Monday, August 31, 2009

Cobrahead weeder!

Many thanks again to the Carol at the garden blog May Dreams Garden ( and the CobraHead Company for their very generous prize of a short handled CobraHead weeder!

1) It is super cool to have won something just by reading a blog (hint, hint all garden supply people)

2) I generally don't have a weed problem in my main garden as I use raised beds nearly exclusively for the vegetable/herb/fruit areas, however when my husband and I so brilliantly attempted to "renovate" the original garden beds we pulled up those curvy cement divider things and then promptly got too busy and forgot about renovating the beds.

After a sufficient amount of time, the weeds/grass invaded:

....and now, I have a problem :( Which will hopefully be solved with the Cobrahead's help!

A couple of cool things I like about the tool:

1) it's curved, sharp, pointed head does make it easier to lift up and out weeds
(DOOM game-style shot)

2) It reminds me of mongoose (one of the coolest animals EVER)
3) I totally feel like a ninja when I use it. Doesn't it look like some sort of ninja weapon?!!?!
(So happy here in this picture that I am smiling)

Hopefully it will free my Aghast Frogs/ Escaping-with-gnomes statues from the tyranny of the perilla plants and weeds around it:

Some things that I find of issue include:

1) that it's still a bit big for my tiny hands, and therefore I get "weeding-pains" faster as I chop away with it because I have to use more force and it's just slightly unwieldy in that fashion for me. A marriage between it and the ergonomic tools would be excellent. If their adopted child could be like the Felco pruners where they have smaller sizes too that would be cool.

2) Maybe I am not holding the tool properly, but with the baked clay here, I am still not getting all the weeds out I like. This is not CobraHead's fault of course, but I was REALLY hoping it would make it effortless. I suppose until they can attach some sort of plasma gun or light saber technology to it will this be more effective.

Anyways, pardon the lack of recent postings on my end here, lots of unexpected work came up and I am in semi-shock at the advent of autumn weather here. Cool 56 degree weather in August (albeit the end of it) in Memphis. Very weird.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When pretty goes bad

Oh, my love and hate for the swallowtail butterflies and the massive larvae they pump out.

They're like models of the natural world except for being super-parsley/cilantro/parsnip-eater-destroyers as children and then gorgeous pollen spreading humanitarians sipping nectar cocktails in the garden. All on my tab.

Their presence makes my garden look better if you like butterflies, but not if you want some veggies... which is what I care more for than the visual interest. Sorry, my stomach fights my eyes and wins all the time. If you've cooked the creations I have you can forgive unpretty food.

Swallowtail caterpillar larvae in reference to my pinky finger. (Click on the pics to see the detail on the caterpillars)

These are the larva at various stages of development. I usually notice them when they're HUGE, as big as my thumb and really chomping away. (This really doesn't show what great powers of perception I have, does it?)

The small guys here produce little balls of black frass that collect on the plant stems/leaves, a helpful way to notice their presence and the big guys, if you don't notice them at first in all their glory, leave behind large collections as round as half a pinky-nail. You can usually track them from there. Wow, sounds all hunter-prey-like except on an exceptionally smaller scale... and less tasty.

I have been finding quite a few newly emerging butterflies looking all pillow-eyed and cocoon wrinkled.

Another one: needing a tan and some fluids to PUMP HER UP! (You know, they need fluids to pump through their wings to expand them? I would NEVER suggest the butterflies are on 'roids!)

There must be at least 2 generations that occur during the growing season here because I have encountered some of the ginormous caterpillers once already this year and now I am seeing these little guys once again.

Having no heart to squish caterpillars *unless they're hornworms* I tossed these back onto some chrysanthemums and will let them make it back on their own. Give my parsnips some time to recoup before they are dined upon again.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ageratums: Bug birth control

This past Sunday, Dave from The Home Garden blog mentioned that he had a surprise plant:

I was ecstatic that I actually had something to comment on for once because I too got a surprise plant of the same variety from a woman whom I traded plants with.

Meet the ageratum, also called flossflower:

(closeup of leaves)

Unfortunately mine isn't in bloom, I took the pics too late, but as you could see in The Home Garden blog and the following links, it has clusters of very pretty purple-blue small starry flowers

Next to a lot of certain salvias such as my pineapple sage (Salvia elegans: and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis: when not looked too closely, the foliage can be overlooked as a match with either of those, both which happened in my herb garden.

Initially I freaked out when I saw the flowers because I had no clue as to what the heck this thing was (or if I had eaten it). Luckily when you rub the leaves of ageratum it has really no smell, especially in comparison to that of pineapple sage or lemon balm, so there was no worryin mistakening it for one of my tasty tea herbs.

When I asked about the plant to a gardener lady friend of mine, she backed away in a sort of revulsion because it is considered somewhat invasive. Therefore I yanked it out of my garden and handed if off to native plant lover... only to find later I may have rid myself of a useful plant.

Apparently ageratum has the ability to secret a chemical that affects bugs when they eat it by disrupting their juvenile hormones, rendering them infertile!

