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12/21/2009

Changing Climate Affects Our Gardens


Ozarks Gardening
Copyright© 2009, Jim Long

Mistletoe has always seemed like a southern plant to me. It grows high up in the limbs of trees, usually in oaks and elms. I used to drive down into South-Central Arkansas to collect mistletoe to give to friends at Christmas. The assumption has always been that the climate here is too cold for this semi-parasitic plant to exist. The seeds are carried by birds which leave bird droppings on tree branches, and the mistletoe grows where it’s planted.

Just recently I discovered several bunches of mistletoe growing on the Arkansas-Missouri border. I’ve tromped through the woods in that area for three decades and have never seen any evidence of the plant until this year.



When I moved to the farm thirty years ago, I wasn’t able to grow figs or muscadines in my garden and now I grow both, in several varieties. And back then, when I moved to the farm, there weren’t armadillos to contend with, either. They first arrived at my place in 1991 and since that time, have traveled northward, the entire length of the state of Missouri and I’ve heard reports from friends in Des Moines, Iowa, who’ve seen armadillos there in the past two seasons.

Certainly there are those who refuse to believe our planet is warming nor that our milder seasons are anything other than a cycle. It becomes more difficult to accept that view when I have personally witnessed radical  changes in my own garden. I’ve moved from a Zone 6 gardener to a Zone 7a, which is significant in when and what I plant.

I observe cause and effect. We pollute more, faster, than any civilization in the earth’s history. We burn tires, trees, coal, fuel of all kinds and it all goes into the atmosphere. It doesn’t just disappear, it has an effect, on weather, on water sources and on what we breathe and eat.

For the first time ever, fire ants were found in Missouri this year. We’ve long believed those nasty little critters couldn’t survive our winters. We’d had regulations that prohibited plants with soil that wasn’t treated to kill fire ants, from being brought into the state. Oddly enough, it wasn’t infected plant soil that brought the destructive ants in. Instead, they hitched a ride in large bales of hay that were brought into the state for feed after last year’s ice storm. Once they arrived, the ants began colonizing areas, reproducing and making livestock and humans quite uncomfortable with their stings. It’s unlikely the ants will decide to move south. Once they are in an area, they will spread just like the armadillos have.

Like it or not, as gardeners we have to change some of the ways we garden. Planting early, using two crops a year of some things, being more vigilant for new insects and using better, safer controls of those, are all ways we will have to change.

Growing your own vegetables can be frustrating, sometimes challenging but always rewarding. Read what’s happening in my garden this week at http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.comhttp://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com. Happy gardening!

11/17/2009

Long Family's History Through Quilts

Quilted Lives
Written for The Ozarks Mountaineer magazine
Copyright© 2009, Jim Long

In the way that e-mail and Facebook connect people today, the quilt once served the purpose for socializing in a community. Church women held weekly quilting get-togethers, either in the back of the church, or in someone’s home.

Making a quilt took a commitment of time and ideas. Either stretched on a quilt stretcher, or rolled on a wooden roller, ladies would sit around the quilt and sew. Individuals worked in small areas, sewing the pieces into blocks, the blocks into a quilt top. Every week the quilt slowly came together, piece by piece until it was whole, while the participants visited, gossiped and kept up on each other’s lives. News of the day, politics, problems in the community, errant children and misbehaving husbands, were all fair game around the quilt.

The quilt symbolized the fabric of the community, each person adding their own stitches and personality. And the quilt served as a love offering, for the person it was being made for, or for an auction to benefit some person, institution or event.

As the last person in my family line, I have inherited several quilts - quilts which tell the story of our family. Each quilt holds the hopes and dreams of a generation, and more, of the community from which it came.

The oldest quilt I have is one made by my great-grandmother Sumpter. She and my great grandfather came to St. Clair County by covered wagon soon after the Civil War, traveling from Sumpter County, Tennessee, to Johnson City, Missouri. That quilt, made by great grandmother Sumpter, was wrapped around a bowl given to the couple as a wedding present, and which remains with the quilt, still. Imagine the stories that quilt could tell, having been wrapped around my ancestors as they traveled away from the chaos of the remnants of War, to new territory in Missouri. The quilt has been well protected through the passing generations and is remarkable in its preservation.

