk is large. Natural estrogens are up to 100,000 times more potent than their environmental counterparts, such as the estrogen-like compounds in pesticides.

"Among the routes of human exposure to estrogens, we are mostly concerned about cow's milk, which contains considerable amounts of female sex hormones," Ganmaa told her audience. Dairy, she added, accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of estrogens consumed.

Part of the problem seems to be milk from modern dairy farms, where cows are milked about 300 days a year. For much of that time, the cows are pregnant. The later in pregnancy a cow is, the more hormones appear in her milk.

Milk from a cow in the late stage of pregnancy contains up to 33 times as much of a signature estrogen compound (estrone sulfate) than milk from a non-pregnant cow.

In a study of modern milk in Japan, Ganmaa found that it contained 10 times more progesterone, another hormone, than raw milk from Mongolia.

In traditional herding societies like Mongolia, cows are milked for human consumption only five months a year, said Ganmaa, and, if pregnant, only in the early stages. Consequently, levels of hormones in the milk are much lower.

"The milk we drink today is quite unlike the milk our ancestors were drinking" without apparent harm for 2,000 years, she said. "The milk we drink today may not be nature's perfect food."

Earlier studies bear out Ganmaa's hypothesis that eating dairy heightens the risk of some cancers.

One study compared diet and cancer rates in 42 counties. It showed that milk and cheese consumption are strongly correlated to the incidence of testicular cancer among men ages 20 to 39. Rates were highest in places like Switzerland and Denmark, where cheese is a national food, and lowest in Algeria and other countries where dairy is not so widely consumed.

Cancer rates linked to dairy can change quickly, said Ganmaa. In the past 50 years in Japan, she said, rising rates of dairy consumption are linked with rising death rates from prostate cancer - from near zero per 100,000 five decades ago to 7 per 100,000 today.

Butter, meat, eggs, milk, and cheese are implicated in higher rates of hormone-dependent cancers in general, she said. Breast cancer has been linked particularly to consumption of milk and cheese.

In another study, rats fed milk show a higher incidence of cancer and develop a higher number of tumors than those who drank water, said Ganmaa.

All this begs the question of the health effects of milk on children. About 75 percent of American children under 12 consume dairy every day, but its health effects on prepubescent bodies is not known - "a good rationale for further study," said Ganmaa, who studies bioactive substances in food and reproductive health disorders.

She and her Harvard colleagues have already conducted two pilot studies.

One compared levels of hormones and growth factors in American milk (whole, whole organic, skim milk, and UHT - ultra-high temperature - milk) to milk from Mongolia. Levels were very low in both American skim and in Mongolian milk.

Another pilot study looked at third-graders in Mongolia. After a month, the hormone levels jumped among the children fed commercial U.S. milk.

Long-term studies are needed to see if any of this is important for children's health. "We don't know what the larger implications are," said Ganmaa. (The National Institutes of Health is now reviewing Ganmaa and her team's application to fund a two-year study.)

Meanwhile, Ganmaa is investigating 22 years of data from Harvard's Nurses Health Study, looking for a potential link between dairy and endometrial cancer.

But she is cautious about the implications of her studies of cancer rates and dairy consumption.

For one, said Ganmaa, "milk is a food of great complexity" and contains high levels of beneficial nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D. (Mongolian children, who drink a third less dairy than their American counterparts, have low levels of vitamin D.)

"The hormonal effects of milk are very new," said Ganmaa during questions from her Radcliffe audience. Until more research is done, she said, "I'd like to keep our heads low."

But steps can be taken now to reduce the amount of hormones in milk, said Ganmaa. Because hormones reside in milk fat, drinking skim milk is one option. Getting calcium from green leafy vegetables is another.

Modes of milk production can also change, said Ganmaa. She suggested milking only nonpregnant cows (the Mongolian model), or not milking cows when they are in the later stages of pregnancy, when hormone levels are particularly high.

"The dairy industry in the United States is not going to change in any radical way," said artist Shimon Attie, the Mildred Londa Weisman Fellow at Radcliffe - and a former dairyman.

But in the meantime, he had a suggestion for the coffee setting at future Radcliffe Fellows luncheons: a pot of nondairy creamer.

Radcliffe sponsors 50 fellows a year - scientists, artists, writers, and scholars of every stripe. Three times a month, one of them gives a private luncheon talk for other fellows.


Copyright 2006 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
The above article was copied exactly except the original contains no bold print - I put words in bold to highlight the information that I felt would be most important to the general public.

GMO's upset the balance of our ecosystems, and the bugs will become resistant to the Bt.  The focus should be on "companion planting" - flowers nearby attract beneficial insects, and plants with a strong scent (onions, garlic, peppers, mint, etc) naturally repel unwanted pests, and/or use "trap crops" to draw pests to a more desirable plant, steering them away from your main crop.  My quote and motto is: "If God didn't make it that way, then it wasn't meant to be that way".  Organic gardening can be trying, but there are many organic pesticides such as Pyrethrum which comes from African Chrysanthemums.  Planting mums in the garden has been used for pest control for centuries.  Organic food can also be expensive, but compared to potential health care costs, will actually save you money.  Food for thought...