Now, while I was tempted to ask for the plant back... that's not good etiquette, so I kept my eye out alongside roads and etc, but lucky for me ageratum's supposed hardiness (invasiveness?) won the day and returned by popping out of nowhere again. I immediately dug it up and out of the herb bed and replanted it off to the side until I can find a nice permanent location for it.

I'd like to note that it's not as though all bugs like to munch on ageratum, but at least your garden has a fighting chance of rendering your bugs unable to get it on and make eggs if they do eat it and it seems that scientists are busy figuring out potential pesticides involving the chemical ageratum uses to create strife upon pests' reproductive systems.

One more final note: the ageratum I have is not the more exotic conyzoides variety, but the houstonianum sort. So, the effect may not be as lethal as the conyzoides type that is listed in science journals, but to my understanding, still effective in its own weaker fashion. Hey, whatever works right?

More pics (with the flowers) and info:

Being ex-bio major I felt that it wouldn't be correct unless I added some scientific articles for further proof:
(do a word search for ageratum, doesn't let me link to the actual abstract)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stevia Concentrate

I have had a stevia (sweet leaf) plant ( for over a year now and have been lucky that it came back after generous mulching on my part.

I consider it mostly a novel herb, as I am not in the habit of calorie counting, but the premise of a plant that evolved to taste intensely sweet (for what purposes?) is fascinating to me, and so when I remember I add to my herbal tisane mixes for a refreshing drink that doesn't make me have to get a cut of sugar or deal with gooey honey, but take a snip of the herb with my others I am gathering in the garden.

As I have a tendency to forget about it and use it within a good amount of time I always seem to end up with more than I need or it grows all rambly and not bushy like I'd like.

So this time around I know quite a few people who would appreciate this wonder herb and I've made some stevia concentrate for us all.

I used the following recipe from this site:

Mostly I covered a large bunch of stevia I had with water, let it boil to the prescribed time the recipe listed, cooled, strained and voila, concentrate.

I made the mistake of tasting a spoonful just to be certain it was sweet enough and gagged at the ridiculous nectar-like ju SUPERSWEET flavor. I'm more of a savory bacon type of girl, not cakes and brownies, so I am sensitive to sweet. I mean, 40 drops equals 1 cup of sugar it says!

I only wish I had a dropper bottle I could use to gift this in so that people could measure properly. This re-used capers bottle is still pretty spiffy looking and I think its plenty for people who are experimenting. I wrapped a budding stevia stem around it to make it even spiffier :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

bcooper5, thanks!

To my one and only apparent non-family/friend reader, thanks again!

It's nice to know that I'm not talking/writing to the air.

Carrying on...

Hornworms! Run!

Moseying about my thus far unsuccessfully fruiting poblano/ancho pepper plants yesterday I encountered a nasty:
(reference to my hand)
(reference to my pinky)

I had noted that my poblano pepper had yet to set fruit and seemed to appear gnawed upon. I suspected that it was obviously some bug that liked to chew had been at it and I ins response have been diligently spraying my plant down with dilute neem oil.

Little did I expect to see this guy and miss him at this SIZE.

This is a tobacco hornworm (, a little different from the regular tomato hornworm but still happy to munch on all in the Solanaceae family(aka nightshade family such as eggplant, peppers, tomatoes).

I pulled him off to take pictures and I KNOW I am supposed to smoosh'em but I have difficulties with that, so in deference to nature I tried feeding it to the praying mantis, but she wasn't having it. Maybe she's on a diet... or maybe the fact that the hornworm was possibly 2x her size could have been the reason or maybe hornworms are unusual and unpalatable to mantises, which seems reasonable.

So I tried feeding it to the golden orb spider, but yeah, hornworm was too heavy and that just left a nice hole in the web when I attempted to chuck it in. Sorry to mess the place up ma'am. After exiting the spider web the hornworm fell into the bushes where I couldn't find it but far enough away from its regular buffet, so I think it'll just die.

Unfortunately, when there's one hornworm there's always plenty more and sure enough I found about 3 more munching away including a swallow tail butterfly caterpillar going away at the parsnips (I know the 'snips should have been pulled up WAY before now, they may be 3 months overdue... I'm just worried that they'll be woody and bitter if I pull up now before a frost or if I can freeze them to get to them sweet, or do I have to really boil?)

Anyways, since I couldn't get anything to eat them, and feel weird about smooshing them, so I throw them VERY FAR AWAY into the park, and hope that it's too far for them to make it back or that the bouncing off the ground gets them. I wonder if birds like them and I can put them in a bottle of sorts for the birds to pick them out.... that would be sort of neat.

I understand that I can Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis ) ( the worms (caterpillars) but it's not a big deal to do so unless there's a real infestation. Plus, I want to keep things on the cheap too. So unless the worms want to see me really angry like the Hulk, we'll keep it mostly civil here.

