From Plot to Plate-Squash Sex in the Garden

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Oven fried squash blossoms served with a blue cheese dipping sauce

My last post on Squash Birth Control showed you how to decrease your squash harvest. But how about if you want to increase your harvest? Maybe you only have one plant to work with and you want to eat squash every night? It is easy to increase your odds of growing fruit as each squash plant bears male and female flowers and you can use this to your advantage without the help of pollinators. You become the pollinator!

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An early morning harvest of squash blossoms, mostly male, but a few female ones

Most gardeners look at their squash plant blooming and see tons of flowers and start making plans for all that squash, pulling out recipes for squash bread and zucchini cake. Over the next week, you see with chagrin the blossoms fall off, some with small squash attached and wonder why? In reality, most of the flowers are male flowers and produce no fruit and pollinate the much fewer female flowers.

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An open female flower and a fertilized one that is starting to grow a squash fruit

Learning to distinguish between male and female flowers on the vine will help you figure out what your true harvest will be. Both male and female flowers occur on each plant and pollen from the male flowers has to make it to the female by way of insects or hand pollination. This is where the gardener can lend a helping hand.

The video below shows a snapshot of morning activity of flying insects in my squash blossoms. I have three hives so there is always lots of visiting bees to my flowers. But everyone doesn’t maintain bee hives and you can increase your odds of your squash flowers getting pollinated even in an urban situation by simply hand pollinating.

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Here you can see the difference: The female flower on the left with the enlarged center, the pistil, and the male flower on the right which carries all the pollen grains

The first week or two it is normal for the blossoms to fall off as only male flowers are produced and then the female flowers start opening. For pollination to occur you need bees- native, bumble, or honey bees and other insects, or a handy Q-tip!  If there is a dearth of bees, pollination is a lot less likely to occur, but not to worry- this is very easy to do yourself.

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Removing all the flower petals from the male flower, touch the pollen bearing anther to the stigma of the female flower

Simply take the petals off of a male flower and use the ‘brush’  or exposed anther and brush it against the stigma of the female flower thus transferring the pollen manually and ensuring that the female flower grows a fruit. You can also perform this with a Q-Tip very easily in the vegetable plot. I prefer to fertilize directly with the male flower and go to each female flower that I see, brushing the anther against the stigma of the female flower. Fertilization is necessary for fruit formation. If fertilization does not occur, the ovary  or little squash will wither away. The squash flower below on the right has successfully been fertilized and is starting to grow.

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On the bottom left is the male flower; top middle is a female flower; bottom right is a female flower that has closed up, pollination has occurred and the squash fruit is starting to grow

Male flowers greatly out number female ones and I take advantage of this and pick baskets of male flowers for recipes. Of course to cut your harvest, simply remove the fewer female flowers which can also be used in recipes. Just remember to cut off the center part, the stigma bearing part, as this can be tough. For recipes, check out Squash Birth Control-Squash Blossom Recipes.

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A bee and a cucumber beetle in a squash blossom

Here is one of my favorite recipes-Oven Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms. Instead of messy deep-frying, I like to cook them at a high temperature in the oven. Serve with a dipping sauce, like a blue cheese mix.

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Baked stuffed squash blossoms ready to eat

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Mix all your ingredients in a bowl

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Stuff cheese into blossom

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Blossoms all stuffed,ends twisted, ready for breading

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Breaded and ready to pop into the oven

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Squash Birth Control- Squash Blossom Recipes

Pizza with squash and blossoms attached and grille corn-Yum!!

Pizza with squash and blossoms attached and grilled corn-Yum!!

If you never have eaten a squash blossom, go down to the nearest farmers market and pick up a bag and try them out. Even better grow a few plants in containers or in a garden to pluck them fresh off the plant. They are a wonderful addition to summer menus. I grow squash, not only for the vegetable,  but for the flower. And when you pick the young squash at a certain point, you get both the veggie and the blossom, and that is the best of both worlds.

Picked fresh from the garden

Picked fresh from the garden

To eat them, I slice the squash in half and fry them up, put them on pizza, stuff the blossoms with goat cheese, and make latkes or fritters.  You could also cut them up into ribbons or a chiffonade and drape on top of a pasta dish. There are countless ways to enjoy the yellow trumpets that emerge from the plants all summer. Here is a great pasta dish using blossoms: Pasta with Squash Blossoms.

