Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mint (Lamiaceae mint family) and a great watermelon salad

I have several types of mint  growing in my garden. Spearmint, peppermint, and Chocolate Mint.

Mint, love it or leave it, can become super invasive if not controlled. It grows and spreads by runners and seeds and will take over the garden in no time. It can be grown in pots or in the garden. Mint is a sun loving plant that likes to be watered and is not finicky about the soil.. If you put mint in the shade, it will grow floppy and the flavor will not be as strong as when you grow it in the sun. 

If you are going to grow several types of mint do not mix them. I put three kinds of mint in a large pot and in two years could not tell them apart. The peppermint also smothered the chocolate mint out altogether. Another hint about growing mint in a pot is to not let it establish itself by growing in circles. Keep it as free growing as possible. After several years the mint will strangle itself and stop producing. There have been articles written describing how an old mint plant broke a clay pot. I guess the coil pushes out and the pot developes a crack. 

Growing mint in the garden? It will spread and grow like a weed. You must keep it contained or it will "run"it's little stolens all over your garden. Mint will grow 20 feet under weedblock and come out the other side and with no water in mid summer. Mint spreads two ways, by runners and by seed. I do not let the seeds broadcast in my garden. It is usually not the same taste as the original mint. Since mint is a perennial herb and aggressive it should be divided every year.    So fellow gardener, don't be afraid to be ruthless and pull out some of that mint, roots and all. If you love mint as I do, know the risk and stay on top of it.

I harvest my mint by cutting off the tender tops for a light taste and the larger leaves for a heavier taste. I also cut it about 4 to  5 " from the ground during the season to keep it strong and growing without putting the energy into seeds. I cut my mint to the ground in late fall after the first frost.

I have found "Other Uses" for mint on a few websites. 
Repellents for mice and insects     (I actually tried the Mice one and I believe it worked)
Foot soaks and foot scrubs
Facial mist and toners
Medicinals   I have not given the medicinal recommendations for mint and there are many. If anyone is interested in homeopathic remedies mint has been used for centuries.

Watermelon Tomato Mint Salad

Michele Koskinen

There are many recipes for this type of salad. Mixing Watermelon, mint and my homegrown green zebra or yellow sun golds are a fantastic summer salad at a party. Here are two of my favorites.

Watermelon, Tomato, Mint, Feta Salad  

What may seem like an incongruous mixture is actually a harmonious blend of ingredients and textures. There are few dishes that illustrate how the seemingly disparate flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty can be successfully combined. One tip: While the melon should be chilled, the other ingredients are their most flavorful at room temperature, so combine the salad just before serving.

Read More

Watermelon, Tomato, Cucumber & Mint Salad
Inspired by Living Raw Food by Sarma Melngailis
Serves 2
1/4 seedless watermelon, cubed
1 cup heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 medium cucumber, diced
1 small red pepper or habanero pepper
2 handfuls mint, torn into small pieces
Brazil nuts, chopped (you can also substitute macadamia nuts, but I prefer Brazil nuts because they are 1/10 of the price of macadamia nuts)
1 lime, juiced
Sea salt to taste
Drizzle of olive oil
Toss all ingredients together, finishing with a drizzle of olive oil and additional mint, and serve. You can prepare several hours in advance and refrigerate.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Importance of Labeling Plants

by Megan Bucknum and Michele Sokoloff

How can we expect to preserve and protect biodiversity if we don’t even know the names of the plants and animals that share our neighborhood?”
                                                            - Robert Bateman, Wildlife Artist

As gardeners, we tend to focus on wht plants to put in our gardens, when to plant them, how to care for them and how to harvest them. Identifying the plants that we care for, often gets lost in the shuffle. There is actually merit in marking your crops or perennials.

Having signs that mark the names of your plants right in your garden, can act as an invitation for people to come and interact with the growing space.  These signs can bring knowledge about the plants to a more equal ground, resulting in worthwhile conversations.  Plant markers act as an education tool for any garden. People can walk past at their leisure and identify plants that they may not be familiar with or learn more about the fruits and vegetables with which they are already familiar.
The importance of labeling plants is reflected in the definition of a “botanic garden.” The characteristic of a botanic garden is one that includes “adequate labeling of plants.”  The rationale behind this is based in both education as well as a more broad conservation effort.  When more people understand the names and characteristics of plants found within nature,  greater consciousness and actions towards conservation can result.  
While you might not feel that your modest garden is contributing to global conservation efforts, even a small gesture is important. Your time and energy might very well help others learn more about the diverse flora found within their neighborhood and on our globe.  
Plant identification signage also adds an extra level of aesthetics to your garden, as well as showcasing some of your own creativity.  Here are some ideas about creating signage for your garden:
Garden Markers
 There are many different ways to mark plants that are available on the market as well as great ideas to make your own signs.