The second quilt I have inherited is the wedding quilt made for my parents by the women of the Upper Monegaw community. The quilt is dated and signed, “Upper Monegaw Friends, 1933.” Having been finished right before my parents married in 1934, it contains the signatures of ninety people, embroidered into each block of the quilt. It reads like a census of the community, a tapestry of one little moment in time.

Reading through the list of names on the quilt, I recognize neighbors of my grandparents Long and great grandparents’ Sumpter. I see cousins, uncles and aunts, great grandparents, I recognize names of families who migrated West when the Longs moved from Pennsylvania, into Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and finally, Missouri. I find the names of families whose lives have been woven together over generations. The Hagens, the Shorts, the Bishops, Fosters, Sewards, Carrols, Wiecherts, Culbertsons, Sumpters and Longs, all tied together by place, kinship, and this quilt.

The third quilt I have is the baby quilt, misnamed because it is a full bed-size quilt, that the ladies of the Taberville Methodist Church made for my mother before I was born. It, too, has been preserved and passed down to me.

And the final and last quilt I have in my possession, is the wedding quilt the ladies of the Taberville Community Center made for my wife and me when we were married. Because my then wife was from Texas, they thoughtfully chose a Texas Star quilt pattern, and presented it to us at the wedding reception in my parents home in 1968.

Those quilts all trace my family’s history, from the early beginnings of a young couple fleeing the devastation after the Civil War, through my parents’ marriage, my birth and my marriage all those years ago. The quilts were treasured and protected through one hundred thirty nine years of my family’s history. They have wrapped newly weds, protected dishes, covered babies, been the pride of new homes and embodied the hopes and dreams of four generations of families.

It is both a blessing to have such treasures, and it is an immense burden, as well. Even though the quilts are all in excellent condition for their age, I wouldn’t use them for everyday use. They’re too big to display, and being the end of the line in my family, the only one left who they mean anything to, I have to decide what should happen to them in the future.

The families of the Upper Monegaw community are gone, all of the names on the wedding quilt are now merely names on tombstones. The quilts were made with love, neighbor to neighbor. Somewhere in the stitches are the stories of the community, of the families who made the quilts. Somewhere in the ancient fabric, the long journey of the wagon going north resides. And yet, what happens to the quilts in the future remains uncertain. What does one do when the weight of previous generations comes down to quilts in a closet?

A snapshot of a community, 1933, Johnson City, Missouri
Here are the names of the people who signed, and helped make the wedding quilt for my parents, Lloyd W. and Mada M. Long. The names are listed according to how the participants signed the quilt, including their punctuation and the dates they signed the quilt before it was embroidered. It’s interesting to note that some who signed, put a period after their name. Several men signed the quilt, with others signing each of their children’s names, their wives or mothers doing the embroidery on the quilt. Not only is the list a snapshot of the community at the time, it is also a listing of all of my living relatives still in that community.

