Wasn’t that bad for me last week?

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My parents ate the same breakfast every morning for as long as I can remember. Breakfast consisted of two soft boiled eggs and two slices of toast with butter. But uh oh – eating eggs causes high cholesterol. And butter contains saturated fat. So they switched first to oatmeal and when my Mom started to gain weight, to yogurt.

Milk builds strong bones and teeth, so my mom also forced milk on her older two kids, including me. I hated milk. I spent my entire childhood with a stomach ache but who knew back then about lactose intolerance? And judging from my dental bills, I don’t think it helped my teeth any.

Are you old enough to remember when oatmeal was good for you? What about artificial sweeteners to reduce calorie consumption? Soy is still considered to be a miracle food by some but a damaging source of inflammation by others. Do you eat red meat? If yes, do you worry about mad cow disease? Is coffee good or bad? What about wine? Is bread the staff of life or the stuff of addiction?

I could go on and on, but I won’t.

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The recent advice from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee about eggs, shrimp and other no-longer-cholesterol-producing foods left me wondering about who to trust and what to eat. It reminded me of my reaction after reading Ronald Deutsch’s The New Nuts among the Berries back in the 1970’s.

That book took the good and the bad out of food, leaving me with no moral compass for choosing a meal. If a donut is just as good – or bad – as celery, which would you choose?

Of course, donuts and celery aren’t nutritional equivalents in any universe. Or are they…?

But here’s an interesting fact about a list of my favorite vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. These have been labeled Goitrogenic vegetables, which contain substances that suppress thyroid function.

Really? Guess I’ll have an egg.

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The thing about food – you can’t live without it. But what to eat? Does food really keep us healthy or make us ill depending on the food choices we make? And what studies do we trust to tell us the truth? Does anyone know the truth?

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I love the Berekley Wellness statement in their online article about eggs. “Words to the wise,” they say, “Many of the egg studies have been funded by the egg industry and have lasted only a few months, so the long-term effects of eating a lot of eggs are still largely unknown.”

Words to the wise, indeed!

Joining New Clubs

I’m not a joiner by nature. For most of my life, I’ve avoided joining classes and clubs. And my standard line when offered a chance to join a group that might end up in recognition has always been, ‘thanks but no thanks.’ Retirement has changed all that.

Why? Maybe because I feel I have greater freedom outside Corporate America. No one will call me up to HR and ask what made me think this-or-that was an okay thing to do. Maybe because I feel this is my last chance to dive into something new and different. Maybe I’m having a late-life crisis. Who knows? Maybe all three.

Suddenly, inexplicably, I’m a joiner.

My most recent just-go-and-check-it-out occurred Friday, February 13. Auspicious date? Absolutely!

Hello African Violets!

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I attended my first African Violet Club meeting and came away knowing a lot about WHAT makes a good African violet.

In brief, a blue ribbon plant has to be healthy, with intact, clean leaves that are also free of water spots. Leaves should grow in perfect symmetry, larger leaves beneath smaller, newer leaves, circular without gaps. The plant should not be leggy but also shouldn’t overhang the pot it inhabits.

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It must have a minimum of 15 open blossoms. The blossoms have to grow from the middle of the plant. And, of course, the plant must match the official description in the African Violet Society of America Master List registry.

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Am I discouraged about my African violet efforts? You bet I am. Maybe if I hang with the club long enough I’ll learn HOW to achieve blue ribbon status!

For those interested in learning more, check out the African Violet Society of America website.

Hello Liebster!

Recognition is always wonderful and I was happy to get a shout out in the form of a Liebster nomination from my friend at NovaScotiaRoots.

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In case you don’t know about Liebster, here are the rules:

1. Put the Liebster Award logo on your Blog.
2. Thank and tag the blogger who nominated you.
3. Answer their questions and come up with 10 new ones for your nominees
4. Nominate 8 blogs (with less than 200 followers), let them know you’ve nominated them, and link them in your post.

So, first and foremost, a heart-felt thank you to NovaScotiaRoots. And now for the answers to the 10 questions:

1. Favorite flower: I’ve never met a flower I didn’t like but hands down, my favorite is hydrangea.

2. Favorite veggie: Romaine lettuce, with asparagus and kohlrabi as seasonal seconds.

3. Favorite garden picture: So many great garden photos. This one, showing the early days of Delicata squash, reminds me to look under the leaves to destroy an emerging problem.

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4. Favorite season: Fall and harvest!

