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Category Archives: nature


Tomatoes, once a wild weed discovered just a few centuries ago, are one of the most popular vegetables today in countless home gardens. Discovered by early explorers in Central America during colonization, perhaps around 1520 or so, tomatoes have captivated and amazed  and fed a good portion of the world’s population ever since.

The tomato pictured above has no name except what I call it, Koyote  Brandywine. I have grown this variety for years and years. At the Spartansburg Community Fair one year, I met an Amish man and he won first place for his tomatoes. He told me his family has grown it for generations and gave me a couple to take home. He told me it was an heirloom Brandywine.

The tomatoes were delicious, the best I had ever eaten. I was fortunate enough to take and save some of the seeds to store for the next year. Ever since, it has been the most reliable tomato variety, ripening early and throughout the season. Perhaps, it seems strange to talk about tomatoes this late in the growing season, but it is the time to also save seeds. More towards the end of this post. First a couple basics.

Today, as in the past, there are no secret formulas or magic chants to growing a successful tomato harvest, just some basic tips. A tomato can be either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate means simply that most of the tomatoes of this variety ripen more or less at the same time. These varieties come in handy when a bumper crop is needed for preserving. Indeterminate simply means the variety will produce throughout the growing season. These varieties are great for fresh table use, sale, and if enough are planted, there are still plenty for preserving.

The second tomato tip to remember has more recent origins dating to 1949 when the W. Atlee Burpee company introduced the first hybrid tomato the, “Big Boy Hybrid”. This was the beginning of what could be dubbed the “tomato revolution”. Hundreds of new varieties have appeared ever since. A basic  hybrid is simply a cross between two tomato varieties; breeders select the best qualities of each. While there are many advantages to hybrids, the seeds will not grow true to the parent plant. The next generation will revert back to one or the other parent plant, or develop into a unique and unknown variety.

Before 1949, all tomatoes were, in general, heirlooms. Heirloom varieties which were grown year after year have same generally predictable results. They were grown for a variety of reasons: flavor, disease resistance, storage, preservation. The heirloom seeds could be saved; and it was a safe bet that the following year’s crop would be the same. The heirlooms, like many “wild plants” became adjusted to particular soil conditions and environmental conditions over the generations.

Saving the seed from your fav tomato plant is actually pretty easy. Besides the named Koyote Brandywine, I also grow a variety from Seed Savers Exchange called Striped Roman. It is a fantastic paste tomato. I also save those seeds every year. What’s really, really, important is to label the seeds from the get go so varieties don’t get mixed up.


Usually I seed save the Koyote Brandywine Tomato first (it ripens earlier anyway), about the same time as when the garlic is ready to dig. Choose the best and scoop the seeds out. They will be encased in a gel. I usually have a pint jar, place the seeds and the surrounding gel in the jar and fill with water. Shake the jar whenever you think about it. In four days or so, all of the good tomato, seeds will have sunk to the bottom of the jar. Pour the liquid and the seeds into a screener and be sure to wash or rinse off the seeds under running water. Place the cleaned seeds on a glass plate to dry, avoid using paper towels, the seeds will stick to the paper and it’s a mess.

After a few days, the seeds should be dry. I place mine in a glass baby jar and then store in a cool dry spot until ready to plant in the spring. There are plenty of Websites which have much the same information which anyone can google search. But, if you discover an extraordinary tomato this harvest season, make sure it isn’t a hybrid and learn as much as possible from the grower. Start seed saving.

There are no hidden secrets to growing a great tomato harvest; just a few common sense steps based on plant knowledge; know your seed, know your soil, weed, mulch, stake and experiment with other techniques. Tomatoes, after all, are wild plants, and since 1520 or so they have surprised and captivated gardeners, some for a lifetime.


Discover more and Explore, Koyote Hill


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.


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.



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.

. garlicsnow

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.


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  


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


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



The Trout Lily

The small trout lilies started to bloom in the woodland areas of northwestern Pennsylvania the last week of April, 2013. Their blossoms are a sure sign of spring and warmer weather ( plants know more than the late winter groundhog). These amazing, perennial  native plants also can be used in those shady and wet spots around the house. For some more insights into these woodland plants, Trout Lily.



The same week that the trout lily emerge, so did the woodland leeks, or ramps. Leeks have many uses in the kitchen and add a certain zest to many foods such as ham, potato soup, and chopped with hot dogs or sausage or in a salad. The wild leeks are nothing like the domesticated, garden or supermarket varieties. More information, Leeks.


For some of the springtime events in Crawford County in northwestern Pennsylvania, GoCrawford

Learn about a Forest Conference by the Foundation for Sustainable Forest – Property Management

The Union City Dam is a well kept Secret


So much for an early spring as once predicted, but spring has finally arrived !


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.