Sunday, November 30, 2014

Swags from Nature

It's late November here in Pleasant Valley, MD and most of the leaves are gone.
For the past couple of years we have been going out to the backyard for our holiday decorations.  It's a great time to get the family out to explore nature in the off-season and get a little creative too.  With an impending pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm we moved up our timetable for collecting materials that could be used in holiday swags.

This year we didn't have a lot of colorful berries to use.  One reason is that I have been diligently cutting or removing the invasives like oriental bittersweet, Japanese barberry, winged euonymus and multiflora rose all with colorful fruits that were overly abundent in past years.  The native 'replacements' I've put in, like winterberry holly, chokeberry and smooth sumac, are still maturing. There are still many different textures and evergreens out there that work well together.

Here's what we gathered from around the property.  While it was easy
 to stuff the cuttings into the bag, getting them out without
damaging the delicate seed heads was pretty tricky.
Rather than starting with a preconceived plan for our decorations we just headed out to take cuttings of anything that looked interesting.  The base for most of our swags is some sort of evergreen, so our first stop is to get some pine branches.  You could also use things like yews, holly and rhododendrons.  The broad leaves of the Rhody offer a real contrast in texture from the other smaller leafed plants.

Types of plant material we harvested were:
  • Grasses, provide browns, tans and gold shades, some with interesting seed heads.  Deer tongue grass and little bluestem have a lot of structure to them.  The foxtails are large enough to show up at a distance.
  • Seed heads provide detailed texture.  Monardas, agastache, ironweed, asters, goldenrods, cone flowers and members of the mint family are good examples smaller flowers. The dried heads of larger flowers like annual sunflower, milkweeds, hydrangea and tree peony can really stand out.  Pine cones, of course, are classic wreath material.
  • Berries and Fruits are a great source of color.  Holly berries are a regular addition to winter decorations.  Berries from various Hypericum, roses and beautyberry are some other possibilities.  We also harvested some crabapples for color; although these may not be a good choice for indoors, since they may begin to rot. As I mentioned I have removed many of the brightly colored invasives, like bittersweet and barberry, from our property.  
  • Leaves add a different texture.  This year we were able to get some leafy branches off of the Beech trees.  Some species of oaks also retain leaves that could work well in a swag/wreath.  We also picked up some individual leaves off the ground that had good color in them.  We bundled them in a little sachet, but they could also be used individually.
  • Branches can add a unique structure.  We took some from our winterhazel (Corylopsis) which has a zig-zag stem.  Red twig dogwood would be another good choice having both color and texture; however our plants are are a bit too small to cut back yet.
  • Vines can be used in several ways.  Bundled together they can form the basis for a wreath.  Singly they can add a free flowing element to the design.  Most of the vines we have available are from invasives like oriental bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle.  We also have some native river grape and Virginia creeper.  I caution you about harvesting the Virginia creeper since, without leaves, it is difficult to distinguish from poison ivy.
When I first started doing this I only wanted to use native species.  But then I decided that I should take this as another opportunity to remove these plants for the property.  I just need to remember to dispose of those plants properly when we take down the decorations.

We covered the table with some large pieces of paper so that the debris could be bundled up more easily.

The basic swag-building tools are clippers, wire cutters (don't use your pruners for cutting wire) and some flexible wire.  I use copper wire for binding together the larger branches and a thinner steel wire to attach the smaller materials.  What I like about swags is that they are so easy to build.  First bind together the thicker stems at one end with some wire. This creates a bundle of stems that form the base or background.  Then layer other materials on top of the base, tying them in with wire.  More details can be added as desired.  You can also push single stems into the bundle as accents, the tightness of the bundle will usually hold them in place. Finally tie in a loop of wire at the main bundle to use as a hanger.

The swags you create can be simple with just a few different materials, or more elaborate with a variety of shades and textures.  Here are some photos of what we made this year:

Here we started with a bundle of white pine and attached a wide variety
 of seed heads on top, such as virgin's bower (Clematis virginiana),
garden phlox, tree peony, annual sunflower (at top) and various grasses.
  To finish we tied in a wide branch of beech to the back.