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Pick the blossoms first thing in the morning

Also, consider this as birth control for squash. It reduces your yield tremendously when you really don’t need another 20 zucchini or yellow squash cluttering up your refrigerator. when the squash comes in, it is an avalanche!

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Big variety of summer squash

The trick is to catch the squash when it is only a day or two old, has the blossom attached, and is still tender. Or just pluck the blossom before it is fertilized and starts a tiny squash.

Young squash with flower still attached

Young squash with flower still attached

The blossom is pretty fragile so carefully snip it off, and I like to give it a quick rinse as insects like to lay their eggs on the blossom, namely squash bugs and ants. Bees seem to get drunk on the pollen inside the flower and it is fun to watch them. Place the blossom in the fridge wrapped in damp paper towels for no more than 24 hours to use in your favorite recipe.

 

Early morning is the best time to pick them before the heat of the day wilts them. Shake out any bees that spent the night curled at the base and collect as many as you can. I use both winter and summer squash blossoms and have taken out flowers from my fridge that still have buzzing bees in them that awaken when taken out into warm air. So, be careful about examining them carefully first.

Open the flower, and snip off the stamen in the center as this can be tough.

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At this point, you can stuff them with goat cheese or just batter and fry them. They are sublime as a pizza topping. My favorite treatment though is Squash Latkes/Fritters.

Squash blossom latke recipe

Squash blossom latke recipe

 

Chop them up- I like the squash chunky

Chop them up – I like the squash chunky

Make your batter

Mix your batter

Add Chopped squash to batter

Add chopped squash to batter

Mix together

Lightly fold veggies into batter

Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil

Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil

Fry 3 minutes on each side

Fry 3 minutes on each side

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

 

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Healthy Fruit-Infused Water

Cucumbers, mint, stevia, and lemon scented geranium are steeping in my pitcher

Cucumbers, mint,  stevia, lime, and lemon-scented geranium are steeping in my pitcher

It is hot here in Maryland and I am trying to quench my thirst with something healthy, no calories and with ingredients ready to hand – infused water. Its beneficial hydration in every refreshing sip!  If you often work outside like I do in the summer, there is nothing better than to whip up one of these infusions and relax with iced glass in hand. A good way to use left-over herbs and odds and ends from cooking, these additions can add pizzazz to your liquid diet.

Keep It Simple

When I feel the urge, I scout the flower and vegetable beds for something flavorful that I can throw into water to steep for a couple of hours. A variety of candidates will jump out at me, depending on the season. Stevia (the sweet herb substitute), cucumber, fragrant herbs, raspberries, blueberries, and mint are always welcome. Three or four items are usually enough to infuse a delicious flavor to my fresh well water. But something as simple as sliced cucumber and crushed mint leaves will do the trick.

From left to right - mint, cucumber, scented geranium, lime, stevia

From left to right – mint, cucumber, scented geranium, lime, stevia

Best Practices

  1. Be sure to wash off any chemical residue and dirt first. I garden organically, and know there is no chemical residue on my produce, but be sure to wash dirt and insect debris off. You don’t want any surprises…… like a Japanese Beetle floating in the mix!

  2. Use cold or room temperature water. Hot water can make things like berries fall apart.

  3. Springing for a fancy infuser pitcher isn’t necessary. Just use a clean glass or food grade plastic container.

  4. Cut up or smash (muddle) berries, squeeze citrus juices and use the leftover rind, tear up herb leaves, and throw in some edible flowers like beautiful blue borage for color.

  5. Infuse the flavors for about 2 hours at room temperature and then place in the frig to stop any unwanted bacterial growth.

  6. Keep the infused water up to 3 days in the refrigerator. I like to remove citrus, such as limes, and lemons within a couple of hours, as they can start tasting bitter. You can strain out any small flowers or pieces of fruit before drinking.

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    A water-glass with a built-in infuser

     

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    Stack your ingredients in firmly to release juices

Wash and add your selections to your fresh water and keep it at room temperature  for a couple of hours and voila’, you have those expensive flavored waters that you have paid a lot of money for.

A way to get rid of all my cucumbers!

A way to get rid of all my cucumbers!