Mrs. Luella Carroll
Gladys Seward
Herbert D. Foster
Earnest & Flossie Foster
Chas. Dines
Mrs. Maggie O Hagen
Mr. Ormond R Hagen
Mr & Mrs Guss Wiechert, Mar 1933
George W. Thompson
Alice Dines
Linn Crowder
Orlando Donnel Feb 21/1933
Wendell Haye
Pauline Carroll
Emma Bishop
Ruby V. Ginter
Katherine & Hazel Short
Phayne Bishop
George Fredrick Hagan
Kenneth Chiles
Laverne Chiles
Ormond Leroy Hagan
Arline Hays
Ester Smith
Dorthy Smith
Ferne Bishop
Edward Chiles
Inez Lorene Hagan
Nolan Culbertson
Lena Smith
Leonard Wiechert
Grandma Long
Beulah Long
Jim Long
Tildie Long
Mrs. Chas. Lillard.
Helen Enson
Mrs James
Cleta Lillard
Coriss Lillard
C C Oetley
Zoe Ginter
Arthur Hays
Mrs. Hays
Milton Shepard
Rosalie Shepard
Dorthea Ridgeway
Vilolet Hunsucker
“Lest Ye Forget” Avery Hunsucker
Myrtle E. Thompson
Everleigh Crowder
Ermine L Wain
Alvin Long
W T Ridgeway
Bernice Shepard
Jessie Montonya Jr
Violet Wiechert
Raymond Smith
Elmer Allen
Elmore Shepard
Cora Inskeep
Alfred Raymon Hagan
Ruby Dorrel, Feb. 21/1933
LIzzie C. Gunter
Leonard Dorrel, Feb. 21/1933
Burt Long
Joel Foster
Roseanna Dorrel, Feb 21/1933
Loyel Smith
Howard Inskeep
Lecil Inskeep
Mrs. Elizabeth Carroll
Lenn & Luther Crowder
Kenneth Short
Lavon Lillard
H.A. Long Family
Clarence Long
Charlie Long
Carlene Long
L. W. Long
Joyce Everett
Alberta Everett
Mary Gates
Nancy Gates
James Gates
To Miss Mada from Upper Monegaw Friends, 1933

7/27/2009

Basil Season

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long
August is Basil Season

I am just back from the annual International Herb Association conference, held this year at the Huntsville, Alabama Botanic Garden. One of our speakers at the conference was Dr. Mentreddy, who’s the head of research of basil at the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in Huntsville. His research focuses on the highest concentrations of oils useful in preventing or treating diabetes and colon cancer. He is trialing 87 varieties of basil. The total number of basil varieties world wide is 150, therefore comparison studies of 87 varieties is a significant.

Dr. Mentreddy explained that two of the best basils (meaning highest is useful oils for medicinal purposes) so far are Indian holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum sny. sanctum) and one called, Ocimum selloi, the variety I grow that is commonly called, Green Pepper Basil. Mine came from Oaxaca, Mexico while Dr. Mentreddy’s sample came from Uruguay. (I passed my green pepper basil along to Nichols Garden Seed in Oregon and they are the only sellers of that basil as far as I know, You can contact them by visiting my website, www.LongCreekHerbs.com and clicking on, “Looking for Plants?”)

Basil comes into its own in July and August. If you are a first time basil grower, you may not have realized yet how important it is to consistently harvest basil. Leave it alone and it either goes to seed or gets bitter. I often see first time gardeners plant one lonely little basil plant and feel they need to baby it and not pick too much. It becomes a, “precious little plant” and the gardener is just glad to see it grow, but afraid to actually use more than a leaf or two.

Take your scissors and prune basil like it’s a hedge. The more you prune, every week to ten days, the more leaves it produces and the better the flavor. Quit shearing it and you’ll have bitter leaves due to the concentration of basil oils.

I like to chop basil leaves into salads. I use basil leaves instead of lettuce on sandwiches. And I make pesto often. I put a big, double handful of basil leaves - any kind, into the food processor. I add some nuts, pine nuts, almonds, pecans, it doesn’t matter which, and some grated parmesan cheese and a clove or two of garlic. To that I add about a tablespoon of olive oil then pulse blend the whole thing until I have a coarse paste. This will keep in the refrigerator for about six or seven days. I use it over fresh pasta, in summer cold tomato soups, spread on crackers or I slather some under the skin of chicken breasts before grilling or broiling them.

Summer is the basil season. I only grow 12 varieties, nothing close to the 87 of Dr. Mentreddy, but I am certain I enjoy mine every bit as much as he does in his research.

To see photos of the International Herb Association conference, Huntsville Botanic Garden and my garden, too, visit my blog: http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com. Happy gardening!

6/28/2009

Summer Peaches


When I was five, the lady next door passed away. Her relatives took what they wanted from the house, but set her old cast iron cook stove outdoors under an old peach tree and the house set abandoned for years. That ancient stove became a playhouse for me and my six year old neighbor, Betty. The lot was securely fenced and my mother could watch us from our kitchen window.