Randomly, I have heard murmurings online that hornworms are edible. A little olive oil and frying some say. Hmm... maybe if I need to be a survivalist that's good to know.

Other than that... here's looking at you kid.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Argiope aurantia

While walking near my large compost pile by the side of the house (where we place most of our leaves, grass clippings, and other lawn refuse as compared to the smaller bin for kitchen stuff and newspaper), I nearly ran into this beauty:

(Wow, that sounded Steve Irwin-y)

I'm not really squeamish about spiders, just a wee bit nervous about getting bitten, and my past knowledge has led me to believe that the smaller, less colorful innocuous ones are the ones you should worry about more (eg. brown recluse).

This particular spider was HUGE. It was web was at least 2 feet in diameter and was 2 inches from front leg to back leg tip.

Going under the assumption that this was a typical garden spider I easily came upon it on wikipedia: Argiope aurantia. Or simply a Golden Orb Weaver.

The dense zigzag in the middle of the web is hypothesized to be a stabilizer of sorts for the spider to reside in while it waits for its prey or it meant to hide the spider from flying insects.

Another cool thing is that it eats its web every morning potentially to recycle silk spinning materials and eat any tiny insects it might have missed for nutrition.

I want a house I can eat! (No gingerbread jokes now!)

Though pretty common, but it's not often to see such a large specimen. Down here (ok, for many people) it seems like the mindset is to destroy every spider and snake visible, which is a huge pity. I am proponent of creating a balanced ecosystem and once everyone is settled and happy I am hoping that everything will go as clockwork, be balanced and etc unless great catastrophic weather events screw things up, or I manage to over neem somehow.

Sadly this spider, noting its bright coloration and size means that it is a female and will die in the winter, but with luck it will leave some babies behind to manage my future aggravations.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Testing, testing...

So, just curious to see if anyone is really reading this... gaining any insights or whatnot allow me quote Pink Floyd:

"Hello? Is there anybody out there?"

Just checking. Thanks.

Real updates later tonight.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Critters and delicious stuff

Just a quick picture post about all the cool stuff outside my window:

There's a praying mantis in this pic above that I didn't even notice until I loaded it!

I love the color of the eyes of this dragonfly! For some reason, dragonflies are often called the "Devil's steed." I don't get it.
the praying mantis again! Looks like she has a little design on her back.

I thought this was funny. Mantis wants a sneak attack! Maybe i can get a great video of them fighting, you'd be amazed!

The few, delicious raspberries that survived from my overzealousness from last year, added to creme brulee!

Random tame deer that has been wandering our park and doesn't understand the concept of danger until it gets eaten by wild dogs.

The seedlings! The seedlings!

No way! The seedlings are starting up!

All of them except the beetberry, but I'm not too worried because a) it's hasn't been that long since I planted them and b) it's known to take a notoriously long time to germinate

The kale, mustards and chards are no surprise to be making an appearance already with all of my diligent watering (for once) and the extra rain that's been going on. Oh, babies... so delicate, so much work... *sigh* just when I was appreciating my mature plants and all their fruit bearing-ness.

The trick now is to keep them nice and protected from EVERYTHING. Too much sun, critters, etc.

My plan, as I don't have any really thin floating row covers is to get some sticks, poke them in the ground and pop newspaper on top to shade them if needed, though the forecast is looking like it won't get to even the mid-90s, so perhaps it won't be necessary.

I might not even have to water at all for nearly a week if the forecast is correct, with rain next week too.

Less work=good (Hurrah!)

In terms of the critters, that's the tough stuff. I and REALLY gung-ho on critter prevention as I've had some ridiculous swallowtail butterfly caterpillar "infestations" and flea beetles and slugs lately, so alas, I have been spraying (gentle spraying) of neem oil dilution all around my plants as a notice for the bugs to "BACK AWAY."

I haven't been this excited about my plants coming up in a while. This fall, I just have some INTERESTING things planted, perennial vegetables such as mache, chard and beetberry and pretty japanese mustards and such have just gotten me super impatient to see them.

I can't wait until the bumper crop of tomatoes finish up so I can yank them and plant my other stuff:
Here is a map of my plan for fall/what I currently have going on in the garden (click on pic to see the plans clearly, and note, this is definitely not to scale):

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Birds and the bees...

This post is sort of a self congratulatory pat on my back, not entirely out of ego, but because I am thrilled to have attracted so much cool stuff to my garden: birds, squirrels/chipmunks (not always good to have around, but fun to watch and entertain the dog with), various bees, hummingbirds, assassin bugs, praying mantises, tree frogs, toads and even snakes are all cool!

Most of the work done to attract all of this wildlife was through happenstance and some actual hard work on my end (do you have any idea how many toads I carried back to my garden?)

Quite a few of the birds that have flocked to my garden (which reminds me, I need to built birdhouses for) came due to prodigious amounts of seed I left out which also attracted squirrels/chipmunks (unfortunately who were then attracted to my attic... another story for another time). The birds have further stayed and produced bird babies all around who feed their way on an accidental wild woodland strawberry groundcover I acquired from a plant trading section. I didn't even know I picked up some of the plant, but it covers nearly all of a helpful location i was tired of mulching.