One combination that I have tried is raspberries, lemon,  stevia, lemon balm, and lemon grass. The citrus notes give the water a refreshing zing and the raspberries stain the water a pale pink, kind of like pink lemonade. The stevia gives a sweet note to the water, but isn’t necessary. My stevia herb which is a natural sugar substitute, is growing like a weed, and I want to use it. The lemon grass is easy to use by ripping off a clump from the main bunch, stripping the leaves off, and slitting the fragrant stem to release those lemony oils.

Are there any benefits of infusing fruits/herbs instead of purchased flavored drinks? Yes!

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Herbal concoction

1) Flavor-Your home-made infused water will taste bright and tangy and full of flavor. I have taste commercially prepared flavored waters, and they can taste watered down and flat. Even infusing water for a scant 15 minutes tastes better than purchased waters.

2) Appearance- Wow-a huge difference from purchased flavored water! You are more likely to eat and drink something that is beautiful and colorful.

3) Calories & Health- No calories are in infused water. But purchased ones can have added artificial and non-artificial flavors and sugars. Staying hydrated is important for your health and what better way than to drink a batch of sugar-free infused water instead of soda all day long?

4) Preparation- Easy and quick to prepare with ingredients on hand and from your garden.

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Blue Borage flowers add color to this mix of lemons, scented geranium, mint, and cucumbers

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Gatherings from my garden

Flavor Ideas

Fruits and Vegetables

apples •  blackberries • blueberries • cantaloupe • carrots • celery • cherries • cucumbers • fennel • grapefruit • grapes • honeydew • kiwi • lemons • limes • mangos • nectarines • oranges • peaches • pears • pineapples • plums • raspberries • strawberries • tangerines • watermelon

Herbs, Spices, and Florals

basil • borage • cilantro • cinnamon • cloves • ginger root • lavender • lemon verbena • lemongrass • mint • rosemary • thyme • parsley • rose petals •  vanilla bean

Great Combos to Try

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Raspberry, lemon, and mint is my go-to infusion when raspberries are in season

Cucumber, Mint, and Raspberry

Orange, Mint, and Blueberry

Watermelon, Mint, and Lemon

Strawberry, Lime, and Cucumber

Raspberry, Vanilla, and Rose Petals

Blueberry, Lavender, and Borage

Kiwi, Cucumber, Honeydew and Honey (Yes, the honey is adding calories here, but hey, I’m a beekeeper!)

Cantaloupe, Mint, Raspberries

Raspberries, Lemon, Lemon Grass, Stevia, Lemon Balm

Lemon, Mint, and Raspberries

Rose Geranium, Stevia, and Mint

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Rose Geranium, Stevia, and Mint

 

 

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Bee Balm-Pollinator Superstar

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Attractive to both hummingbirds and bees as well as humans, Bee Balm is one of my favorites as an early summer bloomer and easy to grow perennial. Commonly known as Bee Balm or Monarda, Bee Balm is “balm” to all flying insects and enjoyed by humans in teas and potpourri. Each flower head rests on a whorl of showy, pinkish, leafy bracts. Flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies.

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‘Jacob Cline’ Monarda, a good tall variety

One of the 21 superstar pollinator plants that I designed my poster with and available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy shop, Bee Balm is a pollinator superstar and always has many insect visitors on a sunny day.

Plant These For The Bees

Plant These For The Bees

 Other common names include horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot, the latter inspired by the fragrance of the leaves, which is reminiscent of bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia). Bergamot orange is the flavor that gives the unique taste of Earl Grey tea.

A bee diving in!

A bee diving in!

From the roots, up to the flower, the entire plant has a spicy minty fragrance which quality repels deer and other browsing critters.

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Even rabbits shy away from Monarda

A valuable plant for landscaping because of this repellent attribute, Bee Balms now come in petite and dwarf sizes to fit into smaller gardens. Even though the entire dwarf plant is smaller, the flowers are the same size or larger than some of the taller varieties.

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Closeup of ‘Leading Lady Plum’

Although bee balm appears to have thin narrow petals, close up they are really little hollow tubes perfect for thin beaks like hummingbirds. “Leading Lady Plum’ has a scattering of dark plum spots on the tips of the petals, adding another color dimension to this standout variety.

