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Category Archives: insects

August has many meanings. It means school is soon to begin for many. It also means summer is winding down and it won’t be long before the leaves begin to do their magic before the winter snows.

In many regions August is Fair month and harvest season; tomatoes and peppers ( and a myriad of other veggies) are at their peak and sweet corn is abundant. The magical sunflowers are also in full bloom – magical plants which have always had an important place for people since the very beginnings.

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Sunflowers have rather unique history, can bloom in a range of colors, are healthy for people and wildlife. They are the plant of choice for many young children and older adults. Discover more about these amazing plants at Koyote Hill.

Sunflowers are a sign of hope and all that is good on earth. Sure tomatoes and other garden veggies and even pumpkins have their day in the “sun” as well. But the sunflower is life, after all it is the Sun…Flower.

 

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For over some twenty years, garlic, the hardneck variety, has had a special spot in the backyard garden. There are numerous advantages for the home gardener. Homegrown garlic has a far superior taste to supermarket varieties which are normally the softneck variety which, in general, were grown thousands of miles away of even on a different continent. Another big advantage to growing garlic are the numerous health benefits. It is one of the healthiest garden crops around. For thousands of years now, people have used garlic as a medicinal plant as well as a culinary ingredient. Garlic is a low maintenance plant and doesn’t really require a lot of care. A little organic compost and, following the recommendations of a soil test, lime may be necessary (as well as some other minerals and additives depending on the test results). Wildlife, such as the groundhogs, deer and rabbits just seem to stay away from garlic. Nor is it bothered by insects.

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In the Beginning

I got my first garlic bulbs from an older Italian immigrant who gave me a couple basic pointers for successful growing. It was a hardneck variety called Rocambole (there are nine listed other hardneck varieties also available). Rocambole is a good choice for northern gardeners. It is exceptionally winter hardy and even laughs at the cold and snow. In northwestern Pennsylvania, some thirty miles inland from Lake Erie, early spring snow storms are rather commonplace. But the garlic doesn’t mind and will continue growing through the snow as pictured above. Garlic, in northern regions is generally planted in October and begins to grow as soon as warmer weather arrives in late winter. A few nice warm and sunny days is all it takes.

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The Scapes

Usually anytime from mid to late June or early July, the twisting scapes appear on a flower stalk. The scape is a sign that the underground garlic bulb is reaching maturity and in about four weeks will be ready to be dug. There are several uses for the garlic scape or the first garlic harvest. First the scapes are delicious in many dishes from salads, soups and stews, casseroles and pesto. And they are many of the same health benefits. The scapes can also be left to mature on the flower stalk (Note:there is no flower). The scape will swell with about 50 small garlic bulbs, called bulbils, which can then be planted later in the fall. The advantage here is that a gardener can increase the amount of garlic planted, although it takes about two years for the bulbils to reach a respectable size. Another use for the scape is a little extra income. I have never seen garlic scapes in a supermarket. But on occasions have seen them being sold at Farmer’s Markets or roadside stands. Some growers cut the scapes off as soon as they appear. The theory behind this practice is that the underground bulb will grow larger.

Garlic hung for several hours in the shade  before hung in a shed.

There are many online sources which sell garlic, both hardneck and softneck. Or get to know a local garlic grower and buy some of the best bulbs for your garden. Discover more about the magical scapes at The First Garlic Harvest.  Please note: this a a Yahoo Voices Web site which will be discontinued on July 31, 2014.

Or Discover more at Funny Looking but Darn Good  

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The important goldenrods are beginning to bloom in many fields and meadows. The botanical name for this important plant is Solidago, a word derived from the Latin word “solidare” which means to make whole. Goldenrods are native to Europe and parts of Asia; since the colonial days it has become a naturalized plant in North America. Today, in North America, 130 species of goldenrod have been discovered.

Goldenrods did play a role in the American Revolution. After the Boston Tea Party, the early colonist switched to goldenrod as a substitute beverage. It was called “Liberty Tea”.

The amazing goldenrod also provides shelter and food for a wide range of fascinating insects. Perhaps, the best known is the Praying Mantis. Other insects include the Gall Fly (ever wonder about those lumps on the goldenrod stems?), and the Golden Rod Spider.

It’s an essential plant for the honeybees and provides their last meals before winter weather. Other native bees and moths also feast on the plants nectar and pollen.

In mid-August the goldenrods are just beginning to put on their display along with the old time herb Boneset. This white flowering herb can often be found blooming with the golden yellow goldenrods (pictured above).

Long before Big Pharma and synthetic drugs, Boneset was widely used and could be found in many medicine cabinets. In general, it was dried and brewed into a tea to treat colds and flu.

Explore and discover these two important plants:

Sun Medicine

Boneset – The Forgotten American Herb

An August Reminder

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The herb Rosemary, a native to the Mediterranean area (think healthy diet), does not like the northern winters. But it can be potted and placed inside in a sunny window, providing fresh tasty and healthy leaves all winter. It is an attractive plant, which doesn’t require a whole lot of attention as long as there is ample sunlight.

August says: “Think about moving Rosemary inside.”

Discover more

Rosemary – The Ancient Evergreen

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Goldenrods More than Yellow Weeds

 

Goldenrods have sort of an undeserved bad reputation; an invasive weed and the cause of sneezes and watery eyes. Up front, though, it’s ragweed which causes more headaches for allergy sufferers, golden rod is usually not. Ragweed, which blooms at the same time, releases pollen in the air; goldenrod pollen is heavier and is more commonly moved around by insects.

 

Goldenrod does like to wander and can be seen as invasive. And goldenrod is sometimes just unaffectionately dubbed a weed (whatever that word means).

 

But the goldenrod has turned many meadows, fields, pastures and even road ditches a brilliant yellow, a traditional September event. It often blooms along with the purple asters, making for one of the best flower shows around.

 

Goldenrod is an amazing plant, so amazing that states such as Kansas, Nebraska and South Carolina elevated the “weed” to the honorary place of state flower. Goldenrod is a large family. There are dozens species. The different species can be found in dry ground, bogs and swamps, just about anywhere.

 

Goldenrod is also the last chance or the last stop for many pollinators before the killing frosts. It provides high quality pollen and nectar, particularly important for honeybees and our native wild bees. Any goldenrod field is swarming with insects. For some, it’s an important plant for reproduction; several insects, including the Gall Fly.

 

The Goldenrod Gall Fly is an amazing little bug which spends it’s entire existence on the goldenrod. After the male picks out a suitable spot, the females comes along and the eggs are injected into the stem; eventually this form a gall or the round ball often seen on the goldenrod.

 

The eggs eventually hatch and the larvae live in their gall existence for about a year. Sometimes, a hungry woodpecker will find a good meal by cracking open the gall, poor larvae.

 

There is even a goldenrod spider. This little spider, about an 1/8 inch can change colors from white to yellow and has red stripes. It;s venom isn’t harmful to humans but is fatal to many other insects, even those much larger. It doesn’t make a web, it just bites.

 

At one time, Thomas Edison thought the goldenrod was a good plant for homegrown rubber production. Tires were actually made from goldenrods and are still on display. But even before Edison began his rubber experiments, folk medicine had a lot of uses for the plant. It was generally brewed into a tea and used to treat many ailments particularly urinary tract infections.

 

Goldenrods are more than a field of yellow weeds.

 

Goldenrods and wil, purple asters bloom togther in September and October in one of the best free flower displays in town.

Goldenrods and wil, purple asters bloom togther in September and October in one of the best free flower displays in town.