Forgotten overturned pots and large flat rocks provided safe spots and nooks and crannies for toads who have in turn attracted snake(s) who hopefully will rid me of some chipmunks :)
The chipmunks too have been helpful though by planting all these sunflower seeds that had been for the birds and I always have a sunflower somewhere, which makes MORE sunflowers to attract the seed eaters.

Even my accidental spots of standing water, terrible mosquito breeding grounds I know, but the dragonflies near the lake have popped on by to make themselves at home here too.

It's all pretty remarkable and makes you want to sing the "Circle of Life," huh?

Actually that might be a little too saccharin even for me and that was my college graduation song. Made me feel like I was preparing to get eaten by a lion. Thanks for preparing me for life Purdue!

All in all, this is just a post about me blathering on about how happy I am that I'm not the only one enjoying my garden. Now if only I could make the squash vine borers not enjoy it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

As usual, the mosquitoes: Canna Leaves vs Sweet grass vs incense

In my usual quest to try to fend off mosquitoes or at least me the heck alone when I am in the garden without harsh chemicals or lots of heavy clothing in 90+ degree weather, I have taken to burnage.

Allow me to specify: At my recent visit to Whole Foods where I got neem oil, the apothecary-like lady suggested incense (which I do have and had to confirm that it was all natural and not artificial fragrance laden) and that made me then think of Sweetgrass, which I inquired to her if Whole Foods sold, and they did, but it seemed rather expensive, ~$8 a packet of 20 incense wands.

The incense thing reminded me of my prior research about cannas and how they supposedly are insecticidal when burnt, and I figured as I had leaf rollers I could potentially kill two bugs with one stone here.

So I am forgoing the sweetgrass for now, rather interested in growing it as it would be potentially cheaper and in the meantime will try the incense I have on hand and canna leaves (I wonder how they smell... will update on that when it happens).

(NOTE: it's a little aggravating and dubious about the burning cannas being an insecticidal thing as all I can seem to find are sites stating, "...said to be an insecticidal when burnt..." and nothing else. I suppose as long as it doesn't kill me it's worth a try though I start a little when my husband asks, "Is the smoke safe for you?")

For the incense and cannas I'll probably just have 4 large tin cans filled with sand near each corner of the yard to hold incense or canna leaves in and allow the wind to swirl it all about. Hopefully with luck no ash will catch the grass on fire as we don't water it.

Naturally I wouldn't want to not add some interesting facts or research in here somewhere, so here I go:

Sweetgrass is considered to be potentially one of the oldest living things still alive on earth today as it is grown primarily via rhizomes rather than the seeds, so one plant may extend many miles from its original parent.

It has been used by the native Americans for healing and ritual purposes as well as an insecticide and is thought to be mildly psychotrophic due to its potential to be a soporific when burned, possibly in part of the chemical coumarin within.

Medieval Europeans would use sweetgrass as the rushes on floors or in sick rooms because of the sweet vanilla-like scent it gave off when it was trod upon.

Latin name and more interesting history via Wikipedia:

This is a very interesting link about a commercial place obsessed with sweetgrass and are pretty scientific about it all:

I am somewhat rethinking growing it because I think the conditions here would not be conducive and it seems to be more temperamental of plant than I'd like to deal with rather than the hardy plains grass I thought it to be.

If anything about this site, I am highly impressed (and amused) that they trademarked the name, SUPERSHAMANISTIC (!) for one of their vigorous varieties.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fall/Winter gardening plans

It's August and flippin' hot.

My husband keeps saying, "It's almost fall! It's almost fall!" and I sort of look at him and say, "There's plenty of summer here, baby." After all, it's Tennessee and the temperatures are pretty warm even into October.

Last I remembered at least.

Despite the current and predictable early fall heat, I am pumped about fall gardening, to the point that I almost wish my tomatoes would be DONE already so I can get some peas back into the ground and be able to sit back again and not have to pamper anything in my garden like heat lovers force me to do.

Plus I've always found peas (sugar, snow and English) satisfying in their yields and I can eat their tips. Tomatoes mean only fruit eatin'.

This reminds me of my most likely unsuccessful attempt at sweet potato growing, as I got lazy/poor in getting proper soil/amendments to pile up in the large bucket I was growing them in. As long as I can get a few I'll be pleased and maybe I can still pile up some dirt at this point? Either way, what I was getting at is that sweet potato leaves and tips can be eaten too, like a tastier spinach (aren't other greens, nearly always?)

Multipurpose vegetables=good

But back to cool weather gardening (unfortunately having to be started in !@$#@ hot weather).

My plan is completely tear down the bean and cuke trellises by September, all the tomatoes by the then or mid-Sept. and plant various peas in their places. I like using bush-type/no-support needing peas too to delineate between my beds of parsnips, turnips and carrots (well, those are good delineators too).