This one used the same technique, but fewer materials.
Here there are a variety of grasses including deer tongue grass
and purpletop, on top of the bundle of pine branches.
At the tie off point there is a small bundle of maple leaves and some rose hips
Here, some of the branches point up, others down.
Also a rhododendron branch in the center changes the texture of the swag.   
These next two were constructed by my sister using a lighter touch.

Here she created a circular wreath using Japanese honeysuckle.
Then she tied in a little bundle of of beech leaves, foxtails,
cone flowers on a base of white pine.
Since we had so much interesting material left over my wife suggested putting it into a pot.  This was so easy to put together.  To help things to stand up better I put a 6" short log in the center, then wedged the branches between it and the pot.

Here we put in some of the left overs including some Corylopsis branches,
 a wild mint, spotted beebalm, a wild onion and rhododendron branches.
When the holidays are over most to these can be put into the composting, after removing the wire bindings.  I will separate any fruits or seeds from the invasive plants that were used (oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose, in these examples) and put them in the trash to keep them from spreading.

We had a great time making our natural decorations.  Hope you all have a great holiday season!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fall Grasses

We've had a long and relatively mild fall here, that is until this week when overnight temps got to the low 20's.  Many trees held onto their leaves for a long time wait for a real cold snap to trigger leaf drop.  The Fothergilla I planted last season finally turned the fluorescent orange that I was hoping for.

As the temperature dropped the leaves of this
 Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy' changed to this intense orange color.
It got me thinking about my plant selection.  I am always looking out for plants with exciting fall foliage, reds, golds and oranges.  It got me to thinking that these are more effective when contrasted with cooler or muted colors like pale yellow, green or tan.

One class of plants to fill that role are the native grasses. Late or warm season grasses that produce flowers and seeds in the fall are particularly effective.  The low angle of the sun late in the year really plays off the seed stalks, bringing them to life.  I usually leave these stalks standing through the winter to get the most out of them.  I'll clean up what remains in the spring.

Another benefit of these grasses is as a food source for birds and as shelter for many insects and overwintering animals.

Here are some of the grasses I have that are showing off nicely this fall.

I have planted inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), aka, Northern sea oats and several other names, along a sloping area by the house subject to erosion.  This grass produces a dense fiberous root system that holds the soil well.  While its native habitat is in moist shady locations it will also tolerate dry shade.  It sprouts early in the spring and can spread, both by expanding clumps and seeds, to form dense stands.

The broad leaves of Inland Sea Oats has a bamboo-like appearance.
These copper colored seeds will persist into winter.

The plan is for this Pink Muhly to fill in along this fence.
When they open the flowers look like exploding fireworks.
Another grass that I have added to the property is Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).  This species is native to the eastern US and the gulf coast, but you're not likely to find it naturally in the mountain regions where I am.  The reason I put this in was the light-catching effect of the flower plumes.  At first I was concerned that this effect would not be strong because I didn't have a good angle for the backlighting. But that's not a problem.  The photo above was taken at 2 PM and there is penty of light being scattered by the flowers even though the sun is still rather high in the sky.

I've found this plant to be slow to establish here. Some of that has to do with competition from the surronding plants. Clumps of pink muhly will expand, but it is not an aggressive spreader.  Larger masses should be mown or burned back in late winter to clean up the clump.

This clump of little bluestem is easily identified
by the silvery seed tufts along the stem..

These next three species are growing wild around my home.  Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is a common native species around here.  It is well suited to dry sunny sites.  It grows well in poor soils.  In excessively rich soils it puts on too much growth and flops over.  As a warm season grass it grows to 2-3 feet by mid-summer.  In the fall it turns golden and produces fuzzy white seeds along the upper stem.  These catch the light and envelop the stem in a silvery glow.  Some selections of little bluestem take on redder shades in the fall.   Small birds feed on the seeds, so I leave these up all winter.

One of the more distinctive grasses I have is Deer-tongue grass (Dichanthelim clandestinum, formerly Panicum clandestinum).  It has relatively broad leaves compared to other grasses.  It is a cool season grass, producing terminal spikelets in early to mid-summer.  Unlike most other cool season grasses, branching and growth continues through the summer.  The name, deer-tongue grass, refers to the shape of the inch-wide leaves, not to any preference for deer to eat it.

