Thursday, August 30, 2012

Local Fruit (and more local than you think!)

Brian Olszak

Casually leafing through my copy of The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips on a Saturday night (because that’s what Master Gardeners do, of course!), in the section on pears I came upon a particularly interesting find. While European pears, naturally, have found their way to the States from Europe, some pears are found in the wilds of America and cultivated for larger distribution. One of which is the Tyson pear, which was discovered in 1794 in a hedgerow on Jonathan Tyson’s farm in Jenkintown, just north of Philadelphia! This is particularly thrilling for me, having grown up not too far away from this location, in Willow Grove.

A quote on Tyson pears from the preeminent source of American pear knowledge, The Pears of New York, written by Ulysses Prentiss Hendrick in 1921:
An illustration of the pear in question from The Pears of New York

The tree is the most nearly perfect of that of any pear grown in America…. The tree is certainly as hardy as that of any other variety, if not hardier, and resists better than that of any other sort the black scourge of blight. Add to these notable characters large size, great vigor, and fruitfulness, and it is seen that the trees are nearly flawless. (p. 223)

That “black scourge of blight” he’s talking about is none other than fire blight, a particularly destructive bacterial infection to which apples, pears, and even crab apples are quite susceptible to varying degrees, depending on the cultivar. Affected parts of the tree take on a blackened, “burned” look to them, which can spread quickly.

The rub, then, is finding this supposedly delectable pear. After about an hour online research, I could only find two orchard/nurseries that still carry or have recently been known to carry Tyson pears--these are Fedco Seeds and St. Lawrence Nurseries. A lauded and seemingly popular variety in the early 20th century, the economics of large-scale fruit and agricultural production has shifted Tyson pears and many other heirloom varieties into near obscurity, but specialty fruit breeders and nurserymen still carry on the tradition--it's just a matter of finding them! Sometimes it's knowing someone who knows someone else who knows an upstanding nurseryman, but Penn State has a good list of nursery sources for fruit trees, including nurseries that specialize in heirloom varieties, here.  The search goes continues, then.

Everbearing Raspberries

Heritage Everbearing Raspberries
Sandy Grimwade

If you want a long season of delicious home-grown raspberries, you cannot do better than to plant a few canes of an everbearing variety. They will produce a large early crop on the previous year’s growth at the end of June, then start producing berries on current year growth in August and carry on until frost. Last year we had a few fresh raspberries on November 14th!

Heritage is a great variety that grows well in the Philadelphia area, but there are others that may do just as well. The canes don’t grow more than 4 – 5 feet tall and require minimal staking. A few years ago I planted 6 canes and now I have a “hedge” of raspberry canes about a foot wide and 8 feet long.

Everbearing raspberries require a slightly acidic, fertile soil, so they do well in this area. They also need good drainage. I grow mine in a slightly raised bed. Make sure they will get lots of sun, which encourages larger and sweeter fruit.  The best time to plant is in spring and the plants are not very expensive (about $24 for 6 bare-root plants).

Cultivation is quite simple. Books and articles about growing raspberries are full of jargon and make it sound complicated. Please do not be intimidated. In the spring, dozens of small shoots come up from below the ground. I thin out the weaker shoots and remove any that are outside the growing area – they sometimes appear a long way from the original plants. These fresh green canes will grow during the year and bear fruit at the tips from August onwards. The following year the bark on these canes will turn brown, and they will bear fruit along their whole length in clusters in late June. After they have fruited, cut them down to the ground to make room for current year’s new canes. It is easy to tell which canes should be left to grow and which should be cut down, as they are color-coded. “If it is brown, cut it down”.

I have had no disease problems with these raspberries, unlike some other varieties. The only problem has been catbirds, who seem to like the June crop of berries as much as I do.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Our Native Plants......Acelepias

Kristin Lacey

Question: What to Plant in Late Summer for Great Butterfly Action?  
Answer: Asclepias or milkweed.

Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed (picture below) loves sunny spots with dry sandy even gravelly soils.  For more information
Butterfly Weed may need a few seasons to reach full size of 36 inches tall. It is recommended to leave the old stalks in place so you don’t forget about them in spring while they green up.

If your potential butterfly garden in partial shade or sunny with wet soils? Then plant Asclepias
incarnata or swamp milkweed. For more information
To encourage butterflies to hang out in your garden as long as possible, provide food sources for the larvae (caterpillars) as well as nectar plants for the adults (butterflies). Here is a list of native butterfly plants for Philadelphia*:

*Marinelli, Janet, Brooklyn Botanical Garden All-Region Guides: The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide, 2008.

Host Plants for Caterpillars:
Aristolochia macrophylla, Dutchman’s Pipe
Asclepias incarnate, swamp milkweed
Baptisia australis, false indigo
Chelone glabra, white turtlehead
Eurybia or Aster divaricate, white wood aster
Passiflora incanata, passionflower
Rudbeckia species, yellow coneflower
Solidago rugosa, rough goldenrod
Vaccinium angustifolium, lowbush blueberry

Nectar Plants for Adults
Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed
Clethera alnifolia, sweet pepperbush
Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower
Eutrochium purpureum or Eupatorium purpureum, joe-pye weed
Pycnanthemum muticum, mountain mint
Rudebeckia laciniata, cutleaf coneflower
Solidago species, goldenrods
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, New England Aster
Vernonia noveboracensis, New York ironwood 

To learn more about planting for Great Butterfly Action check out these websites:

Drying herbs with your microwave


Michele K Koskinen
Gardeners are often frugal types that love to preserve for the winter the bounty of the summer. Drying herbs has been around forever. Historically, you would harvest the herbs and hang them in bunches to dry. The problem however, all herbs do not air dry the same way. When I began drying herbs I often ended up with brown tasteless leaves and not until I started tray drying in the oven did it change. I also found the type of herb being tried makes a difference. Some are better at air bunch drying than others.

Dried herbs do not always retain their aroma, but will retain the taste for up to a year. I dry basil, oregano (several types), tarragon, thyme, mint, marjorum, parsley and lemon balm for cooking and a variety of flowers for crafts.  The method I use.........the microwave. I have found it easy and the herbs retain their color and taste on a consistant basis.

The trick to drying successfully in the microwave is to carefully monitor the process. (DO NOT USE RECYCLED CONTENT PAPER PLATES OR TOWELS AS THEY OFTEN WILL SPARK.)
Take the cut, washed and dried fresh herbs and place the stems of small leaf herbs (oregano, tyme, marjorum) on a paper towel or paper plate. Cover with a paper towel and hit high for 30 seconds. Check and continue the 10 sec check routinely until dried. Do not over dry. For large leaf herbs such as basil, sage or mint, bay you may want to remove the leaf from the stem and dry the whole leaf.

Let cool and the use one of two methods to remove the leaves. 1. Roll the stems with your palms to remove the leaves onto a cut piece of wax paper. Use the wax paper as a funnel to put into a jar. OR 2. Slide your fingers down the stem and the leaves will fall again onto the wax paper. Whole leaves can be put into a jar whole or crushed.


There are many resources on drying herbs and flowers. I got started with the Rodale Herb Book after finding it at a yard sale years ago. Today the websites for advice are numerous. Type in dried herbs or microwave dried herbs, and up comes hundreds of sites. Have fun.

Reblooming Iris....... Surprise!!!!!!!

Michele K. Koskinen

Spring Bloom with Huerchera
My garden has gone into the August stage of few perennials blooming and the fall look of foliage far too early. This has been a strange year for my perennials. Many bloomed too early and were finished by the beginning of August. Some did not look happy with the early heat and some I lost in the June storm.

