Friday, March 30, 2012

Weeds and more weeds...the experiment.

By Michele Koskinen

My garden is a tiny little vegetable and perennial garden at the shore. The weather is beautiful and I need to get my hands in the soil "dirt", we said road trip. Upon arrival my daffodils were in full bloom, the magnolia is blooming and the hydrangeas are throwing out buds. as well as this beautiful white flower I bought and planted in the spring of 2010. I have no idea the name of this plant but it is a beauty. Early spring blooms and low growing. And the award for the most prolific grower goes to ajuga and chickweed. It is everywhere.

As ground cover in an area like a hill of other erosion prone areas, or as food and protection for pollinators, "weeds" are great. I have actually let the weeds/wild flowers grow being careful they don't take over in a few areas.  Usually in the summer our garden is well mulched and I have stone crop growing as ground cover, as well as plants so tightly planted they do not allow the weeds to take hold. Whatever stray plant that appears is usually taken care of.

The vegetable garden, heavily mulched in the summer, is usually exposed in the winter. We have tried plastic and it blew away with the ocean winds,  a cover crop, and the weeds still came.
Failed experiment

Last fall my husband and I were at a nursery and he talked to another gardener who told him of something he read. Using burlap and pulling the weeds out after they grow through the burlap. I said "I don't think so". But two guys and curiosity got the best of him. He covered the raised bed and put down the rock so it would not blow away. The weeds grew through and you can see there are many. He tried to pull and see if it indeed would pull up the weeds. No luck. Well, maybe a few. He was so disappointed. I laughed and said ok the weeds win again, start pulling. It just goes to show that people will try anything to avoid pulling weeds.

Next year we are using, newspaper or cardboard and then the burlap for the winter coverup on the vegetable garden. No light for the weeds to germinate and hopefully no winter winds. The trick as always is to keep ahead of the "weeds".

So what are the best practices for weed prevention? Mulching, crowding out with plants, weed killing sprays are all the norm. You could also just let them grow and not expend the energy. After all, Ralph Waldo Emerson said "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered."  

Happy weeding.

Check out the articles on weed control. Some we know, some reinforce our knowledge and some may make us rethink.

Paper Towel Roll "Peat" Pots

 By: Jessica S. Herwick

                                                                               This is a great trick that gardeners have been passing down for generations.  Don’t buy tons of peat pots, or biodegradable seed pots that claim you can bury them in the garden when transplanting.
Repurposing your empty paper towel rolls (or toilet paper rolls) to make seed starting pots is a quick and easy task that requires nothing more than a pair of scissors, a little water, and some fine motor skills.  An added bonus - just like the big name biodegradable seed pots, this seed starting method is one-stop-planting.  You start the seed in your homemade paper pot, and when the time comes to transplant the seedlings, you can plant                
                                                                                    the whole thing directly in the ground.  Try it out!

How To Make the Paper Pot ~
If using paper towel rolls, start by cutting them in half.
Toilet paper rolls are the perfect size already.
Make four 1/2 inch cuts to create 4 flaps at the bottom of the roll.
Make sure the flaps reach each other across the bottom.  You might have to make
the cuts longer than 1/2 inch to create a secure bottom for your paper towel pot.

Make four additional cuts, 1/4 inch long, one in the center of each flap.
Fold the opposing flaps into each other and secure in the center using the 1/4" slits.

Complete the bottom of your pot by folding the remaining flaps into each other and
securing them in place using the 1/4" slits.
Run the newly formed paper pot under the faucet to dampen the flaps at the
bottom. While the cardboard is still wet, sit the bottoms on a flat surface and use
a spoon to push the inside flaps down.  As the cardboard dries, the wet paper
will stick to itself and create a sturdy bottom for your paper pot. Allow to
air dry for 12 hours, or until all dampness has gone from the paper.