I will be planting lucullus chard, sold at my local mom n' pop, Russell's, and nearby I will plant Perpetual Chard, a chard that I got from Territorial Seed ( It is apparently bolt resistant and can eventually perennialize in zones 7 up. Exciting as I like not having to mess with parts of my garden more than usual because it's plenty of work already!

I am also devoting one of the smaller beds to blue and red kales with mache/corn salad on the the far sides of the bed. Mache is described as being so tender it will melt in your mouth, so THAT sounds delish (from Botanical Interests: Mache supposedly is a perennial too, and with it being on each end of the bed, it can fill itself in if it likes or I can just pull the middle annuals out if I like. I understand that I could potentially let the kale's self seed, but in the summer, kale's not that great and slightly bitter and got super bug-ttacked.

Finally, another small bed is being devoted to Strawberry Spinach/Beetberry ( which I hope germinates well and will perennialize too as it's a pretty cool looking plant and "very European." Oh I feel so debonair saying that ;) I purchased this as well from Territorial seed.

If all goes well in my garden I should be building up the perennials (maybe even malabar spinach will continue to love me next year with enough mulching to keep it warm until spring!) and then I can stop with the whole hard work thing! (ha ha.)

(I'd also like to grow Tom Thumb buttercrunch lettuce ( because it sounds so darn cute, but I'm the only salad eater here :(

This fall (true fall when it's consistently below 80 degrees, hope), with the assumption that all my fall vegetable planting is done I will be working on prettifying the garden so that not only does it look tidy and full of vegetables, but will have flowers year round (if I plan this correctly) to keep the pollinators here and always busy.

Now if I can just get a hold of some butterfly plants to stop the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars from decimating my parsley/cilantro that'll be nice.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Holy Neem, Batman!

I was introduced to neem oil as an organic insecticide for my plants some time ago after I did some personal research having seen it at my local mom and pop garden store an OMRI safe insecticide. (This stuff is never at Home Depot or Lowes, phbbt!)

So, after finding it to be relatively effective on my plants, I started noticing its presence at the local Indian grocery store in all things beauty and hygiene like soap and toothpaste. Cautious of quality, and no offence (<-- Brit spelling!) to India, but contamination issues have occurred before and I was a bit nervous to purchase any neem oil stuff that I might leave for long periods on my body, as it felt weird put what I use to rid myself of plant bugs on my actual person. AND... the fact that the expiration dates on some of the beauty products were off by a year or more sometimes. Hmm.

(I'd like to note too that I do not buy anything made in China too that involves ingesting or stays on my body... THAT quality control feels nearly non-existent)

All this background info finally brings me to my actual point that I walked into Whole Foods today in search of some sort of relief for my bug bites. I get terrible reactions to mosquito, spider and tick bites, but mosquitoes are the majority of these bites and in my case the itchiness and redness and SWELLING (the size of grapefruits I tell you) can last for a week or longer. Aggravating it further is when I get bites behind my knees and I wear pants. Ooooh, rubbage.

After speaking with the holistic-essential oils-extracts-supplements lady (who cooed about the hotness and coldness of things, and how mosquitos are repelled by "cold," which I ignored) she mentioned neem oil and I decided to give it a try as I had heard so many positive things on it earlier. I felt as a commercial store, and having many different brands of neem oil made me more comfortable with the idea of putting it on my body.

(What I got: Alaffia brand neem oil, $8 for 8 ounces. Ouch, but if my jojoba/tea tree oil is proof, this stuff lasts. This was initially oddly difficult to find their website too, more shea butter than neem)
(interestingly enough too, shipping is more expensive on the site than the actual neem product I got!)

Later when I got home I decided to make Indian food with my husband and I needed to harvest some malabar spinach. This is where I never learn and usually get the majority of my bites. I think to myself/am lazy, "I'll just be out for a couple of minutes, I won't get bit... no need to change completely into long sleeves, socks and pants..." but invariably do get bit, literally 8 bites in the 5 minutes I'm out there. *face slap* Everytime...

When I get inside, within seconds I am itching like crazy and the bumps are getting all welty and spreading fast. I take the neem oil and dab and rub it on everywhere bumpy.

There is no instant relief and I start cooking to remind myself of the bites and keep my hands busy from wanting to scratch.

The smell, warning, is an odd mixture of strongly peanut with some garlic undertones. If you like thai/indian/asian food then you're good?

Later, I TOTALLY forgot about my bites until hours after dinner and think, "I wonder how my bites are faring?" Looking around at my legs and arms there's a "waitaminute?!?!" moment.


WHOA. This is a total breakthrough for me as I've tried tea tree oil, baking soda, benadryl, soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and anti-histamines in all my prior years. Everytime I use these things and get any relief at all either it's brief and the itchiness comes back with a mere brush against the bite, or the redness/swollen-ness is present for a long time.

I am currently running my hands on the areas where the bites were and I can't find them. It's so weird and relieving that it's mystical.