That year my mother cleaned out her spice cabinets because of pantry moths, and put the tins of herbs and spices outside. I knew many of the spices because of their fragrance and considered these tins of seasonings a rare find for our make believe kitchen in the neighbor’s yard.

I carted the spices next door and arranged them in the warming oven above the cook top. Since both of us children were just beginning to read, it didn’t occur to us to use alphabetic order, but instead, we put them in the order of our favorite smells and the foods we would make believe we were using them in.

I liked cinnamon, so that was first, followed by stick cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Nutmeg followed, then mint leaves, oregano, marjoram and thyme. Parsley had no smell at all, nor did the bay leaf, and neither Betty nor I liked the smells of fennel, fenugreek or celery seed, so those were relegated to the last place on the shelf.

I had watched my mother make pickles that year and Betty and I found an old crock in the left over household items and pushed it up beside the stove. The peach tree over the stove was full of still green, late summer peaches and we began picking them for our pickle crock. We added rainwater to the crock as the peaches filled the space, much like my mother had done when making her delicious seven day sweet cucumber pickles earlier that year.

After what I determined to be enough time for the “pickles” to be ready, Betty and I decided to can the pickles, just as both of our mothers had done with their pickles. Fortunately, the old garden shed not far from the antique stove had boxes of old, blue canning jars and lots of zinc canning lids. We chose pint sized jars, which were easier for our small hands than the quart and half gallon jars were.

On our “canning” day, we put the fruit jars in the oven to sterilize them. Never mind there was no fire in the stove, this was make believe. We “baked” the jars and used big, fuzzy leaves of the mullein plant for our hot pads to remove the jars and set them on the stove. We then filled each jar with our peaches from the old stone crock, adding the make believe brine, as well. Then to each jar I added a pinch of allspice, one of cinnamon, one of cloves, and then, because Betty thought it looked nice, we added a bay leaf and a stick of cinnamon. We screwed on the lids and set them in rows across the top of the cast iron stove.

Mother, who was certainly watching the two busy children out the window came over to investigate. “Look Mother, we’ve made pickled peaches!” I said with excitement. I removed the lid of one jar for her to smell the wonderful, spicy fragrance.

Mother looked over our work and said, “You two have really worked hard. These are beautiful pickles and you’ve filled each jar to the top.” Then she said, “You realize, don’t you, these are not to be eaten?”

Oh, yes, we knew that, we were just playing make believe. We were going to turn our attention from our kitchen to making it a restaurant and serve even more things. Since we were the only children our age in our little town, the restaurant clientele would be our pets and Betty’s dolls.

I think back to that summer and what pleasure we got from Mom’s discarded herb and spice tins. I learned since that cleaning out the spice cabinet is a good thing to do once a year. Herbs like parsley, celery leaves, bay and chives, lose three fourths of their flavor after about nine months. Stronger spices like cinnamon, cloves and allspice, are good for about eighteen months. Refreshing the jars of all those things on a regular basis insures their best flavors. But one summer, with old spices, two small children had a great deal of fun, thanks to my mother’s housecleaning of her spice cabinet.

Readers questions and comments are always welcome at Longcreekherbs@yahoo.com. Visit Jim’s blog to see what he grows: http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com.

6/11/2009

Fairy Hats, Fairy Corners

LinkMy grandfather plowed his garden each spring with a team of horses and a plow. Walking behind the team, he’d guide them as they slowly turned over the sandy soil of his west central Missouri farm.

He had grown up using the moldboard plow and as long as he gardened, he never used anything else to turn the soil. My grandpa was born in a sod house in what became the state of Kansas and lived there with his family until he was about 10 years old.

My ancestors moved West with the expansion of the country, arriving in the Virginia territory in 1647, from England. As the family grew and sons moved off to start their own farms, each new homestead followed many of the habits and customs of the family. They planted corn and grew gardens, and they passed along the customs of their ancestors. One of those early English customs they brought with them was to leave the corners of the garden untended, for “the wee folks.”