How To Start Your Seeds ~
Use a spoon to fill your paper pot with your preferred seed starting medium.  Check
the instructions on your seed packets for sowing depth if you're not sure how
much medium to put into the pot. Do not over pack the soil! It should be fluffy with
lots of room for the roots and stalk of the plants to do their thing!

Add your seed (one to a pot is best) and push down into the medium.  Note your seed
pack for depth!  Cover with a small sprinkling of medium and push down gently.
Do not over pack!  It should be fluffy with lots of room for the roots
and stalk of the plants to do their thing as they germinate.

Wet the medium so the water slightly dampens the cardboard of the paper pot.
Note that some water will drain from the bottom of the pot upon watering!
Note also that the paper pots are less sturdy from the bottom when they are wet.  I
recommend using a small plastic or terra cotta container (or clean yogurt cup!) to
prop and support the pots when planting.

Transfer planted pots into freezer bags with zip tops and label.
Seal top to create a warm, moise environment for your seed to germinate.
Note that three paper pots fit well into a sandwich bag.
Set above the fridge or in a quiet, sunny corner to germinate your seeds.
Open bag when seedlings emerge.
Hint: If writing directly on the plastic bag to label, do this before you
fill the bags.  It makes things much easier, and is the one step I often forget!

This Method Is Especially Effective With ~

* Pole Beans
* Bush Beans
* Any variety of Pea
* Tomato
* Cucumbers 
    (Transplanting is super easy - make your mound, dig a central space for the cylinder pots, and insert!)

For more information and ideas for repurposing your recycled goods to benefit your garden ~

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Cherry Blossums of Fairmount Park

By Michele Koskinen

The Cherry Blossums and Magnolias are out in full force in Fairmount Park. It was a spectalular day and time to get my photos before the coming rain. Over the years the Japan America Society has planted a variety of trees. This link will give you information on those in Fairmount Park.

Rodin Museum
We visited the revised park around the Rodin Museum, the Art Museum area where they are redoing the step area and of course the alley of beautiful trees behind the Horticulture Center.  I can't wait to play. Below is my photo journal of the day. If you have time you should visit. The magnolia's however already are dropping like snowfall.

Rear of the Art Museum

Shofuso Japanese House and Garden

Views of the grounds of the Horticulture Center

The Horticulture Center - Fairmount Park

The Cherry Blossum Festival starts this week and there are many events. It is always a great way to enjoy the Japanese culture.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hortline is open for gardeners questions.

With the onset of spring, the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners have picked up their telephones as well as their trowels to help citizens with gardening questions ranging from annual flowers to xeric landscaping.

The Hortline is available to the public. Please dial (215) 471-2200 x 116 to leave your questions on our voicemail system. Due to the high volume of calls, please allow 5-7 days for messages to be returned.

For more information on our Penn State Extension Master Gardener program, please go to: MG Webpage

Happy gardening!

Second Saturday Lasagna Gardening Presentation

The most recent Second Saturday was a presentation on Lasagna Gardening. The two Master Gardeners Cynthia Bailey and Andrea Lewandowski put together a great presentation describing the techniques and the reasons for gardening this way. It is a type of gardening that requires no digging and relies on layers of materials to benefit the garden.  As Cynthia expressed, it is easy on the back and cheap. This is a great method for all gardeners interested in organic gardening and making gardening a lifelong easier job.

As I was reading about Lasagna Gardening I came across an article in motherearthnews about Ruth Stout. Who is she? One of the first persons to advocate "No Dig" gardening. Ruth wrote a book in the 60's with the title "Gardening without work" For the aging, the Busy and the Indolent. Her bio is fascinating and shows the best practices for gardening are always alive and well in the gardening circles. Enjoy.

Lights, Water, Grow!

By Alexis Kidd   Philadelphia Master Gardener Class of 2010

Growing seeds indoors requires more than seeds, soil and water. Your seedling plants need plenty of light to grow. This time of the year mother nature does not provide young seedling plants with the optimal amount of sun light they need.  Sixteen to eighteen hours a day light to grow! Therefore, it is necessary to provide your seedlings with artificial light.

