The Backyard

The Backyard

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Antique Roses 101

Each Penn State Master Gardner is given the opportunity to show case their area of expertise. Mine was Antique Roses. Believe it or not, I actually wrote a booklet on them. Technically, an antique rose is any rose class first cultivated prior to 1867 -- the introduction of the very popular and widely grown rose of today - the hybrid tea rose. My love of old roses first started when I wanted a "victorian" garden. But as I started researching and growing them, the realization set in on how beneficial they are for the environment. They can be grown without any maintenance. You read that right -- no maintaining the plants! Well, maybe you need to dig it out when it dies. Granted, you need some space for some of these puppies. Many are shrubs that will take over an area fairly quickly. But the show they put on is incredible. And the scents they emit is even more amazing. You think that dozen of red roses from the grocery store smells good? Wait until you get a whif of an antique rose. The scents can be spicy, flowery, musty -- some even have scented leaves. As I type, my nostrils are filled the HANSA scent -- a very powerful and hardy Rugosa shurb rose. This is definitely one my favorites. Mainly because its prolific and is resistant to everything - bugs, rust, cold winters, and mildew. Each class has a uniqueness to it -- big hips, cupped flowers, heavily scented, striped flowers, shrubs, climbing, cascading, bunched, single stem, etc. Its mind boggling - which is why I wrote a booklet! Its a briefing of antique roses, so to speak. As an FYI, there used to be 52 classes of roses with hybrid tea as one class - I'm sure that's changed over the past few years with hybrids. At one point, my gardens had maybe 50 or more varieties. Today, I'm down to maybe 12 or so. But this is a lesson learned over the years on what survives in PA and what doesn't. That too is part of the enjoyment of growing them -- discovering what works best in our climate. The booklet I wrote goes into more detail, descriptions, where to buy, etc. So if you are REALLY interested, I'd be glad to share this book -- e-mail me at and I'll get you a booklet.

The Last of the Broccoli

It comes and goes pretty darn quick. The bad part about broccoli is it is ALL ready to harvest at the same time, and it gets tough and bitter (and wormy!) if you wait just a day or two too long. So this weekend is broccoli harvest time. 24 heads were cut, soaked, cleaned, blanched, bagged, and nestled in the freezer. This is the part of gardening I always seem to struggle for time to accomplish the task at hand - harvesting. Its nice to just go cut dinner, but in most cases you have do more than just cut dinner with the rest of the harvest. But in one Saturday morning, and the plant clean-up on Sunday monring, and I'm done. I'm SO grateful I'm not running to races weekend, after weekend this year. It leaves just enough time to get in the garden.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Growing Parsley

Not exactly the most unusual of plants, parsley is commonly grown and known, but a plant that deserves a little more recognition than it gets. My mother is a parsley freak. She dries tons of it and uses it in soups and recipes all year long. Neither of us seldom use it fresh, but dried parlsey is always on our shelves.

Drying Parsley: 2 minutes in the microwave - truly! Cut the pieces you want to dry straight from the plant. Lay an evenly distributed layer (small handful) on a paper-towel on a paper plate. Cover with a 2nd paper towel. Microwave 2 minutes on high. Be very careful though near the end of the two minutes. If the parsley is overdry, it'll spark and try to start a fire (no joking here!). So its critically important you watch it for the last minute.

I started growing parsley mainly for my mother, but the environmental benefits of parsley are equally beneficial. The plant itself attracts the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly larvae that is truly one of the most beautiful caterpillars to see and watch. They munch and crunch parsley leaves, dill, and also fennel -- all the plants in the umbel family. It's a bienniel plant and will easily overwinter for the 2nd year of growth. In the second year though, be quick to cut and dry as it goes to seed rather quickly. Once seeded and flowering, a plethora of butterflies and beneficial insects will cover the plant, feasting until their hearts are content. Parsley is very easy to grow from seed. Soak the seed overnight, and plant as early in the spring as you possibly can. Its a cool weather plant and tolerates frost easily. Most common is the flat-leaved, and there's a curly leaved which is our preference. The curly leaved parsley dries into an award winning jar of dark green, colorful herbs. My mother has won 1st place at the local county fair many years with her dried parsley. A top-of-the-list herb for your garden.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Garden Pics and Greens

I have the night off from training (well... I was supposed to do an ez swim and ez bike, but I bagged both) and I just made Rick keep the TV off for a change so I can get a nice post up about the garden. Spring is SO busy with biking, gardening, training, mowing, weeding, biking, gardening...oh I already said those two. You get the picture. I've been kinda chilibloggin more than backyardchilibloggin, so its time for the backyard to get a little notoriety. First up - the GREENS. Fresh and organic. I managed to find organic seed for all kinds of greens this year. I have spicy greens, mesclun spring mix, and of course my fav, good ole spinach. They'll be fresh up until maybe December if I'm lucky (yes, you can grow greens for 3 seasons). I figure with a $5 investment in the seeds, over about 8 months, I'll save us maybe $160 dollars...maybe more. If you get the sale "bags" of organic greens at Giant, it'll run you 2/$5. Do that over 8 months and that's $160. But the best part is I know where my seed came from, I know what's in the soil, and I know the greens are nothing but fresh and totally Monsanto chemical free. I LUV my garden. The broccoli isn't quite as much a bargain, but 24 plants will produce 24 heads -- maybe a $40 dollar savings there. But again, its organic. This weekend the seeds are going in the ground for romaine lettuce, butternut squash, zucchini (boy will I have zucchini), and a bunch of seeds for wildlife - nasturtium (bees), sunflowers, and candy-striped zinnias (butterflies) fennel and dill. And I found some volunteer cherry tomatoes that are coming up from last year's leftovers that didn't get picked up when frost came. Niiicccee.. There's another buck saved for the plant, and probably about $100 for the maters. I picked up a small box of cherry tomatoes the other week and they were $4! They went back. We can do without.