Deer-tongue grass persists well into fall, here as a deeply textured mass.
No longer colored, the seeds of Purpletop still catch the light.

Another common pasture grass here is purpletop (Tridens flavus).  When it first blooms in late summer it has a reddish purple color.  When distributed through a field, these blooms cast a purplish haze over the scene.  As the seeds mature the color is lost and the seed stalk becomes a brownish-gold.  As a pasture grass it is very palitable to livestock.  It is also a larval host to a variety of butterflies.

I have not seen purpletop used in any designed plantings, though it does have some interesting features.  The red colored flowers are best appreciated en masse and at a distance.  What might be useful in a smaller garden is to use the 3-4 foot tall flower stalks as a translucent screen between plantings.  Since the leaf blades are concentrated in the lower half of the plant they would not block a view across a planting.  Purpletop grows well on dryish soils in part to full sunlight.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Native Annuals Wrap Up for 2014

For the past 6 or 7 years I have been interested in using native annuals in my landscapes.  By working with species that are adapted to local climate and growing conditions they can behave essentially as highly mobile perennials, moving around the garden by reseeding to find their optimal spots.  In some gardens this could be a problem with too many randomized plants.  Personally, I like the spontaneity of getting something growing unexpectedly.  (If they do get out of hand I can just pull them up or transplant them to a more desirable location.)
This Partridge Pea reached about 3' in height.  They can look gangly
in a manicured garden, but fit well into a naturalistic setting.

This year I started a number of new native annuals from seed.  In addition, I had some reseed from last year.  Here's a rundown on their performance in 2014.  I'll start with the best.

In early to mid summer the best performers were actually plants that had reseeded themselves from 2013:  Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) and American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides).  Also the biennial, American Bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum) put on a big show.

The Partridge Pea has spread a little from it original planting.  This is an early transitional species, looking for gaps in the in the ground layer to germinate.  It can be pushed out of a densely planted area if there are no gaps.  
The seedpods of Partridge Pea curl up when they release the seeds.  These could look nice in a flower arrangement.
The American Pennyroyal forms dense low border 9-12" tall.
There is a little Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) mixed in.
The Pennyroyal grew from a mixture of seed originally planted in spring 2013 and reseeding from plants in that fall.  The main feature of this plant is the strong minty scent that persists in the dried leaves and stems.  The blue flowers are tiny and grow from the leaf axils in late summer.  

These Amercan Bellflowers are at the back of a garden, an appropriate location.
They can get 5-6' tall in a sunny site.
In full sun the American Bellflower can get quite tall and unwieldy.  It grows well in shady spots reaching a more manageable height of only about 3'.  The blue flowers are very attractive to bees. Unfortunately deer seem to like it as well.  Although they left it alone after applying a repellent.  Pruned plants will produce a second flush of flowers.  

The narrow foliage of Plains Coreopsis allows to mix well
with other plantings without blocking the view.

In mid-summer and still continuing was Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria).  I transplanted some spindly seedlings in late June and by mid July they were taking off and blooming.  There was a little deer browsing early on, but this seemed to taper off after a treatment with Bobbex.  The native range of this Coreopsis includes Maryland so I am hoping that these will successfully reseed in the garden.

The two annuals that are still going strong into mid-fall are Yellow Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum) and Scarlet a.k.a. Hummingbird Sage (Salvia coccinea).  

I only got a couple of the sneezeweed to germinate, but once in the ground it took hold and has been blooming strongly since mid-August.  One trick with these is that the tiny seeds that I brought come massed together in few 1/16" spheres.  These need to be broken up and spread over the soil surface to germinate.  I mistakenly treated most of these spheres as seeds and planted them too deep resulting in no germination.  

The bright yellow flowers of this Yellow Sneezeweed do not need to be deadheaded.
Just as well, I hope to get some reseeding from these.
The Salvia germinated easily and after growing in trays for a few weeks were transferred to the garden or into pots.  These plants spent 6-8 weeks growing before they were ready to bloom.  Despite the wait, the blooming has been strong since early August.  This species also does well in pots. but it is kind of tall and you may want some other plants to fill in around the lower leaves.

The tubular flowers of this Salvia did attract our hummingbirds earlier in the season.
At 24-30" it shows up well among other garden plants.