So, HERE's the apparent SCIENCE: (all taken from memory after some further research)

Neem has been used for centuries in India as a medicinal and insect repellent and is considered to be a near panacea for ailments from hair loss/graying to acne to potential aid in cancer treatment. (While I am not in total agreement with all those claims, bug bites get my A+)

The major chemical in neem is azadirachtin, which impairs many insect pests from breeding, eating or changing into their next phase of metamorphosis. Neem also has many beneficial chemicals and acids that aid in skin disorders such as eczema and also traces of sulfur-like chemicals which help its anti-bacterial properties. It is also anti-fungal and anti-viral to an extent.

And it's been shown to be safe for humans/larger creatures, like your pets, though warnings to wait to allow children to use it until they are 12 or older is due to the potency of neem and also that women who are trying to become pregnant or are pregnant should avoid it as it can be an abortificant like pennyroyal and juniper berries.

I am most curious about the claims of skin effectiveness and will be diluting it in my jojoba oil for my face. More excitement if it clears all blemishes up, gives me minor plastic surgery to my flat nose, and increases my IQ to 200.

Just kidding :) But hey, more updates when they come!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tricolore Garda shows its colors!

Isn't it gorgeous?! Orange, purple, cream, yellow! (Ok, so cream and yellow can nearly be the same thing, but we're making an exception here because I like more colors)

I still have yet to take a little bite from each different colored pepper (a little scared honestly) but I know, in the name of food science, I must :P

This will make an even lovelier pepper jelly than the one before, and I really, really really ought to try it the proper way... rather than the cheatin' freezer jelly method. Gotta be hardcore and all about this canning business.

Speaking of which , my pineapple sage is looking mighty overgrown and I hear that's spiffy to make into an apple jelly with....

Already I'm feeling all jelled out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I may have a problem.

I've been wanting to do this for a while, form an inventory of all my plants in stock and I am realizing that NOT maybe I have too many plants, but I do have a lot...

I have been thinking as a good winter exercise to blog about all the plants in my inventory and talk about their aspects. I might need to select the best of the list but... hey winter is long.

NOTE: I did this pretty much entirely in my head and when I think I am done, I always think of more:
(n.b. this doesn't count the prior structure landscaping plants of oak tree, nandinas, hollies, azaleas, otto luykens and etc.)

-random rose
-iris (swamp and bearded)
-bells of ireland
-ice plant
-day lily
-california poppy
-icelandic poppy
-red and yellow and bengal cannas
-cinnamon, painted, tokyo, beech ferns
-purple perilla
-solomon's seal
-red hellebore
-asian ginger
-nasturtiums: India Empress, Jewel, Fordhook, Alaska mix
-columbine (little lanterns)
-autumn joy sedum
-vinca minor
-(maybe) anemones
-camellia sinensis (green tea plant)
-2 various Chinese herbs
-scented geraniums: citronella, ginger, rose and mint

-strawberry begonia
-golden turkey vine
-creeping jenny
-osmandus fern
-white calla lily
-shade sedum
-May night and Friesland Salvia

-All American pickling cucumber
-Clemson spineless okra
-burgundy okra
-everbearing strawberries
-blue lake and kentucky wonder pole beans
-Scarlet Runner Beans
-passionflower (passiflora incarnata)
-Red Stem Malabar Spinach
-Jersey Knight asparagus
-Baritone Bush Beans
-sweet bell peppers
-Tomatoes: Green stripe zebra, Nebraska Wedding, Brandywine
-Sweet potato
-Siberian blue Kale
-India Mustard
-English and sugar snap and snow peas
-Zucchini and waltham butternut and acorn squash
-purple top turnips

-hot peppers: jalapeno, poblano, serrano, cubanelle, tricolore garda, calico

-common and golden oregano
-sages: purple, variegated, regular culinary (but it died), pineapple
-bee balm (coral reef)
-lovage (may die)
-(maybe) black cumin/nigella
-mints: garden and chocolate
-culinary ginger
-lemon balm
-lemon verbena
-Basils: purple ruffles, sweet, cinnamon, thai, lemon, spicy globe, (random hybrids from basils crossing, eg. lemon-cinnamon???)
-Egyptian Walking Onion
-softneck garlic

-morning glories (heavenly blue and grandpa ott)
-cardinal vine
-hyacinth bean vine
-Hibiscus: Red river, white one, Haight Ashby

-random palm
-escargot begonia
-random begonia
-kohleria (black velvet, I think?)
-purple passion vine

-2 phalaenopsis orchids
-1 cymbidium orchid
-deersfoot fern?
-parlor palm
-snake plants
-umbrella plant
-wandering jew looking sedum

I did not even want to count all that. Granted this is nothing compared to Diane Meucci's garden Oy Vey (, but I am also not a nursery and live on 0.2 acres...

I am starting to understand my husband for thinking that maybe I have enough plants?

Randomness.... trying to keep up!

Alas! High winds have broken my handmade 2 year old trellis! The beans! The bean! They have all, fallen down.


