Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Let's Talk Crock

Compost crocks, that is.  But first, let me talk a little bit about Cook's Illustrated.  I love that magazine and their website.  It's my go-to site when I want a good recipe or I want to know why something is cooked the way it is or the best of a particular kitchen product.  I get a weekly email from them showcasing recipes and cooking techniques and product reviews.  Recently, the product review was about kitchen compost pails/crocks.

Here's a link to the entire review, which was originally published in their magazine in May, 2011.  I was interested because a few years ago I purchased this compost pail from Gardeners' Supply:

from Gardeners' Supply
If you read the Cook's Illustrated review, you'll see that this one is "recommended," but barely, due to the shiny surface.  Frankly, I haven't had any problems.  I just wash it after I empty it into my compost pile.  I'm constantly amazed by how much I jam into this pail!  And since my compost pile is not conveniently located in my back yard, I spend a good amount of time transporting the scraps.  So I'm not sure what the carbon trade-off is...  Having said that, it was mighty satisfying to spread that compost over my garden this spring!

This was the winner from the Cook's Illustrated review:

Exaco Trading
I will say that at $18.50 is was quite a bit less expensive than mine, which is listed now for $44.95.  Aesthetically, I prefer mine, but that's a personal preference.  I also sprung for the biodegradable bags and I won't do that again.  They just didn't degrade fast enough for me and I've ended up dumping the scraps into the compost pile and putting the bag in the garbage.  Again, personal preference.

What's your composting routine?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thoreau and the Weather

from the New York Times

Continuing our discussion about the weather, the New York Times had a very interesting article last Thursday about bloom times in Concord, Mass.  It seems that Henry David Thoreau (remember him, Walden Pond?) kept meticulous records about the first flowers, leaves, and migratory birds of spring.  In all, he kept track of over 300 species!  His records provide us with evidence of a widespread shift toward an earlier spring.  Not all species are early, but some now appear as much as three weeks before they did in the 1850's. 

The authors of the article tell us that it's not the species that are blooming earlier that should concern us, it's the ones that are not appearing at all.  You can read the entire article here.

Does anyone know of a similar record of first flowers, leaves, and migratory birds of spring for the Memphis area?

Monday, April 23, 2012

This Crazy Weather

We've been scratching our heads about the weather, haven't we?  A warm winter, with below-average precipitation and a spring that seems warmer than normal so far makes us wonder what this summer will bring. 

Here's what the Farmers' Almanac says about the rest of spring:

APRIL 2012: temperature 66° (3° above avg.); precipitation 5.5" (1" above avg.); Apr 1-2: Sunny, warm; Apr 3-10: Scattered t-storms, very warm; Apr 11-19: Scattered t-storms, warm; Apr 20-22: Sunny, cool; Apr 23-30: A few t-storms, cool.
MAY 2012: temperature 70° (1° below avg.); precipitation 4.5" (0.5" below avg.); May 1-5: Sunny, warm; May 6-11: T-storms, then sunny, cool; May 12-21: Rain, then sunny, quite pleasant; May 22-24: T-storms, warm; May 25-31: Scattered t-storms, seasonable.

Interestingly, here are the high, low, and average temperatures for April 19 for the previous 10 years:

                                High                   Low                      Average
2011                        87.1                    73.0                        77.8
2010                        71.1                    52.0                        60.3
2009                        73.9                    57.9                        64.6
2008                        73.4                    46.4                        57.2
2007                        71.6                    51.8                        62.9
2006                        91.9                    68.0                        79.9
2005                        81.0                    59.0                        70.5
2004                        80.1                    60.1                        70.4
2003                        81.0                    54.0                        71.2
2002                        88.0                    68.0                        76.8

and 2012  

So, what's your definition of "average?"

Friday, April 20, 2012

Update from PAR CVG

I'm going to cheat, since I'm on a short vacation, and just send you to the CVG blog...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Plant A Row for the Hungry

We post a lot about Plant A Row for the Hungry, aka PAR, on this blog. That's because the Memphis Area Master Gardeners conceived of, developed, and maintain three gardens that have earned this designation: PAR Shelby Farms, PAR Davies Plantation, and PAR Collierville Victory Garden.


"Earn this designation" is not an idle phrase. PAR started in 1995 in Anchorage, Alaska when the writer of a garden column there asked his readers to plant a row of vegetables in their gardens to donate to a local soup kitchen. This writer, Jeff Lowenfels, was a former president of the Garden Writers Association. The Anchorage program was so successful that he got GWA to introduce it nationally.

Over the next five years, a million pounds of produce were donated. It only took two years to reach the next million. Since then, over a million pounds of food are donated every year.