But, a mid August surprise. Tucked in behind the "never die" Sedum and Coreopsis I have a beautiful Bluish Iris blooming again. Where did this come from? I then remembered getting a plant from a swap with another gardener last year. It bloomed beautifully in the spring I had no idea it would give me pleasure twice this year. It's fragrance is soft and sweet, and the palest wisteria and white with a pale yellow tongue.

Sedum and Coreopsis in fall
It is a breath of spring in the doldrums of mid hot August. I have looked high and low but there are thousands of iris and I have no idea the name of this beauty. Oh well, it does not matter I love it anyway and will look at replacing those I lost with reblooming ones next year.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Preserving the bounty...Dilled green tomatoes

Submitted Michele Koskinen

Many gardeners not only grow their food they preserve the bounty of the garden to enjoy all year long. In a previous entry Lois Fischer presented her  Dilly Beans

 I am partial to dilled green tomatoes.  Follow all instructions to sterilize the jars and lids or you will have spoilage. This is probably the most important part. Ball has several great books to get you up and running. This uses the water canning process

About 5 pound of small firm green tomatoes washed and drained. Depending on the size they should be quartered or halved.

1/4 c salt I use kosher or Ball
3 1/2 c of white vinegar
3 1/2 c of water
6 or 7 cloves of garlic adjusted to amount of tomatoes
6 or 7 heads of fresh dill or 1/4 c of seed
6 or 7 bay leaves
If you like hot spicy add a hot pepper whole for heat.

Bring water and vinegar to a boil.  Pack the tomatoes into a hot jar and add a clove of garlic, dill 2 Tsp or a head, 1 bay leaf. Ladle hot liquid over tomatoes leaving 1/2" of space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust caps and process 15 minutes in boiling water canner. Yield about 6 pints

Others have their favorites and I am hoping to get some of them to share. But before you begin, you should always take care to use proper canning or preservation techniques. PennState Extension has advice on their blog about just those things. So beginners and veterans alike review and be safe.

A new public garden in Fairmount Park

Linda Grimwade

A recent visit to the Philadelphia Art Museum steps found the installation of an exhibit by Sol DeWitt. Anyone that visits the park or the river walk will enjoy this exhibit as it uses the garden as the actual exhibit. Another great garden in the Philadelphia area.

Lines in Four Directions in Flowers
Sol LeWitt, American
Commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association in 1981
Realized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2012 in cooperation with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
Flower plantings, evergreen hedges, gravel paths

Sol LeWitt: Lines in Four Directions in Flowers
May 24, 2012

In 1981, leading conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (American, 1928–2007) was invited by the Fairmount Park Art Association (currently known as the Association for Public Art) to propose a public artwork for a site in Fairmount Park. He selected the long, rectangular plot of land known as the Reilly Memorial and submitted a drawing with instructions. Installed thirty years after its conception, Lines in Four Directions in Flowers is a work of monumental scale, made up of more than 7,000 plantings arranged in strategically configured rows. In his original proposal, the artist describes an installation of flower plantings of "four different colors (white, yellow, red & blue) in four equal rectangular areas, in rows of four directions (vertical, horizontal, diagonal right & left) framed by evergreen hedges of about 2’ height. In the winter the rows of plants would retain their linear direction, in the summer the flowers would bloom and provide the color."
Sol LeWitt: Lines in Four Directions in Flowers will be on view over the next two years at its intended site, with perennial flowers blooming throughout the horticultural season. Landscape architecture and urban design firm OLIN was responsible for overseeing the interpretation and execution of LeWitt's design. Groundswell Design Group, LLC, a landscape architect design-and-build firm, planted the flowers, which were grown at the Perennial Farm in Glen Arm, Maryland. Groundswell will maintain the garden throughout the duration of its two-year installation.

You can find out more at: 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Move over Basil......Pesto from other greens.