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‘Leading Lady Plum’ Monarda next to ‘Heart Atttack’ Dianthus

The “flower quotient”, a term I use for the relative size of the flower to the size of the foliage, is greater than most flowers. When a Bee Balm blooms, it is stunning, unusual, and one that stops visitors in their tracks.

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Nymph Grasshopper hanging out on a Bee Balm Flower

 The red variety is commonly known as Oswego Tea. Used by colonists in place of English tea after the Boston Tea Party, when they threw the English tea in the harbor to protest high taxes. Bee Balm continued for years as a medicinal and enjoyable tea and was frequently planted next to colonists homes for ease of gathering. To make your own tea, just air dry some leaves and steep them in hot water.

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Red Bee Balm or Monarda makes Oswego Tea

Coming in an array of colors and sizes, you can find a Bee Balm for any size garden now, some even fitting nicely into containers. Hybridizers have been busy with this plant and every time I go to the nursery, I see another small variety pop up. “Small” is the key word here; Most plants being developed now have a shorter stature and larger more colorful flowers to appeal to gardeners with limited space gardens or containers.

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‘Pardon My Pink’ Bee Balm

Because of the diminutive size of the new varieties, I tuck them in when I have a bare spot in the garden. Enjoying some shade in the afternoon in hot climates, these workhorses will bloom their little hearts out-usually lasting for 2 months or more if you dead head. The larger varieties can spread aggressively and should be controlled before they encroach and overtake other perennials.

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‘Balmy Pink’ Monarda fits in small spaces

Prone to downy mildew which can mottle the leaves, the newer varieties are more resistant to this disfiguring but not fatal disease.

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Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, isn’t as showy but still a great plant for pollinators

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An old-fashioned variety ‘Prairie Night’

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National Pollinator Week

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Eight years ago, the U.S. Senate in a rare unanimous approval vote, designated one week in June as “National Pollinator Week”  which addressed the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.  In 2016 the dates are June 20 – 26 and the event has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture signs the proclamation every year designating this week. Pollinator Week was initiated and continues to be managed by the Pollinator Partnership, the largest non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

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This year’s poster, Trees for Bees, by artist Natalya Zahn, is a beautiful reminder of the many trees you can include in your pollinator-friendly habitat

The creation of beautiful posters commemorates the event and this years poster by artist Natalya Zahn celebrates trees  in the landscape that will help attract pollinators. It is available by going to Pollinator Partnership.  Most people don’t think of trees as a valuable pollinator source, like they would with annuals and perennials, so I was happy to see the subject of the poster.  Because trees hold their blooms up high where you can’t see them, you don’t see the pollinator activity that you would down below with smaller plants. According to Doug Tallamy, who wrote Bringing Nature Home, Oaks rank number one as supporting at least 557 species of caterpillars as a host plant, and Cherries as number two attracting and supporting 456 species of caterpillars. And to have butterflies and other pollinators like birds who feed their young tons of the butterfly larvae, you need caterpillars.

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Maple Tree flower: Most people don’t notice that bees are visiting flowers high in the canopy of trees

To make it easy to figure out what to plant, you can ask at native plant sales, visit nature centers, and go to websites like plants.usda.gov. This website has  regional and state lists of native plants that you can plant in your area which includes trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants.

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21 popular flowers and herbs that attract pollinators

For seed sources, I rely on Botanical Interests for their great diversity and selection. You can order a seed packet from them, I Love Pollinators, #4007 which includes a mix of pollinator friendly plants- bachelor button, sunflower, borage, hollyhock, marigold, zinnia, hyssop, and dill. Costing only $1, all proceeds go to support the Pollinator Partnership which supports the health of our pollinators.

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This mix creates a pollinator-friendly habitat with annual and perennial flowering plants that supply pollinators with nectar, pollen, and shelter. For more information, go to http://www.botanicalinterests.com/pollinators

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Calycanthus, or Carolina Sweet Shrub, is a great native addition to a garden that will attract many pollinators

 

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Bee Catnip-Pollinator Superstar

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Cats are naturally drawn to aptly named Catmint or Nepeta

If you own at least one square foot of sunny or partially sunny garden space, you should plant Catmint, or better known in the trade as Nepeta, for longevity of bloom, ease of maintenance, and attraction to pollinators.