To provide enough light, you can buy one of the very expensive grow light units that are on the market. Depending on the size of the unit, they can range in price from $100-$400.  Gardener’s must always make the decision when to spend on an item or save. In this case, I decided to save by building my own grow light stand with the help of You Tube. 

There are many how-to-videos on YouTube.  Click this link to view how to make your own grow light.

I used 1 pvc pipe for additional stability. The cost of the pvc pipe and connectors is less than $10. The shop lights can be purchased at your local home repair store and cost about $10 each. You will also need to purchase two plant/aquarium lights ($10 each) for each light fixture. Plant/aquarium lights are usually smaller (size T8) than the standard florescent light, so make sure that the plant/aquarium light will fit your shop light.

TIP #1: Short on space? No need to glue the parts together…simply assemble, then when you are finished using the grow lights for the season, take the pieces apart for storage.

Tip #2: You don’t have to purchase the pvc snipes, simply use a hacksaw!

Starting Seeds with Repurposed Recycling

By:  Jessica S. Herwick

With March in full swing, and April just around the corner, the time has come to prepare for this year’s garden!  Hooray!  This means starting the seeds you have spent the last few months collecting, drying, researching, and/or purchasing… if you haven’t done so already.  This also means that you will begin to see all sorts of fancy seed starting kits in your local nurseries and hardware stores.  Many big-name companies sell a variety of pricey, pre-packaged seed starting materials that claim to get the best results from your seed packages, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to spend that money!  

Budget the cash you would set aside for starter kits and buy more seeds. Instead, repurpose your recycling!  Discarded toilet paper and paper towel rolls, egg cartons, newspaper, yogurt cups, milk cartons, soda bottles and even your old newspapers can be used as fabulous seed starting containers!  You will be amazed with how many containers you throw away every week that simulate the very same properties as big-name growing kits on the market.  I encourage everyone out there to tilt your heads slightly to the left, and examine your recycling in a different way.  Look at the containers you already have available and think creatively about how to use them.  Included below are a few "how-to" ideas to get you started. Each week, a new set of instructions will be posted below to provide you with a new method you can experiment with every week throughout April. A new link will appear below on the days marked in blue. Note the dates, and stay tuned! 

March 30 ---- Paper Towel Rolls  One Step Planting!  
Great for starting beans, peas, nasturtiums and potatoes (from quartered starters).
LINK -> Paper Towel Roll "Peat" Pots - HOW TO

April 6  ------  Seed Tape   One Step Planting!
Most effective when used to prepare carrots, leafy lettuces, spinach, radishes and onions.  Many annual flower seeds are tiny and work well using seed tape as well.  The tiny seeds of most herbs also thrive when planted using this method.  
April 13 ----- Gallon Milk Containers and Soda Bottles 
I prefer using these for tomatoes, since the tops can be laid back onto the container to create a greenhouse effect.

If you are concerned about cleaning your plastics, see Why Sanitize for quick tips on how to soak and sanitize plastic properly.  Click on the link below.

April 13 ---- Egg Cartons
Perfect for starting herbs.  This is the only way I plant my herbs.  Lettuce also likes to germinate in egg cartons, from my experience.   You do have to thin the seedlings when using this method, but the number of plants it produces make it well worth the effort.

April 20 ---- Newspaper   One Step Planting!
Great for potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and other squash/melons.  You can fold the edges high and fill with a low soil line to support the vines as the plant grows.  Another benefit to the newspaper method is the easy transplanting.  If you dampen the newspaper, and loosely rip the bottom, you can plant the whole thing in the garden.  No need to remove from the starter pot!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Urban Sustainability Forum

Urban Sustainability Forum Highlights Penn State Extension

This February, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University’s Urban Sustainability Forum highlighted the ways in which Philadelphia’s high tunnel farms contribute to the food security of our neighborhoods.
These farms produce hundreds of pounds of food every year, collectively.  At the event, Penn State Extension Master Gardeners and 4-H staff shared their knowledge and presented program information to colleagues and friends while mingling with the near capacity audience.  

