Thursday, March 9, 2017

Your Garden for 2017: Pests and Bio-controls

by Michelle L. Dauberman

Spring is right around the corner but it’s not too late to start planning your garden.  Part of your plan for 2017 may include weaning your garden off chemical pest control and you may have heard that bio-controls can help you in this endeavor but you’re not sure where to start.

Predatory insects (aka. beneficial insects) are a great place to start.  Yes, that’s right, beneficial insects.  Once you get over the fact that you actually want these bio-controls/insects in your garden you’re on your way to a healthy garden, better yields and a thriving ecosystem.

So, that’s all well and good but how do I attract the good guys to my garden?  Let’s start by planting groups of host plants like Achillea ļ¬lipendulina (yarrow), Cosmos bipinnatus (cosmos), Solidago virgaurea (goldenrod) and Aster alpinus (aster).

It’s a good idea to plant these hosts in groups since it increases your odds of attracting/hosting predatory flies, lacewings, ladybugs, hover flies and parasitic wasps to and in your garden.  Once these predators are in your garden they will begin to prey on the undesirables like aphids, mealy bugs and a variety of insect larvae.

There are several other plants that you can utilize to your garden’s benefit beyond what’s mentioned in this post so don’t limit yourself to these plants and always experiment.  Another tip about host plants:  Stager your plants by flowering season.  If you stager them by season you’ll experience more uninterrupted bio-control coverage throughout your growing season.

For more information about beneficial insects check out these PSU Extension links:

Pineapple Sage

By Stephanie Rukowicz

For the past two years I have been in charge of planting and maintaining the herb bed at my community garden. The varieties are typically predetermined by a group vote at the beginning of the season. This year, in addition to the usual suspects, a new garden member suggested pineapple sage (Salvia elegans).

He planted a 3” pot in early spring and the plant grew as quickly as he described. In just one season this sage grew quite large, taking over its corner of the bed and spilling out into the walking path. Unlike common sage that flowers in Spring, this sage variety flowers at the end of the season (photo taken in mid-October).
Pineapple sage grown from 3" pot in Spring, now enormous and flowering end of season (mid-October).

The tubular red flowers are quite decorative and delicious. I can see why some gardeners use them in salads. The community garden member who planted this salvia recommended using its leaves for tea. I brewed a cup using 4-5 leaves in boiled water, steeping about five minutes. I find it quite tasty.  

Herbal tea made from pineapple sage leaves. Brewed and consumed hot.

What a great idea this author had to use it in a container planting. With pretty foliage all summer long, and then beautiful red flowers give the container Fall interest (and Fall food for pollinators) as well.

The extension information available through Penn State also note another use: in ornamental wreaths. The foliage would be fragrant and beautiful.

  • Culinary
  • Cut Flowers
  • Containers (foliage throughout summer, flowers in fall)
  • Pollinator food in Fall (hummingbird, honey bees, butterflies)
  • Ornamental wreaths
  • Dry to use for potpourri 
  • Teas 

Bonnie Plants answers the question:
“Is pineapple sage used the same way as my other sage?
Pineapple sage and common sage are related. They are both salvias. Here the resemblance ends. They don’t look alike or grow alike, and they certainly do not taste the same. Consequently, their uses are different. While common sage is well known for its contribution to sausage, poultry dishes, and herb blends, pineapple sage is appealing in fruit and sweet dishes. It has a pineapple-like scent. In addition, the autumn flowers give it an ornamental role in the garden.”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

2017 PLANT SALE Seed starting project

Michele K Koskinen

This year the Master Gardeners will be starting more seeds than ever before to entice you to our annual plant Sale. Scheduled for Sunday April 30 at the Horticulture Center it is in the planning stages and has become a great place to get quality plants for your garden. Stay tuned for more information in the next few weeks.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Parsnip

by Michelle L. Dauberman

Winter is the perfect time to start planning your garden and if you’re a seasoned gardener you’re probably thinking about your favorites like the flavorful heirloom tomato, spicy pepper, veritable squash, crispy lettuce, aromatic herbs and super-foods like kale and spinach.  So this year why not add parsnips to your garden.