This is an interesting perenniel -- egyptian onions, or "walking onions." The tops are starting to form the small onion bulblets, which will fall to the ground from the weight, and sprout new plants from each bulb. What's cool about this plant is its an edible, perenniel onion! They are small, but have a nice mild flavor and are there all the time. I made a lovely greens soup this weekend with the onions and chives -- its was delightful.

And this is simply a shot of the herb garden. Not a whole lot to see as I haven't really done much to it but weed it and keep plants from growing into each other since I started biking 7 years ago. When it first went in, there were bitter herbs, edible herbs, aromatic herbs, ornamental herbs and gourmet herbs of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Many are gone, but many still thrive. My favorites are the greek oregano (it HAS to be greek...the flavor of fresh oregano is unreal), french thyme (did you know there are over 30 flavors of thyme? French is the best for drying and cooking), of course my egyptian onions, and and I really like growing bronze fennel. I don't eat it, but grow if for bugs. Praying mantis seem to thrive in fennel, and the umbrels are great attractors for tachnid flies, one of many benefical insects you want in your organic garden to keep the great hornworm from devouring all your tomato plants.

And that's Lula...she loves striking a pose. Fierce I tell you, fierce.
Next up, the show is about to begin -- Antique Roses. Every year from Memorial day to Mid or late June, the roses strut their stuff. And for those that never saw or heard of an antique rose, you are in for a treat! The modern rose ain't got nuthin on a vintage rose.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Busy time of the Year

Sorry that there hasn't been any new posts... new stuff coming soon (I did the new pic above!).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Merthiolate Expired in 1980

And the Hydrogen Peroxide expired in 1997. The thought of this post was initially conservatism via who cares what the style is, as long as its functional. While waiting in the doctor's office today, I couldn't help but notice the same kids chairs I sat in when I was 4; the same vinyl sofas my mom sat in while I dug in the toy box. By golly I think some of those toys in that same toy box were the very same toys I played with in 1963. Holy cow this is weird. Looking a little deeper, the pamplets had 1970's dates. The same book shelf with the same children's encyclopedias were sitting on the shelves. The signs on the walls were yellowed and tattered at the edges. Even the curtains, I'm sure, were the same pinch pleated draperies. It was astounding. At first the thought was, "gee, they sure could use some updating around here." Then the thought became, "why?" What they have is functional, useful, and clean. They definitely kept everything clean. Why buy new if it's not needed? My husband tells me that every time I threaten to ditch the 80's country sofa and loveseat in the living room. He's right, you know. If its useful, why spend the money on new, just because its looks old. So my name was called and into the doctor's examining room I went. Clothes off, opening in the front, sheet over my lap. I change quick (must be triathlon transition training), so I had time to sit and look things over in the examining room too. Hmmm... metal desk and chair - circa 1950? 1960's cupboard -- even a ceramic medicinal thingy that held those wooden sticks they stick in your mouth. Hey...what's that, I thought? Some hydrogen peroxide and merthiolate on a shelf that actually looked like they had antique labels. Well...they weren't antiques, but they did expire in 1997 and 1980! That kinda pushed the conservatism a bit too far. For god sakes people, ditch the expired medicine off the shelf. This is a friggin' doctor's office and people can see that! I wasn't sure what to think after that. I left there thinking about should they update, or let it just like it's been for the past 40-50 years. What do you think?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Its Now a Game - How to Conserve the Most Gas

My hubby's been experimenting the last couple weeks with how to get the absolute best gas mileage. This isn't anything new, and I've seen recent articles and posts from other blogs on fuel economy tips, but you read it, and many times say yeh, yeh, we know. Now that it costs over $50 to fill up the tank, Rick decided to put a fuel economy tip to the test. We are commuters, traveling about 100 miles a day to and from work. On weekends, our kayak and bike trips usually take us another 200 or so miles away, sometimes more. When we bought our VW diesel, the fuel was cheaper than gas, and of course it gets much better gas mileage than most vehicles, but that's changed drastically in the past 3 years with quickly increasing gas costs. Rick figures we'd need a gas-consuming car that gets about 37mpg to equal the VW's 47 mpg based on $4.39 per gal of diesel fuel vs $3.65 gas cost per gallon. Mr. Brown is now in the midst of a game. Its called, HOW SLOW CAN WE DRIVE TO GET THE BEST GAS MILEAGE. Its almost embarrassingly slow based on most driver's standards. Cars are zipping by us like we are standing still. I neared peed my pants laughing this morning when I had a string of traffic behind me and when they finally had the chance to pass, I got glares like I was a 90 year old driver. And guess what -- the joke is on THEM! We filled up last night, and Rick figures we INCREASED OUR GAS MILEAGE BY OVER 10%. We went from 47mpg to 52 mpg by keeping the highway speed between 55 and 60. Never more than 60mph. I'm going to get a bumper sticker made: "WE SAVE A GALLON PER FILL-UP BY GOING THIS SPEED." or another one..."55mph = $5.00 less per fill-up." or maybe "WANNA SAVE GAS COSTS? DRIVE MY SPEED." Rick said if everyone would do that, imagine the HUGE amounts of gas and costs that would be saved. It would likele be billions. So SLOW DOWN!!!! Its money in your pocket.