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Archive for November, 2011

Mature Bladdernut seed pod

The American bladdernut, Staphylea trifolia, is a large, suckering, deciduous shrub or small tree 8 -15 feet tall and native to the Eastern United States.  Bladdernut grows in the wooded bottomlands along the River Raisin and can tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions from dry to wet and part shade to full shade.  It prefers moist soil, tolerates occasional floods but can also tolerate drought.  I have one shrub planted in a dry, sandy, shaded area and another in clay soil which   floods and both perform well in these extreme conditions.  The blooms in April and May are clusters of small cream bell shaped flowers.   The trifoliate leaves are dark green and the bark is greenish brown with white cracks.  I find the inflated, three chamber bladder like fruit very interesting.   The papery capsules, normally 1-2” long, change from green to cream and mature to brown.  In the autumn the seeds within the bladder will rattle in wind. The American Bladdernut is an interesting shrub for the landscape especially in native plant gardens, shade gardens or in woodland areas.

American Bladdernut bark

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FotoFriday had glitches this week! This is the week for me to lose all battles with technology! My brand new computer is in the shop for warranty work and I couldn’t extract the photos I’d had saved for FotoFriday. I had several contributors this week, so I apologize profusely and ask if you could possibly resend them. They were all really nice photos and I want to make sure we feature them. Fortunately, Jennie sent these after my computer went down so I was able to post them from my husband’s computer. Jennie’s photos have a thanksgiving theme, in a personal way.

I am thankful my daughter is sharing gardening with her 3 kids and that they get excited over big carrots. Dug this late in the fall, they will be sweet.

My daughter-in-law grows herbs and a few edibles around her patio but the girls are close enough to visit my garden very often and loved taking this melon home in their wheelbarrow. Part of the fun was letting it fall out and loading it up again.

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Jennie sent us some great information about African “keyhole”gardening and bag gardening. Whenever I learn how people in other cultures garden in ways that conserve and sustain scarce resources, I’m always impressed (and sometimes a little guilty feeling for our society’s inefficient use of precious resources). Jennie writes:

What’s a Keyhole garden?

My brother recently sent me links to YouTube videos of sack and keyhole gardens promoted in Africa as alternative raised beds for a household’s vegetable growing. I was very interested and am thinking how and whether to adapt the ideas to try here.

Keyhole gardens are a different type of raised bed intended to be more or less permanent and sustainable through an ongoing composting in a central “basket”.  In fact, the kitchen wastes  added to the center may provide all the fertilizer and irrigation necessary for successful vegetables in the bed, which is a convenient height about 2 feet above ground level. There are many variations, but in general stone or bricks are recommended for the outer wall, mortared or not, while strong wire mesh or woven saplings and branches make the inner basket tube. Between these walls, the 2-3 ft wide planting area is filled at first with a good deal of fibrous material such as corn husks, coir, straw, and cardboard along with soil and/or compost, manure, potting media,  mixed up or possibly layered as in a lasagna garden, finishing with several inches of good growing medium on the top layer. Kitchen scraps are to be dumped upon additional fibrous material in the central basket.

In dry climates or seasons, the water used to wash vegetables and dishes, etc., will be dumped into the center along with scraps and peelings. Since kitchen scraps are around 90% water, which is released during decay, this may provide sufficient moisture for the whole garden. Crops should grow as vigorously as on a typical compost heap, and the very active soil ecosystem may limit disease-causing fungi, as will the lack of surface or overhead irrigation. Crop rotation may still be needed to optimize nutrient use and plant health.

Such a bed can certainly be an attractive landscape feature like a large wishing well, but in the poverty of Africa where this instructional video was made, the efficiency of recycling water and organic material to raise high-quality food  in a small space is certainly the primary advantage.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/ykCXfjzfaco&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

Likewise, their take on sack gardening is different from ours in using tall sacks that would hold a person or two,  and constructing a central column of rocks to allow water penetration into the whole container.  Then they insert plants into the sides of the sack, gaining greater growing surface area than most containers while limiting water evaporation.  Clearly less permanent and less attractive, these provide another low cost method of using compost and raised beds to maximize production and minimize losses to weeds and soil compaction. Such “kitchen gardens” do not replace agriculture but supplement a single household food supply with high quality ingredients that are consumed fresh, at their nutritional peak, with very little loss in harvest, storage or shipping.  

Before writing these ideas off as suitable for hot dry places, do a search and see how many keyhole gardens are in the UK and in our northwest!

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Indoor Gardening

I’ve finally stopped denying that gardening season is over. As I hunker down for the long winter ahead, I guiltily look at all my neglected houseplants and plan some indoor projects such as repotting my potbound plants and starting a few herbs from leftover seeds. Also, the holidays are upon us and some holiday projects using winter greens and berries are limited only by one’s imagination. I use scans of 3 dimensional plant material such as holly and juniper berries, and pinecones to make Christmas cards. What projects are you planning this season? We’d love to hear about what you are doing to keep your thumbs green and a little grit under you nails.

Holly, scanned on an open flat-bed scanner

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We didn’t have any FF submissions this week, so I’m posting one of a farm field I shot recently. Not specifically a MG reference, but more a love of growing things and harvesting what we grow here in Monroe County.

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Here is the link to download a registration form or register on line for the upcoming Fall 2011 Curious Gardener Series programs at MSU (Nov 18 and Nov 21) which were referenced in the November newsletter.  I apologize for not including this in the newsletter.

http://www.hrt.msu.edu/curious-gardener-fall-201/

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FotoFriday 11/11/11

What a difference a week makes! This week we have lovely autumn floral submissions and – SNOW! We’ll start with the most colorful submission since I just don’t have the strength to start out with the one that reminds me of the long, quiet period we have ahead. First – Frank submitted a colorful companion planting collection from the IHM community gardens, sent to me just after last week’s FF deadline:

IHM Fall Grouping

Second, Jennie submitted an alternate-leaved pink dogwood, backlit by diffuse natural light. She writes:

Mark Derrick gave me an alternate-leaved dogwood seedling just a few years ago and I planted it too close to my kitchen, but I love seeing it out the bay window.  I knew I wanted one of these native forest understory trees when I read about it in the book Weeds of the Woods.  It has thrived in the partly shaded spot and rapidly outgrew the spread I expected, so the first tier of branches had to go. I used the graceful prunings as trellis for sweet peas last year. Then the Dundee tornado winds took the top out of the tree, too, so it has looked like a large patio umbrella, finally establishing a new leader late this summer.

Besides the dappled, moving light it admits to my kitchen, I like to look down on it from the upstairs window.  There the upswept twigs with whorls of parallel-veined leaves resemble a sea of miniature hosta plants.  I enjoyed the 3-inch circles of lace flowers dotted along the top side of each major branch and the pinkish haze of their stems when the white petals had fallen.  I let my passion vine climb up and bloom on top of the umbrella in the heat of summer, scenting the dooryard but most of the flowers invisible except from that upper window.

All fall, the leaves have increasingly hung down flat like paper decorations and have passed through several attractively subtle shades of green tinged with red, then red-orange and now very nearly pink against the smooth dark reddish bark.

Alternate – Leaved Dogwood

Last, Linda submitted a downright snowy scene from her yard. I personally have been in denial about the time of year and this photo was a reality-check for me!  Linda helps us remember that gardens do hold winter interest. We just need to be observant and appreciative of more subtle beauty including repeating lines, forms, and textures.

Subtle Beauty

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