Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Autumn Lettuce Crop

Everything has been pulled and composted, but there is still a sunny, green corner in my garden.

It is the autumn crop of lovely delicious lettuces. 

This year, I planted bib and romaine lettuce and added a new variety, 
Raspberry Dressing

It is gorgeous, tangy and really makes a salad pop!

It has red veined dark green leaves, hardy and cold tolerant. It has handled 2 hard frosts very well.

According to this website, I might get lucky, and have it sprout from the roots 
for an extra early spring crop!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Protect Your Living Soil for the Winter!

After attending a seminar titled, The Down and Dirty: Soil Building Secrets for Greener Gardens by Elizabeth Murphy of Oregon, who has recently published a book called: Building Soil: A Down to Earth Approach, I decided to reevaluate how I put my gardens to bed for the winter.  

I liked how she explained, that soil is a collection of living organisms that comprise the first few inches of soil and need to be cared for like any organism. It has the same basic needs including: water, food, air and shelter/space. During the winter, soil and its organisms need to be protected from exposure and erosion.

I was inspired to try another way to care for my garden soil during the winter. In the past, I have tried a cover crop such as buckwheat, which she advocates for, but I found it unwieldy to deal with in the spring. I tried covering it with black plastic and was fairly satisfied with this approach, but there are no added nutrients with this method. However, there were fewer weeds and the soil was protected. 

Instead of taking all the spent and dead plants and the nutrients that they embody out of the garden in the fall and taking them to the compost pile, why not leave them in place and compose them there directly. So, with my cutting flower bed, I have left the zinnias in place. The birds, overwintering or who haven't left on migration, have continued to feast on the left-over seeds. This will protect the soil from wind and rain, and the blowing or washing away of all the nutrients or compacting by pounding rains or snow.

I have covered another bed with black plastic for comparison sake. I was surprised to see who was sneaking about. Note the large turkey prints!

She has lots of great ideas, including fall cover crops such as clover and using cardboard, 
all ideas I would like to try next fall. 

Here is a story well worth reading: 

Here is a link to her blog: 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Autumn Meadow Plants Series: Part I - Shift from Common Milkweed to Dogbane

There has been a dramatic shift in the diversity of plants in the upper meadow this year. The Common Milkweed population has plummeted from over 1000 plants to just around 50 and it has been replaced by another milky sapped plant, Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). (See Blog entry: July 7, 2014 for earlier story)

The meadow went from looking like this:

to this, in just over a year: 

There is greater diversity, than just 2 years ago, including many hardwood tree saplings including Sweetgum and Black Cherry, numerous grasses and the following plants:

Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadenis)
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)
Yellow Toadflax (Linaria vulgarius)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Common Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)
Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
White Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides)
Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

In this entry, the focus is on the expansion of Dogbane, what it is and its role for pollinators. 

Dogbane or also known as Indian Hemp, grows 2 - 5' tall, is smooth, red-stemmed, which are filled with a milky, latex sap that is bitter tasting and highly toxic. It prefers full sun and wet soil and spreads aggressively from underground rhizomes. 

In early summer, it produces a grouping of small fragrant white flowers which are an excellent nectar source for many pollinators, including many different types of bees, butterflies, skippers, fritillaries and is a host to many larvae of various moths.(See:

Historically, this plant's silky fibers were used by the Lenni Lenape and other Native Americans to make robe, netting and baskets. In the fall, long seed pods hang in clusters and pop open as they dry, to expose seeds, which are attached to white silky threads to help them float long distances. 

Common Milkweed and Dogbane are often mistaken for one another due to similar leaf shape and plant size and shape and flower clusters. Because it contains a milky, poisonous sap as Common Milkweed and serves as a host to many other pollinator larvae, I wondered if it was also a host plant for Monarchs? 

It is NOT, according to Robert Dirig of Cornell, who confirmed that Monarch definitely do not use it as a host plant. (See:

The question remains of why Dogbane out competed Common Milkweed. They both have deep aggressively spreading rhizomes and prefer disturbed ground, sun and wet conditions, which are all present in this meadow. Perhaps, Milkweed has encountered a disease or a pest 
(see: t There were no reported disease issues with Dogbane, that I could find. Perhaps, it was the combination of increased Goldenrod and Dogbane populations that have pushed out the Milkweed?

The upper meadow will be mowed November 1 this year. It will be interesting to see the changes in the coming year. 

Check back for the continuation of this series: Autumn Meadow Plants Series: Part II: Newcomers: Ironweed and Asters.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

How are your tomato plants?