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A gold banded dragonfly nectaring on a Nepeta

As a landscape designer, I feel so strongly about this plant, that I incorporate Nepeta in virtually every design that I create.  One of my “go to” plants when designing gardens, there are different varieties that range from a diminutive 8″ high to over 3 feet tall. Growing in billowing aromatic mounds, I place it in front of borders.

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Nepeta paired with Heuchera in border

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Related to catnip but a much showier flower, it will attract cats to explore it and rub against, though I have never had trouble with cats destroying it as I do with catnip. A “drug of choice” for my cat, she makes a beeline for my many plants of Nepeta when she escapes outside.

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Not only is it a totally reliable perennial for zones 3 – 8,  you can enjoy the lavender shades of blooms for many months if you sheer it back by 1/3 after the first flush of spring.

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A bee superstar, I am profiling all the plants on my poster “Plant These For Bees” available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy shop. Catmint is one of my all time favorite perennials in the landscape as it is trouble-free and most importantly-deer, rabbit, and any other critter resistant. Gray green leaves give off a minty fragrance that four-legged varmints stay away from. I even use it to barricade other more desirable plants that deer prefer.

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I use Catmint in heavily deer browsed areas in the landscape

Approaching a good stand of Catmint/Nepeta, the first thing you notice is the darting of insects, throughout the profuse lavender blue flower wands. Mostly bumble and honey bees, but I see all kinds of small native bees and butterflies are attracted to the display.

070Easily grown in average to poor soil, even clay hard-pan, Catmint once established is quite drought tolerant. Limey green is one of my favorite colors in the landscape, and I can even get Nepeta with a lime foliage, called ‘Limelight’. A great companion to roses and peonies, Nepeta should be on your “must have” list.

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Used in an entrance garden, Catmint looks good with golden leaved plants

Lots of varieties are available, but I prefer ‘Blue Wonder’ at 1 to 2 feet tall or the taller but confusingly named ‘Walker’s Low’. The smaller varieties, like ‘Kit Kat’ are so dwarf that they don’t flower as profusely as the larger ones but are useful in small areas. Preferring full sun, but tolerating some light shade, Catmints are great selections for a bee friendly landscape.

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Cats love this plant!

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Posted in gardening, herbs, Plant portraits, Pollination | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

It’s a Small, Small, World-Mini Hostas

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Mini hostas spilling out of a strawberry jar

A shade workhorse, hostas, according to the Perennial Plant Association are the most widely planted perennial in the world. Easily tucked into small places in the garden, and a perfect accent in trough and other miniature garden containers, these diminutive hostas are becoming a crowd favorite.

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Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’

On the pricey side, these adorable plants are being snatched up everywhere. They can run from $18 too $30 a piece.

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Planted into the garden, miniature hostas stay low to the ground and form a tapestry of color, making a great ground cover, seen at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

Usually less than 6 inches high, miniature hostas should be placed carefully in a garden bed so you don’t lose sight of them when other plants encroach. That is why I like to use them in trough gardens. You are placing this little gem in a highly visible location for maximum impact in a container. But try planting a rainbow of them in a garden bed for a great little ground cover in the shade. Recently I made a trip to Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Media, Pennsylvania and was impressed with the variety available.

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A trough with ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’ backed by potted miniature hostas at  Carolyn’s Shade Garden

And the names!! Mini Skirt, Lemon Lime, Blue Mouse Ears, Neutrino, Cracker Crumbs, Dew Drop, Shiny Penny, Appletini, Baby Blue Eyes, Little Red Rooster, Tears of Joy, Sunlight Child, Curley, Sun Mouse, Church Mouse, Kiwi Golden Thimble- the list goes on and on. Marketing a plant is all about finding that perfect name and these minis take the prize for catchy names.

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Irresistible with sculptural leaves and charming textures make it difficult to stop at one, and you’ll be tempted to fill a garden with them. Taking up less space in a space challenged property, and ideally suited to container growing, these little minis are perfect on their own or as a companion plant.

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‘Blue Mouse Ears’ tucked into a boulder crevice

Easily grown like all the larger widely known large hostas, they are pretty indestructible. For the best care of hostas, plant them in rich organic soil with a slightly acidic pH.