Some other annuals I tried that grew but did not excel this season were Sulfur Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus), Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis 'Pan') and Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata). The Cosmos suffered from too much competition from other plants and from being nibbled on by the local fauna.  I expect it would have done better in a more protected location.  The Sunflower germinated well in the garden but was overshadowed by the Annual Sunflower I paired it with.  The Spanish flag matured very late in the season with significant blooming starting in September.  It's blooming well now in late October, but all the supporting plants are fading away.  Spanish Flag is native to Mexico (part of North America); I don't expect to see this one reseed.

The fact that we have not had a real frost yet in our area has really extended the blooming season for these plants.  Some I expect to survive a light frost, while others will be killed immediately.  

I did plant a couple of winter annuals, Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) and Miami Mist (Phacelia purshii), out in the garden in late summer.  I'm keeping an eye on them, but have not seen any definitive germination yet.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Making a Plan to manage Japanese Stiltgrass

My wife and I have been on a campaign against invasive plants on our property.  Our two main targets are garlic mustard and Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum.  The spring time is when our focus is on garlic mustard, when the ground is soft and before it begins to flower.  In late summer our focus switches to stiltgrass.  I am trying to come up with a program that works for me: how can we eliminate as much stiltgrass with the least amount of work and without causing too much collateral damage. 

This is a shady area that used to be mowed.  The stilt grass has moved into
the gaps and is crowding out the native vegetation.
We've been pulling plants from planting beds as they appear (compulsive behavior), pulling larger plants and weed whacking in late summer.  Recently a friend pointed out how much stiltgrass was growing in the lawn.  I realized that this lawn weed may be creating a large mass of seed that could easily recontaminate the surrounding woodlands.  So I'm now including the lawn in the project. 

The Plan

As the weather has gotten cooler I could see how stiltgrass has taken over large swaths of the lawn.  This effectively creates bare spots that are prime territory for stiltgrass to resprout in the spring.  Remembering that one of the best to control lawn weeds is to have a thick turf, I decided that I should be more aggressive about filling in those bare spots with desirable plants. My general plan is as follows:
  • Pull in early August.  This allows a second crop to germinate, but not enough time to mature before frost.
  • In natural areas minimize disturbance to soil and encourage existing native species.  Cut stiltgrass low when flowering starts, about mid to late August to early September.
  • In disturbed areas (lawn) try to add more competitive ground covers, like cool season grasses to get established before stiltgrass germinates in mid-April (WVa).  
This will be a 5+ year program to get rid of the current crop of seeds already in the ground.  There will be continued outside pressure from surrounding areas infested with stiltgrass. 

Japanese stiltgrass is turning brown in the lawn early October.
This thatch can be slow to break down,
leaving a gap for more to germinate in spring.

In late fall and winter stiltgrass appears as a persistent golden-brown thatch.  The usual invasion route is into areas of disturbance in an otherwise natural space.  Deer are also vectors for the spread of stilt grass.  They often bed on top of stiltgrass infested areas, then carry the seed with them, dropping it along their paths.  While they will sleep on stiltgrass, deer do not feed on it.  Instead they feed on native vegetation, further helping stiltgrass to outcompete native species.

In late August/early September a flush of growth is a signal that stiltgrass is maturing and seed production is about to commence.  Waiting to cut the grass at this time does the maximum damage to its reproductive cycle.  Early season mowing or whacking of stiltgrass stimulates early flowering and a lower, harder to remove growth habit.  Pulling stiltgrass early in the season creates openings that allows additional germination.  By waiting until late in the season these late germinated seedlings will not have time to mature before they are killed by the colder temperatures. I really like the idea of tricking it into germinating late in the season.  Also plants pulled out before the seed has matured can be left to decompose.  After the seed has ripened in mid- to late-September plants should be bagged and landfilled to prevent spreading of the seed.