Beyond their sweetness and relation to that other root vegetable, the carrot, it’s worth mentioning how long you can safely extend the parsnips’ harvesting season.  At a time when most of the garden has gone quiet you can dig your parsnips from unfrozen ground long into the winter months and even into early spring.

As you go from garden to table imagine how warm and tasty a side dish of roasted or fried parsnips would be on a cold winter’s day.

For more information on parsnips visit this PSU Extension page:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Peppers with a Purpose

By Chuck Richards

In late November, I finally committed to the bittersweet task of cleaning up what was the backyard edible garden. Being the Northern Hemisphere’s time to weather the Earth’s 23 degree tilt away from our energy source, my tomato stakes came down, and the remaining plant material went to compost. In the midst of this annual exercise of mind and body, I once again found humor in the absurd amount of hot peppers that I produce annually. By the time I was finished the chore, I had a more than fifty final hot peppers for 2016.

If my wife, our two toddler girls, and I solely ate hot peppers, I would never again have to wait behind that guy at the Giant who uses self-checkout with an overflowing shopping cart when the rest of us behind him have a few things in a small basket. But outside of me, no one in this house eats hot peppers. One can only push so many hot peppers on friends, family, and colleagues before people begin to talk. So, each year, I am committed to finding creative ways to utilize all those hot peppers and, lately, equally committed to being pleasant in the self-checkout line at the grocery store.

After I have made as many salsas as I can dream up, or tried every sandwich or variation of grilled chicken or burger with roasted hot peppers, or even spiced up a tomato sauce; eventually, there are still too many peppers and not enough time. Since they don’t keep forever, I have a few favorite ways to utilize them throughout the winter and all the way into the next growing season.

Crushed Red Pepper

I use my bright red cayenne peppers to make homemade crushed red pepper.  It’s very easy to do and pays long-term dividends with the spice and flavor it can add to many winter meals.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Remove stems, and cut the peppers in half;

2. Spread the peppers across a cookie sheet. Feel free to include some seed too;

3. Bake at 200° F (or less if your oven settings and time allow) for several hours. Use a fan or crack the oven door when you can, as air circulation is important for the process;

4. Crush! When the peppers are fully dried, place in food processor or take a rolling pin or knife to them;

5. Place crushed pepper in a shaker (I just clean out a used shaker and make my own label).

That’s it. It’s that easy. Just make sure they are fully dry, or they are more difficult to crush/dice.

Diced Peppers for Freezing

I use freezer sphere molds…banana, jalapeno, cayenne, serrano, habanero, etc. They are such a simple “add” to any dish throughout the winter when all you have to do is open up one of these molds and stir them in as you begin cooking or thaw and utilize uncooked in many different meals.

Save the Seeds

You can use these seeds for next year’s plants. I’ve been planting for years without buying any seed. Simply separate all the seeds and set on a surface to dry for a few days. Then, put them in a small paper bag, label it, and put it in a plastic storage in the back of the fridge until it is time to plant in the spring!


I think the most important tip is to be careful throughout these processes. I’m often too stubborn to use gloves, but it is a good idea to use some sort of protection from the capsaicin, which is the oily chemical responsible for the "hot" in peppers (genus capsicum)

Capsaicin is difficult to wash/scrub off as it is hydrophobic, and even after you think you are in the clear, you’ll rub your eyes and be instantly and very uncomfortably reminded why you should have been less stubborn.

If you are using the oven to assist your drying process, be sure to either have a window cracked for good circulation, and consider evacuating loved ones and pets prior to oven drying. That capsaicin can begin permeating your living space to the point of irritability. 


Search “OC Spray” on YouTube for a few examples of what a military/law enforcement dose of a capsaicin-based spray does to these poor individuals. Sure, these are extreme examples, but maybe they’ll help you remember these safety tips.

Hopefully this helps you enjoy these healthy and delicious hot peppers year-round!