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Flowering like champs, the minis perform like their larger relatives

Drainage, like with so many plants, is most important. Dormant season crown rot is one of the few diseases that attack these plants.  With this in mind, when newly planted, keep the roots moist, not wet. Once established, hosta plants aren’t fussy and are very tolerant of summer drought and last for years.

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Perfect for fairy gardens, this one is ‘Blue Mouse Ears’

One of deer’s favorite food, plant hostas in containers if you have a property overrun with these pests.

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Planted next to a ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera, adds some contrast to this mini

For my post on a hosta nursery, go to Happy Hollow-Hosta Mecca to see more varieties or Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

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Spring Floating Beauties

This is an updated post on fall floating gardens, Floating Beauties, with spring arrangements.

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Visiting Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, PA, I have always been entranced with their wonderful floating arrangements made out of fresh seasonal materials displayed in a generous proportioned bowl. Easy to put together, even for the flower arranging challenged, there are no mechanics involved, just an eye for what goes together.

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Ferns, Peonies, Blue Bachelor Buttons, Geum, Japanese Maple

After flower arranging you often have bits and pieces left over which you hate to throw away. An opportunity to use these pieces in a stunning arrangement is easy to do with a large waterproof bowl. Lasting four or five days, these floating beauties can be changed out for what is perfect at the moment.

This arrangement can make a big statement on a patio

This arrangement can make a big statement on a patio

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Grouped containers at Chanticleer

How To

  • Pick out the perfect wide bowl; fill 3/4 up with fresh water

Pick a low wide bowl, even though this bowl has a beautiful pattern, you won't see it when the flowers are floating

Pick a low wide bowl. A swirling pattern makes it interesting

  • Browse your garden, picking up a variety of foliage, berries, and flowers-or just use left over flowers from arranging

  • Start arranging your foliage as the backdrop. Add your larger statement flowers at the end.

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    Bleeding Heart motif in a cobalt rimmed bowl pops

Cafe au Lait Dahlia

Fall arrangement with Cafe au Lait Dahlia, Japanese maple, Hydrangea, Viburnum berries fall foliage

A perfect centerpiece for a party or for you alone to enjoy, this type of arrangement takes minutes to make, for you to enjoy for at least a week.

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Yellow Mums, Green Button Mums,, Alstromeria

Gerber, Rhododendron, Asparagus Fern, with glass balls

Gerber, Rhododendron, Asparagus Fern, with glass balls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Build the Buzz-Beekeeping Revolution

Beekeeping

 

Beekeeping, especially urban beekeeping, is picking up steam and buzz! When I first attended my “Beekeeping Basics” class put on by the local beekeepers club twenty years ago, older men in coveralls dominated and the joke was that the average age of a beekeeper was “from 57 to dead”. As a younger woman in the class, I was definitely in the minority. Sticking with beekeeping for over twenty years has seen lots of changes in the apiary. A new generation of beekeepers have arrived which has injected a revolution in how beekeeping is practiced. Hipsters, young mothers, and middle-aged couples, have taken up the practice in greater numbers than ever before.

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Two young students picking up Nucs, a miniature starting beehive, for their college campus

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A newly developed bee hive seen at a state fair

The practice of “we have always done it like this,” is slowly but surely disappearing. Beekeepers with new ideas, energy, and ways of doing things are transforming the apiary yard to something that beekeepers from 50 years ago wouldn’t recognize. When problems started to arise 10 years ago with the advent of mites and colony collapse, beekeepers wasted time hoping to return to 1940’s beekeeping. The old guard still wishes that. But with the new crop of beekeepers, they don’t know the difference and attack the problems with renewed vigor and novel solutions.

Lots of new beekeepers are entering the field. This one has a crazy suit-a bathrobe!

Lots of new beekeepers are entering the field. This one has a crazy bee suit-a bathrobe!

Females Rule!

An apiary’s female dominated society should be especially attractive to women. Historically, people assumed that the bee queen was actually a “king”. Even Shakespeare referred to the head of the hive as a “king”. Females in a beehive basically do all the heavy lifting with the males kept around for only one thing-inseminating a queen bee.

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Women are increasingly becoming beekeepers in the traditionally male dominated field.  But this isn’t easy for young women because of the physical nature of beekeeping. Try bench pressing 65 to 75 pounds or more of dead weight! – which a full hive body of honey can weigh.