5. Biggest defeat in your garden: Squash bugs ruining my zucchini and Delicata crop.

6. Biggest challenge in your garden: Planting pumpkins and melons without squash bug infestation.

7. Your next big project: Getting cherry trees to grow in Kansas.

8. Your gardening partner you are most grateful for: My much loved husband, Jim, who in the end says, “Whatever you want!” And then jumps in to help.

9. Your favorite quote: Mark Twain: The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

10. What are you grateful for? My friends and family!

And now to pay it forward, a list of three Blogs to love. I will nominate the remaining five Blogs at a later date!

Tales of a Photographer in Kansas
Handmade, Homegrown, Beautiful Life
Growing Every Season

And for them, my ten questions:

1. Why did you start Blogging?
2. What keeps you motivated to Blog?
3. Favorite Blog post (you can link to it):
4. Favorite quote:
5. Biggest life challenge:
6. Most celebrated success?
7. Your next big project:
8. Your personal hero:
9. Your favorite food:
10. What are you most grateful for:

Seedling Update

What a busy ten days! I’ve been running from project to project and it seems a bit overwhelming, especially with spring just around the corner. I have so much to write about and no time.

Possible treats in mind for future Blogs:

My first time at the African Violet Club left me with a lot of information to digest. And of course, I want to pass it on to you!

The news about eggs and cholesterol, combined with some new research with coffee left me wondering whether to start a new category about “Food.” Is that a topic that will interest readers? Let me know.

But for now, the quick and dirty update on my seedlings.

Amazingly, my green leaf lettuce plants have green lettuce leaves!!

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These are miniature green cabbage seedlings that I’ve just now taken out of pods. They look a bit leggy so I’ve turned on the fan to give them that Kansas wind effect.

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What about black leaf lettuce? This is a variety – maybe new – called Blackhawk MT0. I hope it grows!

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Seedlings for me seem to do best in peat pots filled with potting soil that includes a wetting agent, bottom watered with chamomile tea and every third watering, a bit of fish emulsion. So far so good!

The week after next, I’m sowing spinach seeds outdoors and hoping for some fresh veggies in early May!

February is for Pruning!

My husband’s motto could be ‘have chain saw, will prune.’ We’ve had discussions about pruning – when to prune, how to prune, how much to prune – for years. Now that I’ve gone through the Master Gardener classes, I can speak about pruning with some authority instead of what I used to say.

I used to say, “here’s how my mother did it.” Somehow, my mom’s approach never had as much oomph as the experts from Kansas State Extension!

This year when February rolled around, I reminded Jim that we had some pruning chores. The first – and to my mind foremost – was to take 30 percent off the silver maple near our driveway. This silver maple was one of six that we bought for $5 each a few years back. The other five trees died. This one shot up like some kind of tree champ!

The problem? Last summer, the top third of the tree didn’t leaf out. The bark started to fall off. To my mind, another tree cremation was just around the corner. But the bottom two-thirds of the tree has buds, so somehow this tree keeps on keeping on.

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Here is the pruned silver maple.

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And here is the cut – a major operation as you can see! This particular branch had twisted around the branch next to it, and its top half was dead. Maybe removing the stressed branch will help. Time will tell.

Our next task was a year-old apple tree with three leaders. We picked one, closed our eyes – figuratively – and cut off two. Again, wait and see!

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Next we tackled the unsightly but thriving crab apple bush. Originally planted as a tree, suckers took over and turned a swan into an ugly duckling. We had so much trouble mowing around this critter – as did our next door neighbor – that we considered removing it altogether. Instead, we cut back much of the twisty, gnarled, and overhanging branches. The rule of thumb – this is my Master Gardener training talking now – is to prune no more than 30 percent of the tree. I think we cut back more like 60 percent. Up close, you can see it looks hacked.

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From a distance, though, it looks pretty good. Will it survive the hack job? Again, time will tell…

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Last but not least, my much loved Acer Bloodgood! I never expect a Japanese maple to survive in Kansas – I’ve planted several and they’ve all died. This one was planted in our courtyard off the bedroom and takes shelter behind a lattice fence. Now about fourteen feet, several branches hit the house. Jim threatened surgery all last summer, claiming that the branches would get into the gutters and ruin the roof.

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I wanted to wait until spring to prune, having learned that you prune a tree in February when it’s dormant to encourage growth and in the spring when it starts to leaf out to retard growth. But we had all the equipment to hand and so now was the time. After some discussion, we pruned a very conservative three branches. Just enough.