For more information on the Penn State Extension High Tunnel Alliance, please click this link.
May 2012's Urban Sustainability Forum is:The Next Generation of Urban Manufacturing in Philadelphia

Penn State Master Gardeners and 4H staff handed out materials and answered questions before the forum.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Vegetable growing in the desert.

Vegetable growing in the desert  By Sandy Grimwade

Greetings from Rajasthan in northwest India. We have been here for about a month and have pretty much forgotten what clouds look like, let alone rain. In the village of Chandelao, where we are staying, there are fewer that 2000 residents. The major occupation is herding -- goats, sheep, water buffalo and cows. Because water is in such short supply, and everyone is so busy with their animals, they do not have much time or interest in gardening, or growing vegetables for their own consumption. Most people are vegetarians, however and there are excellent small market gardens which supply local needs.
Lin and Sandy from their blog post

I visited a small market garden recently and it was instructive how productive such a small operation can be. The 2-acre farm was divided into roughly 20' x 20' plots each surrounded by a small earth wall about 6 inches high. Prior to planting the plot is dug over and copious amounts of matured cow manure, or, better, goat manure is incorporated. Goat manure is highly prized and fetches a good price in the market. Cow manure is very widely available, and is used for fuel and for plastering walls and floors, as well as for enriching the soil. After digging, the plot is flooded with water, and the reason for the small walls becomes evident as they retain the water in a small area. Seeding of all crops, including tomatoes and peppers, is done by hand broadcasting directly onto the fertilized plot, each of which contains only one type of crop. The farmer is so expert at hand broadcasting that he seldom needs to thin out the plants once they have germinated. 

Seed usually comes from the previous season's crop and the farmer selects the best plants for seed. This means that there are no hybrid seeds used, but he is constantly selecting the plants that are most suitable for his particular soil type and microclimate. Farmers occasionally swap seeds with their colleagues, and occasionally have to buy in the market.

Because of high fertility, constant sunlight and careful watering, the farmer can produce 4 (four!!) crops from each plot in a year, However, they always have a quarter of their plots lying fallow, and they practice strict crop rotation.

In late February when we visited, it was the end of the winter season and they were harvesting spinach, cilantro, fenugreek, cauliflower and scallions. They were planted densely so that most of the soil was shaded to avoid evaporation.

They were planting tomatoes, eggplant and sweet and hot peppers for harvest in April. By May the weather is very hot (110 - 120 every day) and they have some sort of heat resistant greens that they grow -- I could not find out what. In fall, when it is still hot and they have the only rain of the year, they plant more tomatoes, and also grow various root vegetables like carrots, ginger and turmeric.

All this is only possible with an abundant supply of water, and this farm was lucky to have a productive tube well which produces good water with no salt in it. The farmer had an interesting sideline business. When the weather is hot, he pumps the water into a swimming pool, which he charges the locals to use. At night he runs the water into the plots where it is needed and refills the pool.
We have written much more about our experiences in Rajasthan on our blog at http;//

(Picture attached: Woman harvesting cilantro displays her cutting tool)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Demonstration Garden First Planting and Clean Up

The Demonstration Garden is located behind the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park. Stop by and see the progress  

                                         Bulbs planted in the fall are popping up.


Rosemary in bloom

More than a dozen Master Gardeners gathered at theDemonstration Garden at the Horticulture Center Saturday for a few gratifying hours of spring clean up and cold crop planting. Elizabeth captured the spirit of the day, saying, "what a perfect day for gardening". Beds were raked, weeded, and mulched. Old fencing got carted off, irrigation hoses were repositioned and pegged into the beds, and hundreds of seeds were laid out in neat rows. "I can't wait to see all these lovely vegetables", said Mary Ellen.        