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Helping out my neighbors to set up their own hives

From a creature with a brain the size of a sesame seed, a working hive is incredibly diverse and organized and gets the job done efficiently. Pollinating one in three of our agricultural crops, honeybees are hugely important to our economy. But only until Colony Collapse Disorder in 2007 became publicized, did people sit up and take notice that bees were in trouble or realize that they were vital. A result of that realization is a huge welcome influx of brand new concerned beekeepers, most of them under thirty to start their own hives in concern for the environmental impact of the decline.

A busy hive with brood and honey

A busy hive with brood and honey

Newbees

A steep learning curve will hit any newbee, and even though I have kept bees for twenty years, I still feel new to the field. Disease, parasitic mites, low winter survival rates, and the high startup cost is still an issue, but I find that new beekeepers are enthusiastic and eager to learn. Inevitably, some people upon learning about the time and money involved drop out. But many are sticking with it and unlike a fair weather fan, they are in it for the long-term. Committed newbees really want to become beekeepers even after hearing about all the recent setbacks in the bee world. Check out my post on How to Jump Into the World of Beekeeping.

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Flow Hive

I’m sure everyone has heard of the IndieGoGo Flow Hive with its promise of simplifying the honey harvest by simply turning on the tap. So far, Flow Hive has set records for the largest international campaign ever on Indiegogo and was an Internet darling. But critics are railing against the Flow Hive as an expensive gimmick that over-simplifies beekeeping and doesn’t deal with the nitty gritty day-to-day basics. In reality, beekeeping is hard work that requires lots of steps to make sure that your honeybees are monitored and kept free of disease and healthy. The promotional material for Flow Hive makes beekeeping look so simple and easy that anyone could have a beehive in their backyard without any work. I reserve judgement until we look back on this in a few years time. Stay tuned for the results.

BroodMinder-Technology In Beekeeping

The broodMinder is a thin bluetooth enabled monitor that is inserted on top of the hives

The broodMinder is a thin bluetooth enabled monitor that is inserted on top of the hives

And technology has entered beekeeping. I am using BroodMinder which uses the latest in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology and integrated circuit temperature and humidity chips, to monitor my hive. By placing the small bee resistant wrapped monitor with a battery on top of the frames, any heat and humidity created by the bees is recorded as it rises to the top of the hive. Relaying the information to an app on my phone, I can monitor how the hive is doing and even email it to myself. Yes, there is an app for everything!

There is nothing more discouraging than opening a dead hive in the spring

There is nothing more discouraging than opening a dead hive in the spring

If the temperature and humidity plummets during the winter, I will know that the beehive needs my help with supplemental feeding. See BroodMinder for more information. They are also developing a monitor that will weigh your hive. I would love this feature to inform me as to how much honey is being stored during the summer so you know the best time to harvest!

 

Full Disclosure: BroodMinder gave me a unit to test out, but I only post reviews about products that I really like and use.

 

Helpful Articles

Beekeeping 101

Installing Nucs-A Bee Package or Nuc?

Spinning Honey

Jump Into the World of Beekeeping

Honeybee Nuc

Making of a Queen

Bee Packages Are Here!

Swarming of the Bees

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Milkweed not the solution for Monarch declines

A great post on the milkweed debate from LepLog. There are no easy solutions to stopping the decline, but don’t stop planting habitat for Monarchs as well as other endangered species. As usual, the answers are still coming in for a complex problem, just like the honeybee situation.

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca

 

Lep Log

Monarch nectaring on goldenrod. Monarch nectaring on goldenrod.

I’ve talked with a number of you about this recent research from Cornell; I wanted to make you all aware of this paper (that I’ve been aware of for about a year as it worked its way through the peer review process).  It’s an in important paper with important implications for how we approach monarch conservation as a public issue.  In particular it has relevance on the matter of what actions would be appropriate if the monarch is listed as an endangered species, and what we in Maryland (and the mid-Atlantic in general) could be doing to support monarch populations.

As the Cornell researchers point out, quantity and quality of milkweed is not and has never been an issue in the decline of monarch populations in the East or the Midwest (there is just not enough data on Western monarch populations).  Taken literally, all the summer-blooming…

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