I found this recommendation by West Virginia forester, RussAnderson:
"If the area where stiltgrass control is desired includes a lawn that is infested, all regular mowing of that portion of the lawn should cease around July 15 and allowed to grow for a month before mowing again. Normally, during this 30 day period the stiltgrass will significantly  outgrow all other lawn cover making it both easier to identify and easier to kill. To ensure the highest proportion kill possible in the stiltgrass the best option is to mow the lawn, especially where the stiltgrass is present at the lowest blade setting. Completing the mowing during the hottest and driest conditions possible will further enhance the kill in the stiltgrass. If the mowing of the lawn is successful, regular lawn grass will begin to fill in the dead spots almost immediately. If the stiltgrass is mowed before it is allowed to go to seed the number of stiltgrass seedlings on the lawn will greatly decline in succeeding years."

It's hard to leave an area of lawn unmown.  But if this works, consider all the labor and chemicals saved compared to removing stiltgrass by other means.  Also this can be a positive step by NOT doing something (mowing for a month), rather than continually mowing. 

Here's that same shady area after weed whacking and raking up the cut stiltgrass (upper left).
Pink flags indicate the location of desired native species left in place.

Weed whacking stiltgrass from hard to mow areas should be done in this late August period.  Cutting as low as possible removes both the upper flowers as well as the lower cleistogamous flowers hidden in the stems.  If there are native species going to seed in the area, waiting until they mature can help reestablish native populations.  In some smaller areas I surveyed for native species and flagged them so that they could be avoided while whacking the stiltgrass.  

Cool season turfgrasses

Since each fescue plant is so small the seeding rate
 is fairly high, 5 lb/1000sf, to get good coverage.
Tall fescue is a good choice for high traffic sunny areas, but this is not a North American species.  Since my focus is on using native vegetation and natural appearance, I am using a mostly native fine fescue blend. (Eco-grass from Prairie Moon) of red and creeping fescues for the shadier areas.  In the wilder areas I am trying a blend of native grass species.  This is an experiment to see if I can get good cover with these prairie species used in a lawn-like environment.  However, a prairie is managed much differently than a lawn and there is a good chance that this approach will not be successful.  Many of these native grasses need a year or two to put down roots before top growth takes off.  Ideally these species should be allowed to mature for a season or two before they get chopped back, by mowing or grazing.

For sowing, I first used an iron rake to clear out the stiltgrass thatch.  (Looking back, if had done this in early September I could have limited the stiltgrass seed production even more.)  This also loosened the soil surface.  Then I broadcasted the seed.  Finally I used the flat edge of the rake to push the seed in closer contact with the soil.  To get good germination and establishment of the seedlings the ground should be kept moist.  I usually try to time fall seeding with the weather forecast to take advantage of rainfall to get the grass started.

About 10 days after seeding with Eco Grass a fine green haze is covering this previously barren area.
Most commercial turf grass blends contain annual and perennial ryes which are fast growing and fill in quickly.  The fine fescues used here do not grow as quickly and it will take longer to have that full look.

Native Grasses

With that in mind I decided to try this as an experiment.  I selected species that tolerate grazing, where they would be eaten back to 3-5 inches, since mowing it is a similar action.  Since I am fall sowing I selected mostly cool season grasses, with the hope that they will get established before the stiltgrass germinates in the spring.  Also, there are warm season species in the mixture to try and fill in the gaps when the weather warms.  The grasses I selected where mostly native to Maryland or the mid-Atlantic region.

Botanical Name
Sun mix ratio
Shade mix ratio
Canada rye
Elymus canadensis
Virginia rye
Elymus virginicus
Side Oats Grama
Bouteloua curtipendula
June Grass
Koeleria macrantha
Fall or Beaked Panicgrass
Panicum anceps
White clover
Dalea candida

I made up two seed blends one for full sun and the other for part shade.  The majority of the seeds are cool season grasses.  The weight ratios for each are listed in the table above.  When making up a seed blend you need to account for the number of seed per pound and the seed viability, usually listed as pure live seed (PLS) which is seed purity times the germination rate.  This is my first time trying this so I can't be sure that it will work.  I did put some seed into a new meadow area that will not be mowed regularly.  This will serve as my 'control' group.

A better way to sow these native grass seed would be to use a seed drill and put them in 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.  Instead, I sowed them the same as I did for the fine fescue, but at a much lower rate (pounds/sf).  The recommended rate for Eco Grass is 5 lbs/1,000 sf while for Canada rye it is on the order of 3 oz/1,000 sf.  Since the ryes and other native grasses are much larger plants when mature, compared to a single fescue plant, it takes only a few seeds to get the same coverage.