Submitted by Megan Bucknum

Making Pesto with Garden Greens Other Than Basil

Basil pesto is great, especially over pasta or on a great little crostini with a slice of freshly picked tomato and a touch of salt.  It amazes me how so many different ingredients -- basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese -- all come together as if they were meant to be.  But, perhaps the actual basil gets too much of the credit, when really it is the technique, and other ingredients, that yields a great texture and flavor.  With this in mind, I have been experimenting this spring and summer with making pestos from other greens and even other nuts. 

My first experiment was a pretty common substitute for basil, arugula.  Every spring when I start to see the fiddlehead ferns (or ostrich ferns) I have a craving for pizza topped with these great oddities.  I made an arugula-tahini pesto based pizza topped with fiddleheads, cheese and sundried tomatoes.  It was fantastic!  See the pesto recipe below.

Arugula-Tahini Pesto
1 bunch arugula
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)
juice of 1 lemon 
½ - ¾ cup olive oil
Place the arugula, tahini and lemon juice in a food processor.  Blend until the greens are beginning to be chopped.  With the processor still running, drizzle the olive oil through the top until it becomes the texture of a spreadable paste.  Add to your discretion until you have achieved your desired consistency.  Finish by blending in salt and pepper to taste.

Earlier in the summer, I planted mustard greens and every seed that I sowed produced like crazy.  Being faced with a large amount of one mighty flavorful green, I started to think of some different cooking options.  I found a mustard green pesto recipe online and tossed it with pasta and mushrooms and it was delicious.  The cheese in the recipe helped take away some of the “bite” that these greens can have if you eat them raw.  I did not have pecans, so I substituted with walnuts.

Mustard-Pecan (or Walnut) Pesto
from Bon Appetit 
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pecans
2 garlic cloves, peeled, quartered
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 cups (loosely packed) coarsely chopped mustard greens
Blend 1/2 cup oil, pecans, and garlic in processor until finely chopped. Add vinegar, then Parmesan; process to blend. Add mustard greens alternately with remaining 1/3 cup oil in 2 additions each; puree until almost smooth. Season pesto with salt and pepper. Transfer to small bowl. Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover; chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before using.

Just this past week, my CSA included dandelion greens and I have been growing a lot of different salad greens, so I decided to try another pesto.  I found a great recipe online from David Lebovtiz’s travels in Paris and decided to give it a whirl.  Next time I make this, I am going to try to substitute the pine nuts for sunflower seeds.  I used this pesto on-top of “beet stackers” that I made from chioggia beets and mozzarella cheese.

Dandelion-Pine Nut Pesto
from David Lebovitz
12 ounces washed and cleaned dandelion leaves
1 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
6 tablespoons  pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 1/2 ounces Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

Put about one-third of the dandelion greens in the food processor or blender with the olive oil and chop for a minute, scraping down the sides. Add the remaining dandelion greens in two batches, until they’re all finely chopped up.  Add the garlic cloves, pine nuts, salt, and Parmesan, and process until everything is a smooth puree.  Taste, and add more salt if necessary. If it’s too thick, you can thin it with more olive oil or water.

By seeing three different pesto recipes using other greens, you have probably noticed that there is a basic formula:  greens, oil, salt, nuts, salt and cheese.  So go out and experiment!  This is one recipe that you can always stop and taste and adjust.  Have fun and turn your garden’s harvest into an experiment in your kitchen!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What to do with all that basil/Ocymum basilicum?

By Michele Koskinen

Over the last few years I have grown lemon basil, thai basil, and of course genovese the basil for perfect pesto and freezing. The lemon basil was nice for fish, tea, and fruits and makes a great lemon pesto for a change of pace. Thai basil is good for curry dishes as it has a spicey licorice flavor. Finally the genovese, my all time favorite for pesto and oils and vinigrettes.

So what do you do with all that basil? Take some to your neighbors, family, friends and then when they say no more..........

A few thoughts........dry it, freeze it, make pesto and freeze it, basil oils, basil vinigrettes, basil vinegar, butters, baked in pizza crust, in bread, on top of soups it is endless if you search. I have a few favorites I would like to share.