I remember asking my grandfather the year before my grandmother died when I was five, just why he didn’t plow the corners of the garden. Granddad blushed and looked embarrassed. He hesitated, then simply said, “The team can’t turn a square corner and the plow won’t reach there.”

It made sense because I had watched him plow the garden and it was true the horses couldn’t reach the corners. And because the corners were never plowed, certain plants always grew there.

You’d see larkspurs and poppies, hollyhocks, four o’clocks, bachelor’s buttons, coreopsis, winter onion, catnip, horehound and many others. And once I started watching Grandpa & Grandma’s garden corners, I soon realized that most farms in our area had the same kind of corners with the same plants growing in them.

It was only when I moved to southern Missouri as an adult that I learned there was more to the story. One day I was visiting with a pharmacist-apothecary friend about plants and gardens and mentioned how my grandfather used to leave the corners of the garden.

My friend smiled and said, “Yes. Fairy gardens.”

“Excuse me?” I said. “I don’t know what you mean.”
He explained that it’s a custom across the Ozarks and used to be common across much of the Midwest. English, Irish, Scottish and other immigrants brought the custom from the old country of leaving the corners of the garden for the fairies. It was believed that the fairies needed a place to live, a place that was safe from the family dog and somewhere to rest in the heat of the day.

People thought that it was the fairies who tended the plants and encouraged them. They were the ones who called in the butterflies and bees when it was time to pollinate the flowers.
The fairies lived on nectar from the flowers, they drank dewdrops from the lady’s mantle “cups” (the leaves, which are bowl shaped and which collect dew in early morning; that dew,because of the reflectiveness of the leaves, looks like diamonds in early morning).
It was the fairies who taught the pole beans which way to twine up the strings, and they were the ones who showed the sunflowers which direction to look each morning before the sun came up. And you know the fairies have been working during the night, because the next morning, you find their little caps, where they forgot them, on top of the perennial onion flowers.

It all made sense to me when my pharmacist friend explained the customs he had grown up with. I realized why my grandfather had looked so embarrassed at my question when I was five. He’d simply been embarrassed to try to explain something he didn’t totally believe, but still practiced because it was family custom. Such “oddities,” as he termed them, always embarrassed him.

What the fairy corners accomplish is providing a place for beneficial insects. Lady bugs, beneficial wasps that attack aphids on tomatoes, praying mantis, which lay their eggs to over-winter on old plant stalks, all of those rely on the fairy corners for space.

I continue to observe this custom that came down to me through our family by leaving fairy corners in my own garden. I no longer plow my garden because I switched to raised beds twenty five years ago and have gravel pathways between them. But I have found that having a fairy corner is helpful for many reasons.

First, it’s attractive. The poppies, larkspur, hollyhocks and other flowers give a continuing splash of color for the first two months of the garden season. The plants reseed themselves, requiring little care and come up each spring at the right time (which is helpful for anyone who has had difficulty getting poppies to grow and bloom).

Next, it is on those perpetual plants where I find the praying mantis nests each year. It’s where the lady bugs hatch out and spread into the garden and where birds and garden spiders hang out, keeping balance in the garden. Tachinid flies, that are parasites on other insects, along with ground beetle, lacewings and other beneficial insects find comfort and safety in the fairy corner, as well.

The fairy corners provide a reliable display of flowers each spring. There’s a balance between the taller and the shorter plants and because they grow where the seeds drop, there is no transplant shock. And the fairy corner also gives a permanent space for the cool season herbs to reseed themselves, always coming up at the right time. It was in these corners that my grandmother grew dill, and it was where the catnip and horehound, both perennials, also grew.
Some of these plants sprout and begin growing in late fall or early winter, while others, such as dill, cilantro and poppies, will emerge from the ground in January or February. And because you won’t be disturbing the soil or the bed where they are growing, will grow on in their natural cycle and bloom better than when planted at your convenience rather than theirs.