June grass has a seed similar fescue is size;
however, the resulting plant is much larger

Side oats grama has a lot of husks included, but
these are accounted for in the PLS calculation  

Virginia and Canada ryes look similar.  

If I don't see sufficient germination by next spring I will go back to a standard turf grass blend.  It's better to fill in with something than leave space for stiltgrass.

15 days after seeding I'm seeing some new grass growth in some of the sunnier areas.
The shade areas are not showing definitive signs of new grasses.

We were surprised to find this obedient plant
blooming late in the season.  I don't know if this is indigenous
 or if it escaped from an earlier planting by a previous landowner.

Other strategies

Broad spectrum (glyphosphate) and grass specific herbicides are effective on stiltgrass, but they may impact surrounding vegetation.  I found a mention of using a dilute solution of Fusion® (grass specific herbicide) to kill stiltgrass with relatively little collateral damage to native perennials and grasses.  Another tool is the use a preemergent herbicide in spring.  However, since stiltgrass continues to germinate throughout the spring and summer, a single treatment alone would not be effective.  A preemergent would also suppress germination of other desired species.

One of the side benefits while pulling stiltgrass is that it gets you looking closely at plants and nature.  We've spotted a number of interesting plants this year while thinning out the overgrown edges of the woodlands.  Most recently I spotted a dark pink Obedient Plant among the grasses.


The following are some additional websites with useful information on dealing with Japanese stiltgrass: 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Butternut Harvesting

Butternut tree in late September.  The nuts
have been falling for about 2 weeks
We are fortunate to have a mature Butternut, Juglans cinerea, growing close to our house.  It casts a pleasant amount of shade, not too dense.  Like its close relative the black walnut, Juglans nigra, it does produce juglone, a substance that inhibits the growth of many plants.  Growing alone in a lawn, this has not been a problem with ours.  Our tree does have a moderate case of Butternut Canker or Butternut Decline.  We had the affected branches removed this past spring and this year it looks a lot better.  Long term I expect the disease to continue.

Despite this ailment, out tree does produce quite a few nuts.  This is supported by the large number of seedlings within a hundred feet of the parent.  Normally there are just a few nuts on the ground, but this year there are hundreds of them.  I had been told that the squirrels would swoop in and carry them away, but so far I haven't seen many of them.  Rather than just tripping over these nuts on the lawn I decided to give harvesting them a shot.

Butternuts fresh off the tree are covered with a bright green, sticky husk.  As they age the husk shrinks and becomes darker. The best nuts for harvesting those that have fallen recently.  One site recommended only using nuts freshly shaken off the tree.  My tree is pretty firm and its limbed up quite high, so I just opted for the greenest ones off the ground.

Butternuts are oblong, kind of like a football or rugby ball.  Walnuts are nearly round.

This butternut has been on the ground for a few days.
The husk is stuck more tightly to the shell.

I didn't harvest any of these dark nuts.  There is a greater probability that they may be starting to rot and they are definitely harder to peel. You can check nut quality ahead of time by putting them in a bucket of water.  Those that sink are good, but floaters have voids in them and should be discarded.

Here a relatively fresh, green nut ready for peeling/dehusking.
I found that the serrated edge on my favorite soil knife was very effective at dehusking the butternuts.  Before getting started I put on older clothes and a sturdy pair of gloves.  The husks contain substances that leave dark brown to black stains.  After being exposed to air they get darker.  I didn't want to get any of the juice on me or any of my pavement.

Here's the first cut through the husk.
The green husk is about 3/16" thick and juicy.
The first thing I did was make four cuts lengthwise through the husk with the serrated blade of the knife.

The freshly exposed shell is light brown,
but it darkens quickly when exposed.
Next, I put the blade in one of the slices and twisted the blade causing a chunk of the husk to pop off.  With this opening, I could press the edge of the blade against the cut edge of the husk and the rest of that section of husk peeled off.
Here's a freshly peeled nut with all the pieces of the green husk.

I repeated that for the remaining four segments.  After the first dozen, I could dehusk a nut in less than a minute.  Still, this is not how I would like to spend an afternoon.  A corn sheller can make the job easier.