Garden coordinator, Michelle Sokolof thanks all those who have already committed to tend the garden, and wants all Master Gardeners to know they are welcome to stop by any time to lend a hand. Kim Labno's  parting comments on this sunny early spring day say it all, " we're great, gardening is great, life is great". Nothing like a day in the garden with other Master Gardener to make you feel this way

A breath of spring

Monday, March 12, 2012

Herbed Infused Shortbread Recipe for The Creative Nine to Fivers

by Jessica S. Herwick

I know that for many of us, there’s just never enough time in a day, or in a week for that matter.  If I could, I would spend most of my waking hours tending to my herb garden and playing in the kitchen.  Of course, like most of you out there, I seldom find the time for these sorts of things, but I try. I’ve been known to use most any special occasion as an excuse to clear an afternoon and bake something out of the ordinary.  My motto: Try to make time.  And when I can’t, I make these cookies. You can make them in thirty-minute phases, prepare the dough days in advance and then refrigerate until you’re ready bake.  You can use a whole slew of herbs, fresh or dried, in various combinations and it’s quite easy to dress them for practically any event - office party, family reunion, pot-luck or book club. 

Convinced? Follow the basic recipe below, using simple ingredients, referring to the Variation Recommendations at the bottom of the recipe for a list of herbs you can infuse, and other tricks, to make distinctly different cookies every time you bake.  I prefer to use fresh herbs from my garden or local co-op.  If you are unfamiliar with using herbs in baking recipes, I recommend trying Rosemary, Thyme or Lavender for your first batch. If you don’t have the luxury of an herb garden, most of the recommended herbs (fresh or dried) can be found prepackaged for your convenience at your local grocery store. Guaranteed to impress and leave your friends, relatives, or co-workers wondering what you put in those fabulous cookies … and where you found the time to bake such gourmet treats!

Basic Herb Infused Shortbread Recipe (produces 24 cookies)

8 oz (2 sticks) butter
5 tbs. fresh herb of choice or 3 tbs. dry herb
(Photo examples feature Rosemary)
½ cup sugar
2 cups flour

** small food processor or scissors
    needed to chop fresh herbs. **

Preparations (butter and herb infused sugar)

·      Begin by softening your butter. Remove it from the fridge and place in a space at room temperature to soften (about 15 minutes). 

·      Prepare the Infused Sugar – using the sugar and herbs called for in the ingredients.

PREPARE DRIED HERB INFUSED SUGAR by crushing dried leaves of herb and discarding stems or seeds (if your dried herbs are pre-packaged, they may already be crushed and de-seeded).  Combine the ½ cup sugar with the 3 Tbs. of the dried, crushed leaves (if pre-packaged herbs are crushed to a powder-like consistency, add 2 Tbs. or the herb taste will be very strong).

PREPARE FRESH HERB INFUSED SUGAR by rinsing and drying your herb sprigs.  Remove the leaves for use (set stems and seeds aside for other projects).  When leaves are completely dry, measure out 5 Tbs. of lightly packed herb leaves and combine with the ½ cup sugar in a food processor.  Blend until leaves are fully chopped to a fine consistency and sticking lightly to the sugar (the fresh herbs release oils that will cause subtle moisture as they break down).