Kansas State Research and Extension offers a Horticultural Newsletter. The February issue includes information on pruning this time of year.

Oh Babies!

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Seven pots planted with green leaf lettuce. Seven pots with green babies. Batting 1,000! I don’t think it gets better than this…

Now if only they don’t damp off.

Watering from the bottom. Check Using chamomile tea. Check. Under florescent lights 14 hours a day. Check. Warm enough and cool enough – sort of like Baby Bear’s Porridge. Check.

I’m hopeful that my seedlings will grow to maturity. So hopeful that I started eight pots of mesclun greens in seed starting mix. We’ll see which does better, potting soil or the mixture. Stay tuned!

“Right Plant, Right Place”

Back when Jim and I first starting dating, he lived in a little house with a big yard. No garden. His next-door-neighbor, though, had an amazing concept in gardening. He had plants littered around his yard, no perceivable rhyme or reason. That neighbor also spent his weekends moving plants from one spot to another – and another, and another. When I first heard the phrase “right plant, right place” I immediately thought of that neighbor.

So now I’m searching for the right place for blueberries. Last October, I bemoaned the fact that following The Acid Test, it became clear to me that my blueberries had no chance of thriving. Blueberries like a pH of 4.5 to 5. My soil, per Extension testing, was 7.5. No way was I ever going to be able to add enough sulfur to acidify my soil for blueberries.

But in looking at seed catalogs this year, I ran across a dwarf blueberry called Top Hat that can grow in containers. And I have two whiskey barrels where I’ve somewhat successfully planted annuals.

I ordered two Top Hats immediately. Then I started to worry.

These two whiskey halves are crying out for something permanent!

These two whiskey halves are crying out for something permanent!

The whiskey barrels had originally been filled with half potting soil, half rocks. Did the soil need to be sterilized? Did the rocks need to be removed? Would the barrels freeze in winter and kill my plants?

How does potting soil turn into clay?

How does potting soil turn into clay?

University of Wisconsin Extension to the rescue! Their article on growing blueberries in containers answered these questions and more.

I should be able to grow dwarf blueberries such as the already-ordered Top Hats in barrels, in a soil-less growing medium consisting of one part sphagnum peat moss and one part shredded pine bark. It looks like I’ll need to start smaller than those whiskey barrels, and use five gallon containers instead. As the plants grow, I’ll re-pot them in increasingly larger pots until they are big enough for the barrels.

And yes, I will also need to watch that they don’t freeze in the winter. A good layer of mulch on the top of the pot and some type of insulating cover for the pot itself looks like it will work. If the winter is extremely cold, I wonder if I can bring them inside.

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Meanwhile, I removed the soil from one of the whiskey barrels and hand-picked the rocks to throw on my rock pile. That was a lot of work!

But I can almost taste those blueberries…

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“Right Plant, Right Place” is a book written by Nicola Ferguson. I’ve included the link to Amazon.

Lights, Camera, Action… Spring!

After spending January pouring through seed catalogs and making my choices, I arrived at a decision. Yes, I will start seeds inside this winter, last year’s debacle notwithstanding! My problem? I didn’t want to end up in the garage on a single shelf, in a too-cold space, and insufficient light.

To the rescue – gardening and hydroponic supply companies. But good grief, the cost to set up even a small growing station in my basement! I needed to find an inexpensive solution for both shelving and lighting.

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This is the result. For less than half the cost of the least expensive ‘catalog’ option, I have a solution that seems to work. Never mind the pain involved in selecting lights. I spent a long weekend reading articles about LED vs. florescent lights, foot-candles, and lumens.

I read a lot of frankly conflicting information. The article I found most helpful came from the Alaska Extension. Simply put, the article suggested that using florescent lights worked as well as anything and cost less than specialized plant lights. For those who want more information, an in-depth article is available from the University of Missouri Extension.

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Once we set up our shelving and lights – available from a local big box store – I had a minor meltdown over trays. I’m starting seeds in my basement with the proviso that there be no mess, which made waterproof trays essential. I finally found some locally but again, costing more than I wanted to spend. Amazon to the rescue! Ten trays for a couple of dollars each. Nice!

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I mixed up a batch of chamomile tea for watering and put some lettuce seeds in soil rather than seed starter. I have a theory – as yet untested – that since I direct sow in the ground, in soil, I don’t need the added step of seed starter. Makes sense? And it seems to be working. Here’s the start of my early salad.

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I’m waiting for more seed packets to arrive by mail. And I feel like no matter what the calendar says, spring has begun.