Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hamamelis....Winter Interest in the Garden

Michele Koskinen

Hamamelis "witchhazel" is a deciduous speciman tree or small shrub 10 to 15 feet tall and wide with a vase like shape and is native in the eastern and central part of the United States. Native Americans used the leaves and bark of the Hamamelis for medicinal purposes and are also used today as an astringent for acne and other skin applications.

Hamamelis mollis 'Pallida'
The beauty of the hamamelis comes not in the spring or summer, but the fall and winter. The flowers are spiderlike bright yellow and have a light fragrance. They are often the only bit of color in a drab late fall and winter landscape. Many hybrids on the market are smaller, upright and narrow. The flowers run from the typical yellow to orange and red. If you are looking for winter interest this is a wonderful addition to your landscape.

Two gardens in the Philadelphia region with large collections of Hamamelis are Scott Arboreum (2011 Scott Arboretum Blog on Hamamelis) and Morris Arboreum.... Plant Collection.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Roxborough HS Rain Garden

Roxborough HS Rain Garden – Alyssa Van Alstine

This blog is long overdue, as this project was completed in June; however, giving birth to my daughter in July sort of put a hold on things. Three of my AP Environmental Science students from Roxborough High School installed a rain garden as part of their Senior Project.  The students became interested in rain gardens after learning about rainwater management in urban areas and how this relates to both surface and groundwater pollution. To learn specifics about rain gardens and rain garden installation, the students attended a 2-day Rutgers University short course. Previous blog on classes

Before choosing the location of the garden, the students surveyed the school grounds to find a location prone to flooding.  The courtyard area adjacent to the side entrance was chosen, as the driveway frequently held water after a storm.

Much time and preparation went into the actual garden design. The students calculated the area that would drain to the rain garden to determine the size of the garden.  Soil samples were collected and percolation tests were performed to make sure that water would not pond in the garden after a storm event.  Research was conducted to choose rain garden friendly yet drought tolerant native plants that would specifically attract butterflies and other pollinators to the garden.

The actual garden installation took place over the course of one unseasonably warm day in May, and was a quite laborious process. The students cleared the very sizable garden area by hand, digging out the top 6 inches of topsoil from the garden location. They then mulched the entire area, as well as dug out inlets for the water to flow before planting the native plant plugs.

Overall, this was a very time consuming yet awesome project. The students were happy to fulfill the requirements for their Senior Project, yet satisfied to leave a legacy at RHS by way of their rain garden. It was a gratifying and educational experience for us all.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Candied Citrus Rinds - Preserving 101

- Jessica S. Herwick

Candied citrus rinds have a long history.  Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all soaked citrus peels in honey (there was no such thing as refined sugar in ancient days).  These preserves were used as sweet treats, and as medicine. Candied citrus reached the height of popularity back in the Eighteenth Century.  When most of the world’s cultures still referred to candies as sweetmeats, these candied lemon and orange rinds  - know as citrus chips during this period- considered some of the most desired of all treats.
Citrus fruit was  more difficult to obtain in those days, and so, imported lemons and oranges were candied to increase their shelf life (and their value).  You might say that the truest fans of citrus chips then, were as dedicated a group as today's chocoholics.

I have been using the recipe below to candy lemon and orange peels for years.  You can also try it with grapefruit and lime peels.  I prefer the lemon, and find that as a jam maker, I often have an excess of rinds, which I don’t like to waste!  I give them as gifts along with the loose herbal teas that I dry from my garden.  I also use this recipe 
when introducing my friends to the art of home made jams and the science of preserving.  If you are a seasoned canner who likes to make jams and compotes, you can use this recipe to make good use of all those left over rinds. After squeezing your fresh lemon juice, you know there’s always a nice handful of left overs!  If you are a beginner canner, and have never made or canned jams before but would like to try, this recipe is a great way to boost your preserving confidence through safe practice.  You will become familiar with how the sugar reacts to heat, with the rhythm and timing sugar recipes require, and the various changes your syrup goes through as it cooks on the stovetop.  

The best part of this process for beginners (and for all) is the safety aspect. Because there is no fruit in your mixture, and you are only candying the peels, you do not have to process these rinds to preserve them safely once you finish the recipe – meaning no hot water bath or pressure canner is necessary!  If you follow the recipe, and ensure your finished candied rinds are completely dry and covered properly in sugar, you can store the finished product in an airtight container for up to 6 months (in a dry, cool, dark place where temperature does not fluctuate too often) without any need for additional preserving processes to be applied!.

Candied lemon rinds can be eaten as-is as a candy treat.  You can chop them and use them in cookies and candies.  They make adorable cake decorations, and are also pretty yummy when you dip the tips of the finished, dried rinds in chocolate.  My favorite use for these rinds is to put them in my herb tea.  The lemon and sugar combination adds a nice flavor and acts as a mild sweetener.  Best of all, when your tea is gone, you are left with a warm, chewy burst of lemon to munch on once the candied rind has soaked in the tea. 