After 3 minutes the moist interior of the husks had turned black.
This stain can be difficult to remove from surfaces and clothing.

Once peeled the husked nuts get washed with a jet of water then air dried.  Currently I am air curing the nuts in their shells for for about two weeks.  It is recommended to store them in the dark at about 60 F and 70% humidity.  This curing step is supposed to develop a better flavor.

The next step will to take the nuts out of their shells.  One site says to soak them in warm water for a day before cracking the shells.  I did a quick deshelling test with my 3# steel mallet.  A few taps broke the shell nicely.  The nut meat had a greenish cast and tasted a little raw, but there was a richness to it that I hope will dominate when the curing process is complete.

Once shelled the nutmeats can be stored in the refrigerator for a few few months, or longer in the freezer.  I'm not sure how best to use the nuts: raw, boiled or roasted, all three?  I should have a verdict on this process in a couple of weeks.  Being a newbee at this I would really appreciate any comments from more experienced gatherers out there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Visit to Coastal Maine Botanic Garden

My first visit in to the Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens was in 2008, one year after opening.  There was lots of construction going on then.  Even so the gardens were very enjoyable to see.  Now that major construction is done and the plants are more established, I would say that the gardens are spectacular!  

This view over the Learner Garden of the Five Senses captures the care
that is taken in both the design and maintenance practices at the CMBG.

This bed of late-flowering Sneezeweed looked just like in the catalogs.

While the gardens do not consist entirely of native or indigenous species, these species do make up a major component of the plantings.  One of the goals of this garden is to show the people of this area what they can grow successfully in this northern climate.  

Considering this latest visit was in the second week of September, I was pleased to see so many of the plants were in full bloom, proving that Maine does not shut down after Labor Day.  Also while walking around the gardens I saw several staff members hard at work caring for the plants.  The results were clearly seen in how clean the beds were and how healthy the plantings looked.
These red and yellow flowers of  Blood Flower, a South American species of milkweed, really pop.
The North American butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) has similar form but is all orange.
One of the first plants I saw at the garden was Asclepias curassavica, Blood Flower, a South American native perennial, but grown as an annual in the US.  There is a Monarch Butterfly Waystation at the garden, so there are a preponderance of milkweeds, as well as other pollinator friendly plants.  An area for collecting and protecting Monarch chrysalis' is located in the Children's Garden.
Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed at CMBG.
Tussock Moth caterpillar on a Swamp Milkweed, A. incarnata, in Maryland.
I'll admit I was jealous.  Back home in Maryland we've seen only one Monarch Butterfly so far this year.  And the only caterpillars on my milkweeds have been for the native Tussock Moth.  

The Children's garden contains many fun plants, bright colors and activities for kids.  Adults can also appreciate the playful nature of the planting themes in this area.

I've been looking at some classic labyrinths, but this pattern looks a lot more fun!
Not everything in the Children's Garden is a plant.
This is a play on a bedding planting.
One of the intensely designed gardens there is the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses, which was completed in 2009.  It has areas with plants that appeal to each of the five senses:  Taste (mostly culinary species), Scent, Touch (textured plants and hardscape), Sight and Sound (water features, croaking frogs and air movement through the plants). The design allows for maximum accessibility for disabled.  A detailed description of this garden has been posted on-line by Gregory Harris

These planted walls in the 'Taste' section make the plants more accessible for visitors to reach.
Cardinal Flower and Joe Pye Weed were two of the dominant species in the garden.

The Kitchen Garden was one of the first designed areas completed.  It demonstrates creative ways to grow edible plants.  Particularly using natural materials for trellising and mixing flowers for pollinators with food plants to get both an improved visual experience and better results with beneficial insects.

Zinnias and Purpletop Vervain are two of the flowering components of this edible garden.
The Greek Columnar Basil in the middle of this bed adds a strong structural feature.

While I have not explored many of the natural trails at CMBG, I did make it down to the water to get some beautiful views of Back River that abuts the property.

There are many beautiful, less intensely managed areas.  This view of Back River is from the Vayo Meditation Garden.   
If you are visiting Downeast Maine/Booth Bay, I recommend you spend a few hours at these gardens and you will see just how much and how well plants can be grown in northern New England.