If you would like to have a fairy garden, here’s how to begin. Find a corner of the garden that can be left alone. No plowing or digging is done after the first planting. I sometimes mulch mine to hold moisture, but even then I use only a light mulch in order that the seeds that fall from the plants can find the soil.

In the fall of the year, after a couple of good frosts, begin scattering seed into lightly raked or loosened soil, then rake the area lightly again after planting so that the seeds are nearly covered. It takes about two years or longer to get a fairy corner established, simply because some plants such as hollyhocks, bloom the second year after planting. But others, like poppies and larkspurs, bloom the spring after a fall planting.

You can simply put seed of all of any or all of the following mixture into a bowl and stir them together before planting. This will give you a better fairy garden then trying to plant individual plants in tight little rows. (Fairies don’t like rows, they like “relaxed” plantings. And if you plant in rows, I promise you, they'll mix them up). Choose from these, or mix them all, for a well rounded fairy corner:
Larkspur, doubles, singles, mixed colors
Poppies, any of the annuals, such as Icelandic, old fashioned bread poppies and others.
Hollyhocks, any of the old fashioned heirloom varieties.
Four o’clocks
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) which was first grown in England around 1570 and has folk names like “Jack in Prison” and “Love entangle.”
Dill
Bachelor’s buttons
Sweet rocket, Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), which attracts several beneficial insects including Japanese beetle parasites
Golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria) which attracts lacewings, hoverflies, tachinids and others.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which attracts butterflies
Bee balm (Monarda sp.), which attracts butterflies, beneficial wasps and others

The fairy corner will create a haven for beneficial insects as well as attracting butterflies and birds. By planting your mixture of seeds, some in the fall, some in the spring, you will soon be providing space for the fairies, and the beneficial insects and your garden will thrive. The splash of color will attract your neighbors to look over the fence, and soon your fairy garden will be perpetually taking care of itself. Add a birdbath (the fairies like that, too), and your fairy corner will be following a tradition that’s been passed down through many generations of gardens.

Watch for fairy hats on your onion blossoms, you'll discover the fairies do a great job of tending the garden while you sleep, but they are awfully forgetful where they leave their hats.

Happy gardening!

Fairy Hats, Fairy Corners

LinkMy grandfather plowed his garden each spring with a team of horses and a plow. Walking behind the team, he’d guide them as they slowly turned over the sandy soil of his west central Missouri farm.

He had grown up using the moldboard plow and as long as he gardened, he never used anything else to turn the soil. My grandpa was born in a sod house in what became the state of Kansas and lived there with his family until he was about 10 years old.

My ancestors moved West with the expansion of the country, arriving in the Virginia territory in 1647, from England. As the family grew and sons moved off to start their own farms, each new homestead followed many of the habits and customs of the family. They planted corn and grew gardens, and they passed along the customs of their ancestors. One of those early English customs they brought with them was to leave the corners of the garden untended, for “the wee folks.”

I remember asking my grandfather the year before my grandmother died when I was five, just why he didn’t plow the corners of the garden. Granddad blushed and looked embarrassed. He hesitated, then simply said, “The team can’t turn a square corner and the plow won’t reach there.”

It made sense because I had watched him plow the garden and it was true the horses couldn’t reach the corners. And because the corners were never plowed, certain plants always grew there.

You’d see larkspurs and poppies, hollyhocks, four o’clocks, bachelor’s buttons, coreopsis, winter onion, catnip, horehound and many others. And once I started watching Grandpa & Grandma’s garden corners, I soon realized that most farms in our area had the same kind of corners with the same plants growing in them.

It was only when I moved to southern Missouri as an adult that I learned there was more to the story. One day I was visiting with a pharmacist-apothecary friend about plants and gardens and mentioned how my grandfather used to leave the corners of the garden.

My friend smiled and said, “Yes. Fairy gardens.”

“Excuse me?” I said. “I don’t know what you mean.”
He explained that it’s a custom across the Ozarks and used to be common across much of the Midwest. English, Irish, Scottish and other immigrants brought the custom from the old country of leaving the corners of the garden for the fairies. It was believed that the fairies needed a place to live, a place that was safe from the family dog and somewhere to rest in the heat of the day.