The PAR program is now administered by the Garden Writers Association Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity. The Foundation assists in the formation of new PAR gardens and tracks the pounds of produce donated each year.

MAMG is proud to be a part of this effort to alleviate hunger in America. In 2011, our three gardens donated a total of 8,542 pounds of fresh produce. According to the GWA, each pound of donated produce supplements four meals. So our contribution helped complete 10,168 meals! Through March of this year our total is 414 pounds - and we're just getting started!

Plan to come out to the PAR garden at Davies Plantation on June 2 - it's on our Through Our Garden Gates garden tour. It's a beautiful garden and we'll even be serving lunch!

MAMG members donate hundreds of hours to PAR every year. The organization commits significant monies annually. You can help. Send your tax-deductible contribution to:

Memphis Area Master Gardeners (PAR)*
Agricenter International, Wing B, Box 21
7777Walnut Grove Road
Memphis, TN 38120
Help us help the hungry.

*Memphis Area Master Gardeners is a 501(c)(3) organization and contributions to it are tax deductible.

The entrance to PAR Davies

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Baby Birdhouses

I was walking my dog this morning and saw these wonderful teeny tiny birdhouses. Naturally, I didn't have my camera with me (when will I learn?) so I went back later and got this picture. There was no car in front so I thought I was safe and went right up in the porch. Was I embarrassed when the homeowner walked out the door with an inquiring look on her face! She couldn't have been nicer, though, and told me that there was actually a nest in one of them. I asked where she got them and she said at a garage sale, but she has seen them at Michael's.  You can Google "miniature birdhouses" and find lots of sources.

In my ramblings through the web I found this charming blog post showing how to turn the little birdhouses into a fairy village!

And this was the yard across the street from the bird houses. I couldn't resist another spring photo. Thankfully, there really was no one home here!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Second Spring

Spring has come and gone, it seems, in Memphis. After the warmest March on record, the azaleas are gone, the redbuds and dogwoods have finished blooming, tulips - well, those were over in a flash. Now our many trees are leafed out, gorgeously green. Most of us have even planted our tomatoes!

That's why it was such a shock to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina on Sunday. At first I thought there had been some major disaster that killed all the trees. Then I realized: they haven't budded yet! It's still early spring here!

This is the difference between an elevation of 400' (Memphis) and 3600' (NC mountains.). Wouldn't it be nice if we could just follow our favorite season? I'd journey northward til I ran out of spring, then turn around and trace my steps backward to stay in autumn. What would you do?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Best Advice for Gardeners - New and Old

This weekend we had the perfect trifecta of plant sales in Memphis: Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis Botanic Garden and Lichterman Nature Center. There were several smaller sales on the area as well. All this means that lots of folks hauled home lots of new plants. Fun, fun, fun!!!

Now I bet you think I'm going to tell you about putting your new babies in the optimal spot in your garden. Or how to fertilizer. Or correct watering procedures. You would be wrong.
The first thing you should do is get out your label maker, round up your plant markers, and make a label for every plant.

Oh, you think you'll remember their names, don't you? How could you ever forget that beautiful Hosta 'Guacamole'? Or the fabulous Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'? Well, trust me, you will. I can't tell you how many wonderful hostas in my garden are just that: wonderful hostas. I have no idea what their names are and I'd LOVE to know. I even bought a huge book with lots of pictures, thinking I could compare the plant with the picture and identify them. Maybe someone else could, but I failed completely. (Please, if someone can do it, please help!)

So if you don't have a label maker, go get one. They're not expensive. Get some outdoor-friendly tape. As for plant markers, I like the cap-style markers from Paw Paw Everlast Label Company, but you can check their website for other styles or maybe find some locally.

You will be so glad that you followed this advice.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Flower Vases to Make

I keep going back to the Lowe's Creative Living site.  Maybe we should get them to sponsor us!  Anyway...

Are you always on the lookout for vases to display the fab flowers from your garden?  I am.  And these caught my eye because I love to highlight just a couple of perfect blooms.

Another DIY, instructions here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cooking with Herbs: Mint

Mint is more than tea and mojitos.  It adds a refreshing note to lots of dishes.  Here's one that I made for dinner Tuesday night.  The recipe is from Cooking Light and I've made it several times.  It's delicious!  You can add a protein for a one-dish meal.  I usually add chicken, but this time I added ham that I had leftover from Easter.

This is the Cooking Light photo - I took a picture of my finished salad, but it didn't look this good!

