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Drying herbs

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Drying herbs

Did you know that many of the dried herbs you buy in a regular grocery store are at least 3 years old when you buy them?  Why not dry your own!?  The easiest method, and the one that I use, is a dehydrator.

I’ve dried lots of herbs including ‘spicy globe’ and ‘thai’ basil (not sweet basil), rosemary and thyme as well as mint.  But I also dry tomatoes.  It’s a bit messy and putzy but the taste of a dried cherry tomato that you grew is just outstanding!  They’re fantastic on salads.  I dry them and then freeze them or put them in an airtight container such as a jar.

Leave plenty of room for air circulation around what your drying.  Leave the dehydrator in a sunless, dry room.  You can also dry long stemmed items like peppermint with a paper bag and some twine.  Cut the bottom of the bag and poke holes in the side.  Hang upside down in a sunless, dry room.

For the best results, cut your herbs just before they flower, that’s when their essential oils at at their peak.  Cut in the morning just after the dew has lifted on a hot, dry day.

Leave your herbs alone for at least 24 hours before checking back!  Then just keep checking back.  The time varies depending on how much moisture is in the plant when you cut it.

As soon as the leaves are crackly dry and crumble easily, remove them from the stems and store in an airtight jar or you could put them in freezer bags (making sure you get the air out).  They’ll store well for up to 18 months.

Check out this quickie on Drying Herbs [Purdue University] this includes microwaving them.  Be careful with this one!

Some fresh herbs don’t dry well.  They are chives, parsley, chervil and sweet basil.  You can freeze these in water.  Just harvest the leaves, chop them, place them in ice cube trays and fill the trays with water.  Once frozen, pop the cubes out of the tray and store them in freezer bags in the fridge.  They’ll work well in soups and stews! Organic Gardening magazine has snapshots of how to freeze your herbs.


Fantastic Basil cream sauce!

  • 1 c. fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  • 1/2 c. plain yogurt (not greek)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

Mince the basil and garlic and mix with goat cheese, yogurt and olive oil in a blender or processor until smooth.  Put on salads or anything else that you can think of!


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Cuttings to keep cool plants

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Cuttings to keep cool plants

You can keep your coleus all year if you take cuttings.  Your vinca and your geranium too.

  • Take a 4 to 6 inch cutting just above a leaf.
  • Remove the lower set of leaves (this is where the roots will form) and place in a soil less mix like vermiculite.
  • You can dip the ends in a rooting hormone to promote growth and help prevent mold.
  • Water thoroughly and place the whole thing in a plastic bag, leaving it open.

It could take 2 weeks or 5 weeks to get roots but once you do plant them in a potting soil and you’ve just created life! And saved yourself some money.  FYI, the hand in the picture below is not mine!  ;-)

Coleus planter 2015




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Fruiting fungi

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Fruiting fungi

As folks are out playing lawn darts they may be aiming at those lawn mushrooms that have popped up!  I’ve had questions concerning these fruiting fungi such as, will they harm my lawn, what’s wrong with my turf that it produces those ‘shrooms or one of my favorite is “why is that ugly thing growing in my lawn?”.



In areas where there’s been plenty of rainfall or excessive irrigation, you’ll find mushrooms growing.  They’re living on decaying organic matter in your soil.  When your soil is moist, the decaying matter breaks down and releases it’s nutrients into the soil where the fungi are allowed to take it up and produce fruiting bodies also known as mushrooms.  In most cases there’s nothing wrong with your lawn, in fact, it’s good that you have decaying organic matter that does release nutrients back into your soil.  But lots of folks don’t like seeing them, so for you, I would say just take a rake after them and remove the offending fungi.

Yet there are some pretty cool lookin’ shrooms…  the golden mushrooms below were barely visible under my salvia

golden mushroom 2

Japanese Umbrella aka Fairy Parasol

Japanese Umbrella aka Fairy Parasol

The Fairy parasol were growing in a decaying tree.

Fairy Rings and they’re hard to get rid of.  They look like dark green circles with the inner circle brown.  The best way to tackle them is to mask the problem by using fertilizer.

Fairy Ring mushrooms

Fairy Ring mushrooms

There’s really not a lot you can do for fairy rings…  Check out this article from the University of MN Extension

The monster shroom found in the Big Woods, Nerstrand, MN

Fungi monster



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Blossom end rot

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Blossom end rot

Homegrown tomatoes are the BEST!  But blossom end rot is not!  Still waiting for that first one this year!

A calcium deficiency will bring about blossom end rot.  Uneven watering is one of the biggest culprits.  There are foliar sprays but they only help BEFORE the tomato has blossom end rot, and, as you’ll see from the University of Minnesota, there’s disagreement on how well they work.

If you start to see this problem, remove the affected fruit, spray the rest of the plant.