People thought that it was the fairies who tended the plants and encouraged them. They were the ones who called in the butterflies and bees when it was time to pollinate the flowers.
The fairies lived on nectar from the flowers, they drank dewdrops from the lady’s mantle “cups” (the leaves, which are bowl shaped and which collect dew in early morning; that dew,because of the reflectiveness of the leaves, looks like diamonds in early morning).
It was the fairies who taught the pole beans which way to twine up the strings, and they were the ones who showed the sunflowers which direction to look each morning before the sun came up. And you know the fairies have been working during the night, because the next morning, you find their little caps, where they forgot them, on top of the perennial onion flowers.

It all made sense to me when my pharmacist friend explained the customs he had grown up with. I realized why my grandfather had looked so embarrassed at my question when I was five. He’d simply been embarrassed to try to explain something he didn’t totally believe, but still practiced because it was family custom. Such “oddities,” as he termed them, always embarrassed him.

What the fairy corners accomplish is providing a place for beneficial insects. Lady bugs, beneficial wasps that attack aphids on tomatoes, praying mantis, which lay their eggs to over-winter on old plant stalks, all of those rely on the fairy corners for space.

I continue to observe this custom that came down to me through our family by leaving fairy corners in my own garden. I no longer plow my garden because I switched to raised beds twenty five years ago and have gravel pathways between them. But I have found that having a fairy corner is helpful for many reasons.

First, it’s attractive. The poppies, larkspur, hollyhocks and other flowers give a continuing splash of color for the first two months of the garden season. The plants reseed themselves, requiring little care and come up each spring at the right time (which is helpful for anyone who has had difficulty getting poppies to grow and bloom).

Next, it is on those perpetual plants where I find the praying mantis nests each year. It’s where the lady bugs hatch out and spread into the garden and where birds and garden spiders hang out, keeping balance in the garden. Tachinid flies, that are parasites on other insects, along with ground beetle, lacewings and other beneficial insects find comfort and safety in the fairy corner, as well.

The fairy corners provide a reliable display of flowers each spring. There’s a balance between the taller and the shorter plants and because they grow where the seeds drop, there is no transplant shock. And the fairy corner also gives a permanent space for the cool season herbs to reseed themselves, always coming up at the right time. It was in these corners that my grandmother grew dill, and it was where the catnip and horehound, both perennials, also grew.
Some of these plants sprout and begin growing in late fall or early winter, while others, such as dill, cilantro and poppies, will emerge from the ground in January or February. And because you won’t be disturbing the soil or the bed where they are growing, will grow on in their natural cycle and bloom better than when planted at your convenience rather than theirs.

If you would like to have a fairy garden, here’s how to begin. Find a corner of the garden that can be left alone. No plowing or digging is done after the first planting. I sometimes mulch mine to hold moisture, but even then I use only a light mulch in order that the seeds that fall from the plants can find the soil.

In the fall of the year, after a couple of good frosts, begin scattering seed into lightly raked or loosened soil, then rake the area lightly again after planting so that the seeds are nearly covered. It takes about two years or longer to get a fairy corner established, simply because some plants such as hollyhocks, bloom the second year after planting. But others, like poppies and larkspurs, bloom the spring after a fall planting.

You can simply put seed of all of any or all of the following mixture into a bowl and stir them together before planting. This will give you a better fairy garden then trying to plant individual plants in tight little rows. (Fairies don’t like rows, they like “relaxed” plantings. And if you plant in rows, I promise you, they'll mix them up). Choose from these, or mix them all, for a well rounded fairy corner:
Larkspur, doubles, singles, mixed colors
Poppies, any of the annuals, such as Icelandic, old fashioned bread poppies and others.
Hollyhocks, any of the old fashioned heirloom varieties.
Four o’clocks
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) which was first grown in England around 1570 and has folk names like “Jack in Prison” and “Love entangle.”
Dill
Bachelor’s buttons
Sweet rocket, Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), which attracts several beneficial insects including Japanese beetle parasites
Golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria) which attracts lacewings, hoverflies, tachinids and others.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which attracts butterflies
Bee balm (Monarda sp.), which attracts butterflies, beneficial wasps and others