That was nice and Shakespearean dramatic eh?

But yes, to be specific, only a third of the trellis broke down. I still was able to harvest quite a few snap beans prior and even after the fall:
These are the same beans too that I brutally burned with baking soda, so little loss there. Good time to replant too anyways, the vines were getting ridiculous! The only issue now is finding the branch clippings from neighbors to create another trellis. Maybe I'll just knock some nails into the fence and string some twine this time around.

The area where the beans were planted was in a raise bed with okra and strawberry plants, so I like to believe that they were getting some legume lovin', nitrogen fixing goodness.

I wasn't entirely certain if it is best to dig under the bean plants back into the soil to keep the nutrients in, or just compost the vines/leaves, but from what I've been readin, it seems that you can just cut the vines at the base and let the nitrogen fixing nodule roots go back to whence they came and allow the next crop of whatever enjoy it.
So, that sounds like a good plan. I am trying to decide whether I want to grow pole beans there again because it was such a good place for them, at the the bed 5 to its left is still full of cucumber vines and I can't plant there. But I also know I need to take into account that crop rotation thing. I think as long as I plant something different in the spring I should be fine.

More things of interest! Snake!

Anyone able to recognize what kind it is? It's 32 inches long, though I am sure longer by now if it was shedding. I am hoping it's not one of the 4 major poisonous ones in the area, but if it is... well, we all leave well enough alone. Though if I recall, the poisonous ones have diamond shape heads and this one looks triangular.

It's sort of a love-hate relationship because I know it's taking care of all the bunnies and mice, but then again it probably eating all my beneficial toads/frogs...and I haven't seen many lately now that I think of it...

remember that praying mantis I saw hiding out underneath the hummingbird feeder some days ago? Well it got BIG. Double the size from last time. I would have taken a pic of it but well, I noticed the hummingbirds were acting a little antsy by the feeder and then reason was, when they got near to drink the mantis was actually taking SWIPES at the birds! It was at least half their size by now and those arm/claw things seem to have some good reach. So......... I immediately went out and with a long stem of perilla because its so utterly disposable at my house, I relocated its happy green self to the cucumbers/okra bed where I then realized I had lots of cucumber/okra flowers with lots of pollinators buzzing about, so I hope it doesn't feast on so many beneficial things that fruit doesn't set....
That would be ironic.

Anyways, adieu and more later.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Oooo, Mommy!

Hahaha, that's what I think the name of a blog ought to be for some savory food obsessed mother! Get it, UMAMI? Umami is that mysterious savory/meaty flavor that until recently has been given little cred in comparison to their more known cousins: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

Commonly known umami flavor can be found in mushrooms, fish sauce and only recently did I learn: tomatoes!

Interestingly enough, you can get an exceptionally savory tomato sauce when you leave the seeds/pulp around the seeds in the sauce because that is where tomatoes have their highest level of glutamic acid.

Frankly, I've always been too lazy anyway to excise the core and/or remove the tomato pulp, so I guess my taste buds secretly knew this deliciousness.

Apparently a chef, a curious and rebellious sort wanted to challenge the tomato coring thing and upon experimentation he found that the tomato was tastier with the pulp and with some food scientists/chemists they tested the glutamic acid content between regular tomato flesh and pulp and that settled it.

Supposedly the higher concentration of glutamic acid in the pulpy areas around the seeds is like the seed embroyo's placental sac and has a high amount of amino acids and nutrients. Mmm'mmm, placenta! (on a semi-related note, some cultures suggest that women eat the placenta after they birth their child. Regulates hormones and stuff.. or something... If anything, soem eco-conscious women at least bury it, good for the earth and all that rot :)

Here are the juicy bits on the topic:
Secret of tasty tomatoes revealed
UMAMI Information Center - The umami of vegetables

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gardening, gardening, diddly dee. So much to learn....

I admittedly have been sort of lazy around the garden these past couple of weeks lately, not wanting to fuddle around there because of all the rain, bugs and having gotten myself caught up in a million things. Which is a pity as I like how productive I feel getting up early, walking the dog and then nearly first thing I do is check out the garden and make sure all is right in it at the morning and finding that it's still well before noon is when I feel it's a good start to the day.

I hadn't felt like that until today morning when I severely pruned back some hedges (hate 'em but they're part of the "bones" of the property and then I don't have to plant other things there). Massive prunage occurred as some branches were way out and wonky, preventing light from getting to the branches below and I also noticed that the bushes were afflicted by soft pink scale, also called strawberry scale, which took out one of the otto luyken's in my backyard last year. So, neem spraying will probably have to occur.


I have a problem of neglecting the inedible plants at the house (unless their the groundcover ones that prevent me from having to mulch):
(love it! strawberry begonia, golden turkey vine, shade sedum and creeping jenny mix)

because I figure if they can't make it, they weren't meant to be there and if I have to put forth all this effort for something I can't eat or isn't that cool then I sort of don't care for the plant.