  1. Paw Paw Everlast Label Company:  This company specializes in metal stakes and labels for a very professional look in your garden. Every imaginable size.
  1. Paint-Stick Plant Markers:  Grab some paint sticks at your local hardware store or paint store for a great DIY plant marker idea.Cut them in half if they are too high. Many paint stores are willing to give you a nice amount of those sticks.
  2. Spoons-a-Plenty:  Have some extra spoons at your house?  Check out this link for a great idea of how to re-purpose spoons and some old magazine clippings.
  3. Give a Stone a Face-Lift:  Go rock hunting.  Paint some flat rocks to give a unique DIY look to your garden. Invite some kids to help.
  4. Resurrected Vinyl Blinds:  If vinyl blinds are no longer being used within your home, grab some scissors and markers. Take them outside.
  5. Happy Hour in the Garden:  Don’t just recycle (or throw away) your corks. Drill a hole in them, attach to a stick and then mark your plants.
  6. Popsical Sticks: Always a-plenty and perfect for marking plants.
  7. Twig Plant Markers: Carved by artist, Geoffrey Fisher, who harvests the wood from fallen trees in England. No living tree is used and no tree is intentionally hurt in the
Do you have an idea that you have used that is not on this list?  Use the comment section below to share your great ideas!

Beneficial Insects and flowers in the vegetable garden.

Always on the quest to improve my garden and learn more about "organic" methods to prevent insects from devouring my plants, I recently searched for flowers to intertwine with my vegetable garden to increase beneficial insects.

After reading and finding lists, I found many of the suggested plants are already growing in my garden. A pleasant surprise to say the least.  I have in the past planted basil, sage, bronze fennel, dill and parsley without thinking about insects. The herbs were planted to eat not deter insects. A neighbor told me to plant marigolds to control aphids around the tomatoes. I found the marigolds did indeed keep the aphids down so I interplanted them again this year. 

The parsley and dill draws a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly every year so I plant parsley and dill just for them. When I see the yellow striped catepillar I know the plants will be soon deleafed and the caterpillars gone to come back as a beautiful butterfly.. 

Below is a partial list of plants suggested for drawing beneficial insects to the gardens and those I have planted. 

Annual Flowers and Herbs  

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) -- The flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects. A few sites offered the aroma of the leaves may deter aphids.

Calendula (Pot Marigold) -- Edible, orange or yellow flower petals.  Attracts bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Cosmos -- Attracts lacewings, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. 

Dill (Anethum graveolens) -- The leaves are used in recipes, and the flowers attract lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps.  The black swallowtail butterfly also enjoys this herb in my garden.

Marigold (Tagetes sp.) -- The flowers attract butterflies and hoverflies, and the roots produce a secretion that kills root-eating nematodes in the soil. 

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) -- The flowers attract hoverflies, tachinid flies and parasitic wasps. 

Zinnia (Zinnia elegans) -- A wonderful flower for attracting, hoverflies, parasitic wasps and butterflies.  

Perennial Flowers and Herbs

Photo by Bruce Marlin NW Center for alternative pesticides 
Bronze Fennel  (Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum') --Bronze foliage. The flowers attract lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies, parasitic mini-wasps and butterflies.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) -- Attracts butterflies and bees. Seeds will self sow all over the garden, deadhead religiously.

Garlic Chives  (Allium tuberosum) -- The flowers attract bees and beneficial insects. The leaves have a nice, strong garlic flavor. Reading information on this herb I found it repels aphids on roses. 

Lemon Balm  (Melissa officinalis) --  The tiny flowers attract hoverflies, tachinid flies and parasitic mini-wasps.  The leaves make a nice lemon flavored tea.

Sage  (Salvia sp.) -- There are many forms of sage, including culinary. They all attract bees and butterflies. Culinary sage is used with pork, and the leaves can be fried.