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Dates, and Orange


  • Salad:
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh orange sections (about 1 large orange) 
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 pound (2-inch) slices asparagus, steamed and chilled
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, diced
  • Dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • Mint sprigs (optional)
  1. Preparation
  2. 1. To prepare salad, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add white onion to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Add quinoa to pan; sauté 5 minutes. Add 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Transfer quinoa mixture to a large bowl. Add orange and next 5 ingredients (through jalapeño); toss gently to combine.
  3. 2. To prepare dressing, combine juice and next 4 ingredients (through garlic) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Pour dressing over salad; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with chopped mint. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

PAR Davies - so pretty and fresh in the rain!

We didn't get to do very much out at PAR Davies this morning.  An early rain came through and freshened everything up!  Something tells me we'll be remembering this rain come July! The brussel sprouts still haven't started forming, but the cabbage looks like it's about to head up.

Lettuce and spinach were harvested on March 29 and taken to the YWCA Women's Shelter Office on Highland - our first harvest of the year!

Don't forget that PAR Davies is going to be on MAMG's Through Our Garden Gates tour this year.  This event takes place on Saturday, June 2 and is not to be missed!

Check out PAR-CVG last Saturday!

More pretty pictures from pretty PAR:
View from the red bench

Lettuce growing in gutters!

Pretty plants all in a row - Plant A Row, that is

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Purple LabLab aka Hyacinth Bean

Family: Papilionaceae (pa-pil-ee-uh-NAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Lablab (LAB-lab) (Info)
Species: purpureus (pur-PUR-ee-us) (Info)

Synonym:Dolichos lablab

For some reason I'm enamored of the Hyacinth Bean.  I've grown it once and it was stellar.  Fast, pretty flowers, interesting fruit.  I'm not interested in eating any part of it, but according to EatTheWeeds:

The leaves are more than 28% protein, 12% fiber, 7% minerals and 7% fat, eaten freshed or dried. They are an excellent source of iron and magnesium as well as a good source of phosphorus, zinc, copper, and thiamin. Beyond that, sprouts are edible and the cooked root is full of edible starch.

There's controversy about whether the seeds are edible, so do some research and decide for yourself.  The general consensus seems to be that they are, if they are prepared correctly to leech out the toxins.  Again, EatTheWeeds has a good discussion.

I just like the purple and green!  It's on my list for this year - anyone have seeds to share?

Vines and Climbers

4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)
6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)
8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)
10-12 ft. (3-3.6 m)
12-15 ft. (3.6-4.7 m)

9-12 in. (22-30 cm)

Not Applicable

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

Seed is poisonous if ingested

Bloom Color:

Bloom Time:
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall
Mid Fall

Grown for foliage

Other details:
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Flowers are fragrant
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Self-sows freely; deadhead if you do not want volunteer seedlings next season

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
From seed; direct sow after last frost
From seed; germinate in a damp paper towel

Seed Collecting:
Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stellar Pink Dogwood

Stellar Pink® Dogwood (Cornus  Xrutgerensis  Stellar Pink®), is a disease resistant cross  between Cornus florida  and Cornus kousa developed by Rutgers University Plant Biology and Pathology Professor Dr. Elwin Orton. This sterile hybrid was introduced in the mid 1990’s after twenty five years of research. The Stellar Pink® Dogwood is one of six in the Stellar Series®.   According to Michael Dirr, “ The six hybrids of the Stellar Series® represent Rutgers University’s answer to dogwood decline.” The Stellar cultivars are highly resistant to the dogwood borer as well as significantly resistant to powdery mildew and dogwood anthracnose. 

Dogwood anthracnose, a severe threat to dogwoods, was first seen in the southeast during the 1970s. The Flowering Dogwood, (Cornus florida) is particularly susceptible to this disease.  Dr. Alan Windham, professor of entomology and plant pathology at the University of Tennessee, identifies dogwood anthracnose as a potentially fatal fungal disease. On dogwoods it causes angular brown leaf spots from tissue death as well as cankers, and twig dieback in late spring to early summer. Brown spots may also appear on the bracts.  It can lead to defoliation which causes tree decline or death. Trees in heavily shaded damp areas are at increased risk of decline from dogwood anthracnose.

Plant the fast growing Stellar Pink® Dogwood in well-drained soil. The optimum planting time is late fall or early winter. Make sure it receives weekly watering for the first year. This disease resistant, low maintenance tree adapts to partial or full sun. Less pyramidal than c. kousa and c. florida, it grows to 25 feet in height and width. The soft pink rounded bracts appear later than those of the c. florida.  Fall foliage is a vivid burgundy red. 