To Make the Dough
·      Combine 8 oz. butter and ½ cup infused sugar. Mix to a smooth consistency with no large lumps.
     *Hint: Use a large fork or a wooden spoon to push the butter into the sugar until it forms.  Don’t be afraid to use your hands.  They are warm and will help to melt the butter, making it easier to combine with the sugar. 
·      Add 2 cups of flour and mix until the dough becomes lumpy (Photo A) then smooth and consistent (Photo B).  Use fork, wooden spoon or hands.  I find the most success using a spoon to start and then finish using my hands.
                                           Photo A
Photo B


·   Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a solid, rectangular block  (roughly 12”x9”x1/4”) with no cracks.
Photo C
     *Hint: Use wax paper to easily shape the dough.  Roll dough into a long snake and lay on wax paper.  Fold wax paper around dough and push the edges against the table, shaping the dough inside the wax paper into a rectangle and smoothing out the cracks. (See Photo C)
      ·  Wrap rectangle completely in wax paper and tape edges closed.
Photo D

·      Refrigerate for 1 hour to 36 hours.  If refrigerating for more than a few hours before baking, wrap the wax papered dough in plastic wrap or store in a sealable sandwich bag (to retain moisture).
·      Remove dough from refrigerator just before you are going to cut and bake.  The colder it is, the easier to slice, but don’t let the dough dry out!

To Bake
·      Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Oil your cookie sheets.
·      Remove dough from refrigerator and unwrap.
·   Place on a cutting board and slice rectangular pieces about ¼ to ½ inch thick. (See Photo E)
·      Place cookies on cookie sheet about ¾ inch apart.  Cookies will not change shape much in the oven. (See Photo F)
Photo F
Photo E
·      Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the tops of the cookie begin to turn a
sandy color.  This happens quickly. Cookies must be removed or they will burn shortly after
the color begins to change, so keep your eye on the cookies during the last five minutes of bake
·      Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool for about 5 minutes before removing from
sheet.  BEWARE! Cookies will be soft until they cool.
·      Use a spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet and
allow to completely cool on a plate or cooling rack.  Store in an airtight bag or container.

Variation Recommendations
Herbs to try in this recipe:
Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme, Sage, Peppermint.

Try the following herb combinations for a slightly different taste –
Rosemary and Thyme or Lemon Thyme
Lavender and Lemon Balm
Sage and Bee Balm (Bergamot)

Combine/Chop 3 Tbs. Anise seeds in food processor with the ½ cup sugar in place of infused herb sugar.

Combine/Chop ½ cup of ground pecans and 3 Tbs. of cinnamon with the ½ cup sugar in a food processor instead of infused herb sugar. 

To Dress the Cookies
Try dipping your herb infused cookies in chocolate:
Buy Bakers Chocolate already prepared to melt down at the grocery store and follow directions on package, or combine one bag (16oz.) of dark chocolate chips with 1 Tbs. Olive Oil and heat slowly in a pot on the stove, stirring frequently.  When chocolate is completely melted, remove from heat.  Dip one end of the cookie into the chocolate, or paint one side of the cookie with melted chocolate and lay on wax paper to dry.   
* Especially delicious with peppermint infused cookies!

If using fresh herbs, set aside a few whole sprigs or whole leaves and press into the cookie before baking, or press fresh leaves into chocolate if you are dipping your cookies.  You can do the same with flowers, if your herb is in bloom.

Sprinkle colored sugar onto the cookies before baking. 

Cookie dough can be rolled flat and cut using any shape cookie cutter!  If making cookies to be cut into shapes, I recommend doubling the recipe, since cookie cutters make slightly larger cookies than the standard, small, rectangular shortbread cookie shape.

If you’ve used this recipe, or have a cool variation, share it with us by commenting on this blog!  
Additional ideas welcome!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Second Saturday Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

By Eileen Kull

Hello all home bakers,
       Copied below is the recipe for the cake served at this month's Second Saturday Gardening Series. There were a lot of requests for the recipe, so here it is. Only the cake I made did not have the glaze. Enjoy!

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

Adapted loosely from Ina Garten, (copied from the smitten kitchen website)

1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (230 grams) plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup (200 grams) plus 1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon grated grapefruit zest (approximately one large grapefruit)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

For the glaze:
1 cup (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Preheat the oven to 350�F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, grapefruit zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup grapefruit juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and grapefruit juice and pour over the cake.