                                                          You Will Need
The Peels from 5 pounds of Citrus Fruit (lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime)                                   
Clean Scrub Brush or Veggie Scrubber
Sharp Knife
Bowl (to hold the fruit once you peel it)
Large Pot with Lid (to blanch rinds)
Access to cold water                                               
   ·      Use the scrub brush to wash the exterior of the fruit thoroughly.
Hint: Many citrus fruits have a sticker or brand name stamped on them.  Inspect your citrus to ensure stickers or the glue they leave behind as well as ink from name-brand stamps are completely scrubbed from your fruits.
   ·      Cut the leathery ends from the fruit.
   ·      Use a knife to score into quarters and remove rinds (aka peels) and  
        cut rinds into strips – no wider than ¼”.
Hint: The pith (white layer between the skin of the peel and the fruit) candies very well.  Do not pick it away, unless there are long, loose strands that would fall off during the candying process.
    ·      Blanch Peels

BLANCHING- A fancy way of saying boil quickly, sometimes more than once. Blanching sanitizes and softens the rinds, making it
easier for the food to accept the syrup you’re using to preserve it. It also reduces the amount of bitter oils in the rind. How to blanch is below. 
            ·      Place citrus strips in large saucepan and   
            cover with cold water. 
            ·      Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil   
                uncovered for 60 seconds. 
            ·     Drain, then return rinds to saucepan, 
                cover with cold water (MUST be cold) 
                and bring to a boil a second time.
            ·    Repeat 4 to 10 more times, until rinds 
               are soft and more flexible.
                   (thicker rind = more repetition).
            ·    If you haven’t already started your   
               sugar syrup, drain rinds and place back  
               in the pot you boiled them in, removed from heat, and put the lid back on. Keep in pot until   
               Sugar Syrup is prepared.

                                  You Will Need                                                                                    
        Large pot with high ends
        5 cups Sugar
        5 cups Water
        Candy Thermometer

    ·      Combine 5 cups sugar and 5 cups water with wire whisk over medium heat.  Stir often and bring to a rolling boil, then quickly lower heat so the sauce remains at a low simmer. (Photo 5)
    ·      Do not let the temperature rise above 220 degrees on the candy thermometer.  

Hint: If your heat cannot be lowered fast enough, remove your pot for a few moments while waiting for
your burner to cool down if your thermometer reaches 220.  I often have to do this when using an 
electric stovetop.

CAUTION!  The sugar and water may react to each other when the temperature gets very high and the syrup boils, which is why it’s recommended to use a pot higher and larger than the mass of the syrup.  See photo on right and consider yourself warned!

          You Will Need
Prepared Rinds (see above)
Prepared Sugar Syrup (see above)
Sugar for coating the rinds

    ·      Add the prepared peels to the already prepared and simmering sugar syrup.  Continue to simmer gently. DO NOT STIR.  Simmer rinds undisturbed. 
Hint: If you find rinds peeking out of the syrup, swirl the pot by 
the handle to move peels around, or use a tongs to gently flip 
peels or push them into the syrup. Resist the urge to stir. This is 
the hardest part for me!  I constantly fight the urge to stir.

·      Simmer until peels turn translucent. This is a process.  It will 
take from one to 5 hours, depending on how quickly the water 
boils out of your sugar syrup, and the quality and size of your 
rinds (and how well you blanched them)
·      Pull rinds out in small groups and drain peels on a wire 
cooling rack overnight. Do not let them touch each other or you 
will have a sticky mess in the morning!
·      After overnight drying, toss the rinds in sugar to coat each 
one. Place on wax paper to dry again for 4 to 5 hours (or 2 hrs. 
in an unheated oven on a cookie sheet).
·      Store in clean, air-tight containers or bags and enjoy at your 

To learn more about what Cooperative Extension is saying, check out the links:

Go here for more information about food preservation safety from the Extension.

National Center for Home Food Preservation Interactive Tutorial.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What to do with all those leaves?

The leaves are falling and the yearly cleanup begins. What strategies are the best to use the leaves in your garden.

1. Discard all leaves of diseased trees or plants from the garden. Do not add them to the compost. Instead, throw them out with the garbage.

2. Masses of leaves should not be allowed to overwinter on your lawn. They will compact and deprive the grass of light and air. Remove the leaves and use them as mulch or add them to your compost pile OR mow them. If you do not have a tremendous amount of leaves, mowing them weekly until they have finished falling will give your lawn nutrients and will provide some shade preventing weeds from growing.

3. Use whole leaves as mulch around plants that have just been planted. The leaves will keep the soil warm and give the roots time to get established. (Leaves should never be placed close to the base of a tree or shrub. It should be a minimun of 6"to 8" away)

3. Use leaves across your gardens bare soil to prevent erosion during the winter.

4. Apply them to established gardens to prevent the soil from freezing and defrosting "heaving" in the winter and premature warming in the spring.

5. Shredding the leaves hastens the process for use as mulch or compost in your garden giving you a dark rich high carbon material.

6. Contact your municipality for information on leaf pick up or drop off . They often shred and make compost to be used in public gardens or provide the community with compost in the spring.
For information on The City of  Philadelphia leaf drive:        Leaf Drive Q&A     Leaf Drive City

7. Finally.........use those beautiful leaves to give artful color to your fall decorating or Thanksgiving Ttable.

Our Native Plants: Fall Wow!

Kristin Lacey

For those who have heard me discuss the challenges of my courtyard space in Fishtown, I can sound like a bratty-broken record. “It’s a Mediterranean micro-climate”, I relay. And, it is indeed a Philly heat-island affected, south facing, protected, and mostly brick-covered space.

To accommodate the heat and arid conditions of our yard, I replaced 4 finicky ergo deceased sky pencils (Ilex crenata) with 2 native straight-species Iteas. 

Itea virginica has 4 seasons of interest in the garden but fall is its showiest moment. Its 4 foot by 4 foot arching form gracefully displays its flaming autumn color. In sunny spots, the Itea will turn fiery crimson, burgundy, and purple. In full or partly-shady spots, its autumn leaves will be orange, gold and scarlet.

Leaves will hang in there well into winter and the twigs will stay their deep red. In spring the leaves fan out dramatically and in early to mid-summer large white flower clusters emerge. 

Itea is very adaptable to various soil conditions and it’s quite handsome, which makes it a wow of a native plant.