Yarrow (Achillia sp.) -- Attracts ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. A favorite in my garden that doesn't need alot of water.

For more information on insects, check out the Penn State Entomology site:

Another Extension site worth visiting on this issue is

Additional Information

Friday, June 15, 2012

AgSci Penn State Extension blog...... late blight

Vegetable growers and farmers are reporting late blight in the tomato fields of Lancaster County.

For more information on current disease and pest incidence read the blog and fact sheets on the Penn state site below. This is the latest blog on the outbreak in Lancaster County.

Late Blight Confirmed on Tomato in Lancaster Co., PA

by Beth K. Gugino — last modified June 13, 2012 08:45 PM
Posted: June 13, 2012
To-date late blight has been confirmed on five farms in four counties and more unconfirmed outbreaks are suspected
Today late blight was confirmed in Lancaster Co. in a commercial tomato field. This is the first confirmed report from Lancaster. Symptoms were most severe on a couple of plants that have been rogued from the field. Foliar lesions were observed on several nearby plants. A sample is being submitted to Cornell for genotyping.
So to-date, late blight has been confirmed on potato and/or tomato on a total of five farms stretched across four counties (Blair, Franklin, Mifflin, and Lancaster) in Pennsylvania. Currently it is suspected, but not yet confirmed, in two additional counties and there are several suspected outbreaks in counties that have been confirmed with outbreaks of late blight. All confirmed outbreaks thus far have been in production fields however, keep in mind that crops grown under high tunnels and other protected structures are not immune from getting late blight. The pathogen does not necessarily require leaf wetness that results from precipitation to cause disease. Extended dew periods that occur with evening cooling and even very high relative humidity can also create conditions that are favorable to infection and disease development.
We are still awaiting confirmation on the genotypes of the potato and tomato samples submitted to Cornell. This is important because some of the more recent genotypes of late blight have been sensitive to mefenoxam, the active ingredient in Ridomil. This provides conventional growers will fields infected with a mefenoxam sensitive genotype an additional tool in their toolbox. It is also important because it will help us better understand how the pathogen population is changing and therefore make necessary adjustments in our management programs.
Copper still remains the most effective tool for organic production. It is important to apply it preventatively before symptoms are observed and since it is a protectant, thorough coverage is also very important. Thorough coverage is important for any type of protectant fungicide. These are only effective where the active ingredient comes in contact with the plant surface.
In fields where late blight has been confirmed, rogueing or burning down the most severely infected plants or portion of the field will reduce the build-up of inoculum and the potential for spread within the field, between fields and between farms. Incorporating the use of late blight specific fungicides will further reduce the development of new lesions and spread of the disease. Products like Tanos (famoxadone + cymoxanil) and Curzate (cymoxanil) have a slight amount of “kick-back” activity and are effective at managing every early stages in the infection process (all of which are invisible to the naked eye). Applications of these products need to be follow-up with an application a fungicide from another FRAC code group. See the 2012 Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations for a list of recommended late blight specific products for both tomato and potato.
Please continue to scout your fields and communicate with your local extension office or me if you suspect late blight. I have received numerous phone calls and emails from people with concerns about late blight and I want to continue to encourage that level of communication. If you suspect late blight on your farm, please contact your local county Penn State Extension Office or let me know via email at or by phone at 814-865-7328.
Additional images of late blight on tomatoes and potatoes can be found at the Penn State Extension Vegetable and Small Fruit website under the Vegetable Disease Images link on the homepage at Also for the information regarding where the latest confirmed outbreaks have been reported and to receive email or text alerts about when late blight has been confirmed with a personally defined radius from your location visit

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Photo's of our gardens, plants we grow...... American Elder

By Linda Grimwade

Family                                     Caprofoliaceae
Genus and Specie               Sambucus nigra L

Also known as American elder , sweet elder and common elder. Elder is a large deciduous shrub with corky, gray-brown bark with feathery leaves. Tiny, scented cream flowers are borne in summer, followed by black berries.

Elder is a bitter, pungent, cooling herb. The flowers and fruits are used to lower fever, reduce inflammation, soothe irritation and have a diuretic and anti-mucus effect, while the leaves are insecticidal.