Give your plants plenty of room.  Best Practice is to give a good 4 feet for each plant.  Keep as evenly moist as you can.  The hardest thing on a tomato plant is to let them dry out like the Sahara and then douse them with water like a Fargo flood.

Here’s a bit more information from the University of Minnesota Extension on Tomato Blossom End Rot

Tomato - Brandywine 8-9-15

Tomato – Brandywine 8-9-15


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Lamenting the butterfly and using native grasses to bring them back

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Lamenting the butterfly and using native grasses to bring them back

On a recent Garden Bite I talked about plants that host butterfly larvae.  After hearing that, a friend of mine was lamenting the lack of butterflies.  He literally lives within the bounds of a State Park and said he’d felt like something was missing on his walks through the park and realized, after hearing about the larval hosts, what is was.  There were very few, if any, butterflies.  I noted earlier that I had not seen any monarchs on my milkweed.  (plenty of beetle action but no butterflies) Come to think of it, not too many other butterflies.

Large milkweed bugs

Large milkweed bugs

Just 150 years ago one-third of Minnesota was covered in tall-grass prairies, an essential habitat for many species of butterflies, as well as other insects, birds, and wildlife. Today, only 1% of Minnesota’s prairies remain mainly due to agricultural and housing developments.  Overall, native grass host-plants play an integral role to the survival of many prairie butterfly populations. As a result of habitat loss, there are currently 12 species of prairie dependent butterflies and moths on the MN DNR’s endangered, threatened, and special concern list.

Dakota Skipper

Dakota Skipper

So, let’s plant some Little Bluestem!  This very hardy native grass has been documented to support several species of prairie butterflies such as the once common Dakota skipper and Ottoe skipper (Hesperia ottoe).  The Dakota skipper butterfly was historically found in 40 MN counties but is now found in only 11 and is listed as an endangered species statewide.

Ottoe Skipper

Ottoe Skipper

Little bluestem is a warm season mid-height native grass, common to prairies from Minnesota to Texas. It reaches an average height of 3′ with arching foliage and a clumping habit. This native perennial gets its common name from the blue stem color it develops over the summer. In the fall, the little bluestem turns a beautiful bronze-red color.

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem Fall color

Little Bluestem Fall color

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Wasp nests

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Wasp nests

Now’s a good time to inspect your home for wasp nests that are being constructed.

wasp nestIt’s easy to overlook nests when they’re small and there are only a few wasps hanging around. However, that’s the best time to treat them when you can find them. Some wasp nests are built out in the open, like under eaves, and are the easiest to find and control.

Jeffrey Hahn is a University Extension Entomologist, he says, If a small, exposed nest is discovered, there are a couple of options for controlling it. Regardless of which method you use, deal with nests at night when the wasps are not very active.

The easiest method is to spray a wasp and hornet insecticide into the nest to kill all of its inhabitants.

wasp nest destroyer foam

If you want to control it nonchemically, remove the nest by placing a clear glass or plastic container over it and moving the jar so the nest is knocked down into the container. Slide a piece of cardboard (or something similar) so you can bring the jar down without the wasps getting out. Then slide the lid on the jar. Either release them so they can build a nest somewhere else or place them in a freezer to kill them.

Paper wasp

If you see wasps flying in and out of a space, but can’t see their nest, well, those are more challenging!  These are the nests typically not discovered until late summer when larger numbers of wasps are present. Control of these sites is more challenging because spraying into the opening rarely gets into the nest itself to kill the wasps.  Hahn says an insecticidal dust is the best option. However dusts labeled for buildings aren’t commonly available to homeowners and are can be difficult to find. The best option then is to contact a pest management service in your area to treat the nest.


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“Muscle” mulch aka organic mulch

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  “Muscle” mulch aka organic mulch

I believe I made myself clear yesterday about my feelings on rock mulch!  So what would I use?

I prefer wood chips.  The above are colored red to add contrast.  (Some people don’t like colored mulch as they think it’s takes away from the plants, as always, it’s your choice) I did this back in 2007 and laid down landscape fabric.  If I had to do it again, I would just cultivate and lay down the wood chips right on the ground.  The weeds find a way no matter what.  The landscape fabric ends up becoming a problem later anyway.  The below pics are from a few years ago when I renovated an overgrown weed patch at my new home.  I pulled weeds, incorporated compost and laid down newspaper, then mulch.  Since those 2 photos below I’ve done a LOT more all around my home!  😉

newspaper and mulch

newspaper shot

This is from the front of my home.  The below bed is now into it’s 3rd season.

live garden

The above is a gentle reminder to create a “donut” of mulch NOT a “volcano”!  ?  By the way, that’s a ‘Parker Pear’ tree that has delivered pears for a few years.  It’s at least 4 times the size now.  It’s planted next to a ‘Summer Crisp’ for pollination.  Very tasty!