By Jan Castillo, MG’05

Friday, April 6, 2012

Garden Poetry

From The Writer's Almanac, March 31, 2012

The good, the bad and the inconvenient

Gardening is often a measured cruelty:
what is to live and what is to be torn
up by its roots and flung on the compost
to rot and give its essence to new soil.

It is not only the weeds I seize.                      
go down the row of new spinach—
their little bright Vs crowding—
and snatch every other, flinging

their little bodies just as healthy,
just as sound as their neighbors
but judged, by me, superfluous.
We all commit crimes too small

for us to measure, the ant soldiers
we stomp, whose only aim was to
protect, to feed their vast family.
It is I who decide which beetles

are "good" and which are "bad"
as if each is not whole in its kind.
We eat to live and so do they,
the locusts, the grasshoppers,

the flea beetles and aphids and slugs.
By bad I mean inconvenient. Nothing
we do is simple, without consequence
and each act is shadowed with death.
"The good, the bad and the inconvenient" by Marge Piercy, from The Crooked Inheritance. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Let's Talk about Trellises

I love trellises.  There's something about an architectural element in the midst of a garden, so organic, that pleases me.  Recently I downloaded the Lowe's Creative Living app for my iPad and I was scrolling through the spring issue and saw this DIY trellis:

Is this not fantastic?  I'm a little challenged tool-wise, but I bet a lot of you could whip this up in no time.  The instructions are here.

If you're not into DIY, there are plenty of RAD (Real American Dollar) alternatives.  Barb Culligan turned me on to these at Terra Trellis.

Decisions, decisions!

This isn't a trellis, but it does continue the COLOR theme that seems to be part of what's going on here:

Also a DIY project from Lowe's!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

PAR - Davies Progress

The Tuesday team prettied the place up yesterday.  We laid straw down the paths, weeded, and de-cluttered.  We discussed the plant progress.  Our cool weather plants, cauliflower, broccoli, etc, are not "making."  Too hot, we concluded.  How are these plants doing in your garden?

Here are some photos.

Jamie and Virginia weeding
Anne spreading straw
Hoes are good, right, Kay?
And a bonus for reading to the end - gorgeous irises in bloom in the woods at the Manor House.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ghost Sycamore

Ghost Sycamore
In the winter forest, the striking white form of the towering sycamore makes it easy to identify. Because of this distinguishing feature, the Cherokee tribe referred to the sycamore as, the “Ghost of the Forest.”  In 1772, The Watauga Association, the first government in what is now Tennessee, was formed under the shade of a sycamore tree. An early settler in the Ohio Territory described a stream bank as “thickly clothed with large sycamore trees whose lofty tops & pendant branches leaned over the shores.” (Fishes of Ohio, M.B. Trautman).  Native to the eastern US, sycamores can live for hundreds of years. More than 200 years old and with a 17 ft. circumference, “The Carahills II Family Tree,” a Tennessee Landmark Sycamore, is registered in Galloway, TN (Fayette County).

Although it can be spotted throughout the Memphis area, the sycamore is most abundant along the Wolf and Nonconnah Rivers and their tributaries. Preferring the moist well-drained soil of riverbanks, the Sycamore is essential to riparian health. Its roots stabilize river banks and filter contaminants. The fruit of the sycamore provides food for finches, chickadees, juncos and squirrels.  Hollow cavities in older sycamores are often homes to owls, bats, honeybees, & chimney swifts.

Jan Castillo, MG '05

Monday, April 2, 2012

Urban Columnar Apple Trees

At the March MAMG meeting, we were treated to a review of new plants for Spring 2012 by  Jim Crowder from Dan West Garden Centers.  We'll be reviewing the plants he shared with us in the coming weeks.

The Urban Columnar Apple Trees are a great fruiting tree for small landscapes and patios.  They have a bottle brush shape with short branches and grow straight up.  The mature height is 8 to 10 feet and they are less than 2 feet wide.  they can be planted in the ground or in large containers.

The trees produce apple blossoms on bare branches in early spring.  The trees have been developed to be extremely healthy and disease resistant.  When grown in full sun you can expect full-sized fruit the first year as long as there are two or more varieties for cross pollination.  As trees mature, the yield of apples will increase.  Be sure to maintain fertility levels for good growth and yields.

A choice of four varieties has been developed:

Tasty Red

Tasty Red is a bright red apple with a sweet, juicy flavor

Blushing Delight

Blushing Delight produces a blush of reddish green fruit with a slightly sweeter taste

Golden Treat greenish gold apples are tart in early fall, but get sweeter the longer they are on the tree

Tangy Green lime green apples add a crisp, tart flavor to the series