Basil Dipping Oil       A perfect gift to those who love dipping a crusty slice of bread into a seasoned olive oil before a meal, or a finish to be drizzled onto your bruscetta 

This oil shoud be used within a few days or refrigerate upto a week. The herb should be discarded to prevent bacteria

Harvest your own basil (regular or lemon) or use the smaller stems and leaf pieces of store bought.

Clean fresh basil by running under cool water, pat dry and crush a bit. Use the best extra virgin oil you can buy and pour into a pretty, clean bottle. Leave head room to add the herbs. Carefully place full stems of basil into the bottle of olive oil. Use a skewer or other tool to move the stems where you want them in the bottle. Fill with oil to cover all the exposed leaves and make sure to leave about 1 inch of head room in the bottle to cap or cork the bottle. Let the basil infuse the oil for a day or two then discard discard the basil. This can also be done in a mason or other jar and kept in the refrigerator for upto a week.

This vinaigrette can be used as a dressing with your homegrown tomatoes and mozzarella or drizzled over your salad. I followed the recipe and used it with the grilled sea scallops.

Basil Vinaigrette  from Cooks Illustrated

 tablespoons champagne vinegar
 cup packed fresh basil leaves
tablespoons minced fresh chives
medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
teaspoons sugar
teaspoon salt
 teaspoon ground black pepper
cup vegetable oil

Pulse vinegar, basil, chives, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in jar of blender until roughly chopped. With blender running, slowly drizzle in oil until emulsified, scraping down sides as necessary. 

Pesto is an age old use for basil with the pine nuts and garlic, the one below has another favorite green.... Arugula.     

Basil Arugula Pesto Oil       from Epicurious
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Toss this delicious pesto with 1 1/2 pounds of your favorite pasta, or spread it on slices of Italian bread.

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
            3 cups (loosely packed) fresh basil leaves
            1 cup (loosely packed) fresh arugula
            1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
            1/3 cup pine nuts
            2 garlic cloves, peeled
            1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
            2 tablespoons lukewarm water
Place 1/2 cup oil and next 6 ingredients in processor. Process to thick paste. With motor running, add remaining 1/4 cup oil and 2 tablespoons water to processor. Blend until smooth. Season pesto to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Pour thin layer of oil over pesto; cover and chill.)

Read More

Basil Vinegar

Vinegar infused with herbs is a great gift for those that like a variety to use in their cooking. To make
herb vinegar your need to pick your herbs, clean them and put them into the vinegar of choice. Since 
there are several types of vinegar you can mix and experiment until you get one you like. I use the 
lemon and genovese basil with white or champagne vinegar. 1 cup of herbs to 2 cups of vinegar.  
Let steep for several weeks in a sealed jar until you get the taste you like. Discard basil. 

If you have a creative way to use all the basil you have grown. Write us a comment or post it on our
facebook page Click here.

A few interesting sites on basil from the history to how to.

Shade Loving Peony?? Yes Indeed!!

By Lois Fischer

Do you think that all peonies need full sun? Think again! Paeonia japonica (aka Woodland Peony) is a strikingly elegant herbaceous peony that is easily grown in rich, fertile, moderately moist soils in part shade. Its single white blooms with yellow stamens are a sight to behold in late April early May. A native to certain islands in northern Japan, the woodland peony grows to a height and width of 18 inches and will flower for seven to ten days. After the fragrant flowers fade, the plant produces very lovely seed pods that split open when ripe (usually late summer) revealing  blue seeds on red stems. The handsome foliage remains attractive almost until frost. Three or four years ago on a whim, I purchased one pot of Paeonia japonica from a catalog and planted it in a spot in my garden that receives two to three hours of morning sun. I have subsequently divided it at least twice and am now enjoying it in several locations. If you decide that this is a plant for you, check out Peony's Envy Flower Farm web site (