There are plenty of other organic options for mulch:

  • non-chemically treated grass clippings
  • shredded leaves
  • pine needles
  • pecan shells
  • cocoa bean – some people think that this is toxic to dogs, I think they’d have to eat quite a bit of it
  • aged corncobs (I tried to find a picture for you but no such luck)

Iowa State University has a good article on Organic Mulches.


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“Trophy” mulch aka inorganic mulch

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  “Trophy” mulch aka inorganic mulch

We know it’s a good idea but what KIND of mulch should you get.  Organic vs Inorganic.  The first question to ask yourself is what do I want my mulch to do?  Do I want it to just sit and look pretty or do I want it to work for the money I put into it?   There are good reasons for both options.  Today we’ll focus on inorganic mulch or Trophy mulch as I call it.

Rock Mulch, okay, I have a bias against this stuff.  It’s a pain the b….ack.  Side.  If you’re using it as a weed suppressant than expect to have to use chemicals to kill the weeds that eventually come up through it because moving it is HARD work.

However, there are people who still want it, so if that’s you, then go ahead.  But first, take a sample home.  Most places will allow you to take a sample and see if it’s really the color you want.  Also, I would limit where you put it.

rock mulch stonescape

This isn’t a bad place to use rock, however, you’ll still be cleaning this out from blown leaves and weeds will show up.  LIFE wants to grow!  ;-)

rock mulch display

As you can see there are certainly plenty of choices.

Recycled Rubber Mulch is another inorganic choice…. maybe.  Rubber mulch doesn’t breathe.  No weeds will come up but getting water, nutrients and air to the plants you want to thrive, will be a problem.  There are some studies suggesting it gives off toxins and gets too hot for plants.  There are 2 schools of thought on the subject and I think it’s one you have to decide for yourself.

Recycled rubber mulch

Here’s something I never recommend:

Rubber mulch tree ring

They claim that air, water and nutrients can get through, if that’s true, then so can weeds.  And then you’ve got the weeds coming up through rubber.  Tough to pull!  Also, rocks and rubber heat up.  That’s not a good thing for most plants, they don’t need the extra hot soil.

Here’s some information from Nature’s Way Resources.  Of course they do not recommend rubber mulch but you might want the information they offer.

I haven’t been a proponent of it for plantings but thought perhaps for children’s playgrounds it would be okay.  However, many cities and school districts are changing their minds and replacing it. Before using it, do your research.


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Water conservation tips

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Water conservation tips

I started my radio show mentioning this song by Ray Charles, so I thought I’d share it!

While storms have brewed up, dumping copious amounts of the precious liquid very quickly that also means the rain may run off quicker than our soil can soak it in.  So, that means watering, especially our container plants and new plantings that are up to 3 years old this season.

Wilted zucchini

Wilted zucchini

Okay, so this hasn’t happened yet in our neck of the woods… but this time of year, generally, brings dry weather, crispy lawns and a choice for us….  how to water.

The University of Minnesota Extension offers some sound watering tips:

  • Water your garden in the morning, before temperatures rise
  • However, water your containers in the afternoon…  yup.  Research shows that container plantings do better if water in the afternoon.  Nope, I don’t know why
  • Avoid evening watering, as this can lead to fungal growth
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!  Up to 70 percent of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day. Mulch is one of the best moisture holding tools you can use. Use coarse mulch at a depth of 3-4 inches.
  • Increase organic matter in your soil.  Organic matter absorbs many times its own weight in water, which is then available for plant growth
  • For those newly planted plants,  water once or twice a week, so the soil is wet to a depth of 12-18 inches for trees and shrubs or 6-8 inches for annuals. If you’re not sure how much water this is, try this.  Water your garden, wait an hour or so to allow the water to sink in, then dig a hole about 1 foot deep. Is the soil moist at the bottom of the hole? If not, water more. If it is sopping wet, water less.

garden 2016







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The first year they sleep zzz

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The first year they sleep zzz

You’ve planned, purchased and planted those wonderful plants, now it’s time to weed, watch and wonder how long it will take them to become the size of the plants in those plant books!

There’s a great garden adage that rings true most of the time.

“The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap”

Patience has never been my strong suit but through gardening I’m learning to endure it!  It’s worth the wait.  It’s best to buy your plants small, they establish much easier as they won’t suffer as much from transplant shock.  It’s also more cost effective!  Start them with a large planting hole that you’ve added organic matter into and be sure to water them well especially for the first couple of years.  Three years for larger plants.

Grass Sticks

They’re sleeping!

New perennial bed with

New perennial bed  2nd year

3rd year!

3rd year!

And my very own quote:

“The Garden is no place to stress for success, but to soak up some sun and renew your Spirit”

perennial bed 4


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