Tomato Blight has been especially prevalent this summer season here in south eastern PA. Is this what you are seeing in your garden:

Not sure what it is or what to do?

A fellow Master Gardner, Steven Johnson, created an excellent chart summarizing 3 different tomato diseases: Early and Late Blight and Septoria Leaf Spot, including how to identify them. He also offers helpful organic and chemical treatments:

Monday, August 3, 2015

Million Pollinator Garden Challenge!

While creating a presentation on using native plants to attract native pollinators, I found this interesting challenge on creating over a million gardens to attract pollinators. It's inspiring and fun.
By registering your garden, you can also be included on the S.h.a.r.e. map.

Here are some of the photos I included from my garden:

Educating and inspiring others to make more spaces in their yards for pollinator friendly gardens, especially using native trees, shrubs, and flowering plants, will provide the much needed support pollinators need to survive, thrive and flourish. 

Here are some excellent websites and books for more information on how to create pollinator friendly gardens and the how and whys of using native plants:

       Bowman’s Hill:
       PA Native Plant Society:
       Pollinator Partnership:
       Xerces Society:
       Find Native Plants:
       Bringing Nature Home, D. Tallamy
       Pollinators of Native Plants, H. Holm
       Attracting Native Pollinators, Xerces Society
       Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Guide

Clicking on the link here or using the icon on this sites' sidebar, will bring you to the site:

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Who's at the Window?

This year's window tapper is a Song sparrow. 
Can you spot him in the window? 

He is quite persistent, 
but I have enjoyed his beautiful song, when he 
perches high in the adjacent 
Holly or Japanese Maple, 
as pictured here:

He certainly battles his reflection nemesis, but can also see inside too, 
as he peers 
curiously at Latte cat 

We have had battling crows and robins too. Other curious peekers have included 
a frequent squirrel:

and today, a doe:

Our windows are tinted and reflective. Birds, even animals, in seeing their own reflection, may interpret it as an intruder to their breeding or feeding territory and attack their "Doppelgaenger", trying to chase it away. They will peck furiously, beat at the window with their wings and even claw, exhausting themselves and sometimes even injuring themselves.

Birds you might expect to see exhibiting this behavior include: American goldfinch, American robin, Chipping sparrow, Song sparrow, Northern cardinal, Northern mockingbird, Eastern towhee, etc.

Here are some suggestions I have used or found on other sites to discourage this behavior:

1. Set up a bobbing headed bird of prey, such as this owl, from Home Depot:
2. Consider soaping the window
3. Put up a physical barrier such as netting or a screen
4. Put, lean or hang branches or distracting objects by the window 
5. Attach adhesive silhouettes of bird of preys or any bird:

6. Keep the curtains closed, which might help reduce the reflection.

These sites offer more information: 

It has been a week now, the pecking has stopped and the Song sparrow has moved on. Typically, pecking will end after breeding season has passed. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review of Winter 2014/15

Now that Spring is here and starting to actually feel like it, with temperatures climbing tomorrow finally into the 60's, it's time to review this past winter's weather. 

It was not about snow totals, but more winter weather events and below average cold temperatures.

Lacking my own records, here is what I found using Accuweather data:

Winter 2014-2015 Winter Events 
Doylestown, PA
Date of Event
November 13

November 26, Thanksgiving Storm
travel impacts to the south
January 3-4


January 6

January 9

January 12


January 18


January 21
black ice/ accidents
January 24

January 26-27 - Blizzard

NE with 20-35” and 50-80+ mph winds
February 1

February 5

February 12

February 14, Valentine’s storm

50+ mph winds
February 15

February 17

February 21-22

March 3

March 5

heavy snow
March 20

wet, heavy snow



20 events

Here are the snow total comparisons for Philadelphia for the last 2 years:

NOAA Snow Totals Comparisons for Philadelphia
for Winters 2013/14 and 2014/15
Winter months

It was, also, about the below average temperatures:

Winter stats for Winter of 2013-2014

While searching, I found some other great weather information sites: 

At the NOAA site, they provide monthly data:

These blogs and sites provide excellent maps and stories:

Jeff Master's Blog from Wunderground: 

Current results provides averages: 

Weatherworks offers great insights, maps, and blog:

In conclusion, we had over 20 events with final snow accumulations yielding only 37" for Doylestown and 27" for Philadelphia, but with well below average temperatures of 14-16 degrees, causing more ice related issues. Last year, there were only 11 events with 68" of snow. 

A finally look at Winter's end and last dates for expected snowfalls. It looks like we are in the clear!