Example, I think my irises in the front are being affected by iris rot either the bacterial or fungal kind. The bacterial one, Erwinia carotovora, can be caused by iris borers that attach the base of the rhizome and the bacteria enter into it causing a soft nasty smell rot. This is a bacteria that is common to decomposition as compared to the fungal rot which is major problem apparently and is a dry rot officially called Sclerotium crown rot (so rotten it has 'rot' in its Latin name!), caused by Sclerotium rolfsii. The dry rot is actually brown and crumbly looking in the rhizomes and I don't think I've been messing with that because if it is there supposedly I need to do some major quarantining. (

More things I learned! How to identify ragweed:

I planted a lot of marigolds last year and scattered their seeds around too, so if you were to see this plant, without say, the flowers in this picture... you would think it was a marigold too right???? Other than the fact too that these plants get giant, about as tall as 4 feet, which tips me off that no, it's not a marigold. Wheee... This may explain some sneezing here.

And the fun doesn't stop here!!!! Because of the rain (I've been saying that phrase so much lately) I tossed around baking soda on my damp plants, versus making a baking soda solution to spray on the plants to prevent/treat fungus because I figured it would become a solution when the baking soda landed on the damp plants, why make them more wet?

Yeah, I totally burned my tomato and bean plants... but I think the tomatoes will make it. The beans could go for a second sowing anyways I noticed, so no huge loss. So, if you ever are tempted as I was to do something incredibly stupid like that, don't.

On a happier note, I has a harvest!

The butternut squash vine was showing signs of kicking it from borer damage, so I put it out of its misery and pulled it and kept the small squash fruits. ah well. I plan to make that area a flower garden of sorts to attract pollinators as I will be moving some black eyed susans there in the fall once they have gone to seed as well as some clearance gallon salvia's from Lowe's (about a buck apiece! Go get!)

I figure at this point, the vegetable garden is mostly established, and now I need to work on making it look goooood. Other than this guy:
(Ugly siamese Brandywine tomato says hi)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mmm, mmm, Meat.

So my husband and I are having a silent discussion about meat. Here and there, no more than a couple times I guess, about me mentioning that I was interested in getting meat that's organically and humanely produced, including eggs because chickens are raised in such terrible and unsanitary conditions it would make you cry tears for not only them, but for all future omelets you'd like to eat.

After reading Michael Pollan's books, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food," I've become more aware of what a crappy and nasty life farm animals go through and there are sustainable, much more efficient, clean ways to eat meat.

One way I propose would be to keep my own chickens for eggs, but I am losing on that end with the husband. (Note, when I am not a happy wife, I call him "the husband" not "my husband" :P)

The temptation to "accidently" hatch some chickens in the yard is great. Just like I the time I "accidently" got a pet rat for myself for Christmas when I was 13... and didn't my inform my parents ahead. They dealt with it and didn't turn it (or me) out of the house amazingly, but I did get hell for it. I will say, rats are one of the best pets ever and I hear that chicken are great pets too. I just need to confirm that the suburb allows that sort of thing...

Another way to get healthy meat would be from local Fresh Markets or Whole Foods, but the price is always prohibitive and my husband and I have a hard time not being thrifty especially when the Kroger nearby sells ground beef and chicken for so little in comparison. My husband and I usually grocery shop together and stop by the manager special meat section, but the past few times we've just avoided it. The topic of other meat sources is at a stand still for now as we are clearing out the meat aplenty that is in the freezer.

I am starting to do research on the prices and options of local farmer produced meat. I am hoping the prices start to be right to the husband as I figure, we are mostly veg already, the meat that we do it will be so little that we might as well eat the good stuff and the price won't be such a pain.

Anyways, little rant from me. If anyone has any suggestions it would be appreciated.

UPDATE: West Wind farms is a local option, but the change from $2/lb meat to :

Split Chicken Breasts
Two split chicken breast halves, with bone, skin on. Moist and delicious. Each package weighs 1.0 to 2.0 lbs.

for $14 is frightening. Maybe I should just go completely veg....

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's..........

.... a strange object was hanging underneath the hummingbird feeder today. I only noticed it when a hummingbird seemed to zip in and out at the feeder, but did not eat and appeared to be scrutinizing something green waving it the breeze beneath the base of the feeder.

Upon squinting my eyes a little, I noticed this:

oooh! and I so I went outside to confirm, and yes indeed, it was a praying mantis!

It has been raining like a mofo lately and I think it decided to duck under the feeder for a little shelter, maybe eat a spider or other winged creatures attracted to the nectar, and hopefully not a hummingbird. I can't even imagine a praying mantis eating a hummingbird and think I would be scarred if I did see something like that happen.

I thought I had seen a tiny praying mantis once hanging about one far side of the garden in the bean/cucumber vines a month ago, and left it alone hoping for the best.

I am only hoping that this is another one and that I actually have a lot of them hidden away.

Here's a better pic:
She's givin' me the evil bulbous eye!