Creating The Demonstration Edible Garden Green Wall

Submitted by Megan Bucknum and Michele Sokoloff

How do you change an unassuming chain link fence into a marvel that supports plant life?  It’s not difficult .  .  . Make a Green Wall, a Vertical Wall, a Hanging Wall.

The Philadelphia Master Gardeners who tend and nurture the education-focussed edible garden at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park wanted to demonstrate one type of Green Wall. The plan was to construct this wall to use viable, unused space and be the home to culinary herbs. One of the Master Gardeners, Alyssa Van Alstine, asked her mother, Kathy Lose, if she would sew the material to create this vertical garden. Kathy, a professional seamstress, enthusiastically agreed.

Our green wall, or vertical garden, is constructed out of fleece fabric that was sewn using double layers to insure stability and strength. A plastic mesh was sewn on the inside of the fleece to contain the soil. The size is 6 feet by 4 feet. There are two rows of deep pockets across the fabric with four 14-inch high pockets from side to side. Grommets were placed every few inches along the top and sides to secure the structure to the fence using long plastic ties.
Each pocket is filled with 5 inches of perlite, a mix of worm castings and good potting soil. And then the herbs!

The Vertical Wall serves as a functional way to expand the “arable space” of the garden, while simultaneously hiding the chain link fence.  The gardeners also planted other vegetables below and around the wall making the total area serve more purpose than just a boundary.  Currently parsley, basil, dill, cilantro, thyme, oregano, marjoram, fennel, curry, and scented geranium are planted in the Green Wall. We installed an irrigation drip system which uses gravity to help water each pocket. This reduces the reliance of the gardeners to keep everything alive and well.
For an excellent list of possible herbs and their uses,
History of Green Walls
Although this Green Wall is a new addition to the Philadelphia Demonstration Edible Garden, it is not a new concept.  In fact, the first living roofs and walls originated in ancient times. The famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the first recorded examples of such structures.
Now Green Walls (also called  vertical gardens, hanging gardens or living walls) can be found throughout the world in both small and large installations.  To get a glimpse of some impressive large installations, visit  Patrick Blanc’s website, who is one of the most famous vertical wall designers in the world.  For a closer-to-home look, visit Drexel University’s Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building -- on Chestnut and 33rd in West Philly -- which has a beautiful 80 ft. tall wall with over 1,500 plants. Drexel University

You can create your own green wall in your own personal space by sewing, constructing, or purchasing one of the following products:
Woolly Pockets are fabric vertical hangers that can be placed on an outdoor, or indoor, wall and then planted.  

Lastly, Bright Green is a company that sells vertical planting systems that are divided into “cells” that hold different plants.  Visit their website for more information.

For a succulent vertical wall, visit the Succulent Gardens website to see their handmade wooden frames that hold a variety of succulents.  They even sell the succulents online and will ship them.  City Planter in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia has some succulents and is a  place to visit for inspiration. 

What Mulch Is All About

By Brian Olszak 

An old growth forest
“Mulch” is a very inclusive term. A mulch can generally be any material, either organic or inorganic, which performs the following functions: reduces moisture loss in soil, suppresses weeds, and helps to regulate temperature extremes. No doubt, as well, many people mulch their beds so as to make them look neat and tidy. In reality, we’re really trying to emulate conditions in nature, and reproduce them in our own gardens. If you walk through a mature-growth forest with very tall, straight trees, especially this time of year, you will find a lot of pine needles, twigs, and leaves that have fallen to the forest floor. What you won’t find is a lot of grass or weeds, at least the types which we typically deal with in our gardens. This is because when all of this dead and decaying matter becomes matted down, it provides a natural layer which both blocks any undergrowth and retains moisture for the roots of trees. Another contributor to this is the extensive tree canopy, which monopolizes most of the sunlight, further preventing undergrowth. A big bonus of this process is that all of this dead and decaying matter provides excellent nutrition for plant life and builds the soil structure.

Bark mulch is available shredded (above) and in chips or "nuggets"
Mulches can be broken down into two main categories: organic and inorganic. The best choice of mulch for your garden or landscape, of course, depends on what you are growing.