The fairy corner will create a haven for beneficial insects as well as attracting butterflies and birds. By planting your mixture of seeds, some in the fall, some in the spring, you will soon be providing space for the fairies, and the beneficial insects and your garden will thrive. The splash of color will attract your neighbors to look over the fence, and soon your fairy garden will be perpetually taking care of itself. Add a birdbath (the fairies like that, too), and your fairy corner will be following a tradition that’s been passed down through many generations of gardens.

Watch for fairy hats on your onion blossoms, you'll discover the fairies do a great job of tending the garden while you sleep, but they are awfully forgetful where they leave their hats.

Happy gardening!

5/16/2009

Don't Mow Bulb Foliage


Ozarks Gardening May 15, 2009
Jim Long

Don’t Mow the Bulb Foliage!

I’ve noticed as I get older I like mowing the lawn more than I did just a few years ago. Evidently getting older causes me to find the lawnmower increasingly appealing. Over the past thirty years on my farm I have pushed the boundaries of mowing farther and farther into the woods. I blaze trails between the walnut trees with the mower, I’ve opened up little meadows where new stands of wildflowers have sprung up. And over the years I’ve also noticed in local retirement areas, when men retire from a lifetime of corporate work, they turn to the lawnmower for something they can still control. Apparently no longer responsible for lots of employees, no longer looking after the day to day working structure, it is to the lawn the retirees turn. It’s their new territory, their new domain and they can totally dominate the greenery with a powerful lawnmower. That’s just my observation and I think I may be fitting into that category myself.

One of the pitfalls of being lord over a patch of green lawn is an inclination to mow everything down that doesn’t seem essential. Recently I’ve been noticing lots of retirement age men on riding lawnmowers, mowing down the irises, the yellowing daffodil leaves and the aging tulip tops. To someone who is used to overseeing the structure of a business, it probably seems logical that since the flowers have bloomed on those plants, then it’s time to get rid of the leftovers and move on to other things.

The fact is, those yellowing tulip leaves, the frazzled and not very attractive daffodil foliage, actually serve an important purpose. Think of it this way - spring bulbs have just one chance to have a meal. The foliage after blooming is there because the bulbs need to store up enough strength for ten months until it’s time to bloom again. If the foliage is cut back shortly after blooming, year after year, the bulbs will quit producing flowers. Leave the foliage alone until it turns brown and shrivels up. Once the foliage is dead, the bulbs have stored up enough energy for next year and you can mow down whatever is left of the tops. But avoid the urge to mow the foliage while it is still partly green and give the bulbs a chance to have their last meal of the year.

Right now, while you can still see where your bulbs are, and as they leaves die down, is a great time to divide the bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and similar spring bulbs, all benefit greatly by being dug up and divided every three or four years. Mix in some bone meal or bulb fertilizer in the soil and spread the bulbs farther apart. You’ll have considerably more blooms in the coming years by doing so.

Iris, on the other hand, should be dug and divided in late August or September. You can tie a ribbon on the colors you want to move, but let the foliage grow all summer long. Then divide the clumps, laying them shallowly in the soil, adding bone meal, late in the summer. But don’t mow iris leaves now, it practically ensures sparse blooming next season.
Readers have asked so here’s the formula once again for stopping the bothersome bugs that riddle the leaves on hollyhocks and keep them from blooming well. Start spraying now, repeating weekly as the hollyhocks put up shoots and begin to bloom. Don’t spray in the heat of the day (which is true of most any kind of spraying).

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 Tablespoon canola oil or horticultural oil
1/2 teaspoon of dish soap
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 gallon water

Mix the ingredients, pour into a sprayer, shake thoroughly, and spray the tops and bottoms of the hollyhock leaves.
Check what’s happening in my garden this week at http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com/. Happy gardening!