The most obvious choices to emulate nature would be organic, wood-based mulches, which, not coincidentally, are the most common of mulches. Bark mulch is from shredded bark, while wood chip mulch is made from all the spare parts of industrially-logged trees or trees removed during construction. Bark mulch and wood chip mulches work for both vegetable and flower beds. But freshly-shredded, their nitrogen content is so low that nitrogen is leached from the surrounding soil in order to facilitate the decomposition process—which means less nitrogen is available to your plants. It is important, therefore, that these kinds of mulches have been properly composted first before use in gardens: freshly-shredded wood chips can be used on trails or walking paths instead, or left for a few months before use in gardens. In addition, it is important to not over-mulch with wood chips, as the temptation to replenish old and discolored wood chips might be too great. Over-mulching can bury root systems too deep, making water penetration much more difficult if not impossible. In the case of trees, beware of the "mulch volcano": the mounding of mulch around the trunk. This practice can cause a number of troubling conditions, including the rotting of bark and roots, places for voles and other critters to shelter and nibble on your tree, among other things.

Straw mulch is great for potatoes (above) and strawberries
Other kinds of organic mulches include straw, pine needles, and shredded leaves. Straw is a good cover for vegetable gardens and for overwintering beds, which protects tender and sensitive roots from freezing out. Pine needles can be used if particular plants need especially acidic soil, such as blueberries.

Inorganic mulches, while not providing organic material and nutrition to your landscape, do have the significant benefit of lasting much longer than most organic mulches, and therefore need less attention from you.

Landscape fabric can be cut to suit plants already in the ground
One example of an inorganic mulch is black plastic. Black plastic is very good at retaining moisture and blocking out weed growth, and is an old standby for gardeners, but has many drawbacks. Not only will water have trouble penetrating to the roots below, but the plastic can degrade in sunlight. Landscape fabrics can be a useful complement to an organic mulch in your garden. Typically made of polyester or polypropylene, these barrier fabrics are porous enough to allow water to seep through but are tight enough to prevent weed growth from beneath. You can cut holes in the fabric where you intend to plant. Placing a wood-based mulch on top of this fabric barrier can make your landscape look more natural and while also preventing the ultraviolet rays of the sun from degrading the fabric. However, these barriers can just as easily become a nuisance if weeds begin to establish above the fabric layer—this can happen when a wood-based mulch decomposes into soil where weed seeds can germinate. If you simply throw more mulch on top of this new soil layer, you will hit new levels of aggravation while trying to dig through the buried fabric when planting the next season! This can be avoided by removing old mulch and replacing it with new mulch every year. Don’t know what to do with the old mulch?—compost it! Several kinds of stones and gravels, including pea stone, can also be used for a more decorative treatment, especially in a perennial garden or for very young trees.
Pea stone can be decorative or functional

Both organic and inorganic mulches have their place in the garden, so do some experimenting, and see what works for you!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Free compost, wood chips, mulch and manure for city residents.

Residents of Philadelphia may pick up free compost, wood chips, mulch and manure from The Fairmount Organic Recycling Center in Fairmount Park.

There is no charge for small amounts of materials. Larger amounts may be purchased for a small fee.

The Center is located at 3850 Ford Road, Philadelphia, PA 19131

Call 215-685-0108 or check the web site for opening dates and hours.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Master Gardeners and the Boy's and Girl's Clubs

Master Gardeners’ Work at Boys and Girls Clubs Keeps Growing
The Boys and Girls Clubs of America enable all young people, especially those most in need, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Master Gardeners, led by Carolyn Booker and Carol Sagin are leading gardening and environmental stewardship activities at the Boys and Girls Club of Nicetown and the Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Philadelphia respectively. Through lessons about the natural world and the close mentoring the Master Gardeners helping young people, especially those most in need, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia connect about 13,000 youth with caring adults, demonstrating the potential impact of our service.

Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys and Girls Club
The Master Gardener team currently working at these sites include: Carolyn Booker, Carol Sagin, Andrea Vettori, Mary Ellen Post, Maryanne Seifert and Rachele Aquilla. These Master Gardeners need YOUR help to continue to grow with the youngsters and maintain a weekly scheduling of lessons from April through October. The foundational work is completed and new volunteers will have an easy time settling in and orienting themselves with the group. The team has finished the work of lesson planning – the curriculum was designed by the Master Gardener team to include Extension materials, recognized by the state for its excellence. A terrific relationship has been fostered with the Club administrators and teachers to ensure children’s participation and maintenance of the gardens. And, there are resources established for tools and supplies for whatever is needed to help the children learn.