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Rhonda J. Ferree


Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture



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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Fruits, Vegetables, & Herbs
tea pot

Herbal Teas for Relaxation

I retire on October 1 after 30 years with University of Illinois Extension. I've decided to focus my last couple columns on my favorite plants. I'll start with herbs. As most of my regular readers know, I grow a lot of herbs and use them to make a variety of tea blends. Over the years, I've found that teas are much more than just a beverage. Sitting down to a cup of tea is a great way t...

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Harvesting Grapes

I love the taste of Concord grapes. As a child, I remember eating grapes directly from the vines. TO me, there is no flavor comparison between concord grapes and store-bought grapes. Concord grapes grown in central Illinois are quite different from most store-bought grapes. They are different types. Our native Concord and Niagara grapes are slip-skin types, which means that the skin eas...

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Raspberry

Spotted Wing Drosophila Can Ruin Berry Crops

Everyone growing blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries should be monitoring for spotted wing Drosophila, a relatively new invasive pest that infests thin-skinned fruits as they ripen. For the past several years, this invasive insect has severely damaged these crops, making the fruits unusable. If you are seeing gross little white maggots in your garden raspberries right now, this m...

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Post Ladybugs

Growing plants to attract insect predators

Not all bugs are bad. Many gardeners are learning to leave good bugs and tolerate a bit of plant feeding. Some of us are also using plants to attract the good guys. My colleague Richard Hentschel, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, explains more below. "There are a number of predator insects that can help us control the destructive ones," said Hentschel. "The common...

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Cherry pie rose is a show-stopper in my garden! on 7-13-12
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The Incredible, Edible Rose

Roses are beautiful, but did you know that they are also edible? Rose flower petals and fruits (hips) add color, texture, scent, and flavor to various dishes and beverages. My go-to edible rose is the rugosa rose ( R. rugosa ). It is native to Asia but rarely escapes cultivation. This small to medium rounded shrub is primarily grown for its showy white, yellow, pink, or purple fl...

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Serviceberry…Beautiful Trees with Tasty Fruit

Serviceberries are beautiful native trees with tasty edible fruit. Recently I picked several fruits to eat with cereal and freeze for smoothies. Usually, the birds beat me to the fruit, but this year my tree has such a large crop that I was able to share. Serviceberry ( Amelanchier sp.), also called Juneberry, are native here. I often see them growing along streams and rivers. T...

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strawberry

Grow Your Own Strawberries

Have you had fresh strawberries yet this year? They are great when eaten fresh from the garden, and it is easy to grow your own. If you don't grow them yet, consider planting some next spring, which is the best time to plant new strawberries. Strawberries can be grown in the ground or containers. There are three types of strawberries grown in Illinois: June bearing or spring bearing,eve...

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tomato grown in a container
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Alternative Vegetable Gardens

Most people grow vegetables in traditional gardens in rows. Large gardens can seem overwhelming, especially during the heat of summer or after a vacation. If you don't have space for that or just want to try something different, here are some others options to try. A larger garden is needed for certain crops such as sweet corn. Still, you do not have to plant the garden in a traditional...

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Grapes on 7-13-12

Backyard grapes for Illinois by Bruce Black

URBANA, Ill. – Grape vines are a beautiful feature for your landscape that provide both aesthetic and edible benefits, says a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. "Fresh-picked-from-the-vine grapes...

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Planting Peas

Time Your Vegetable Plantings by Cold Hardiness

Last week I planted peas and lettuce in my garden. I love peas and can't wait to have some for dinner. Peas and lettuce are both very hardy vegetables, thus the cold and snow last weekend did not impact their growth. How early you can plant various crops depends upon the hardiness of the vegetables and the date of our last spring frost. Our average frost-free date is April 22 with the a...

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Salad greens growing in aerogarden.

Grow a Combination of Salad Greens

I grew several different types of salad greens indoors this winter. We ate them in salads, on sandwiches, in tacos, and more. With spring just around the corner, now is the time to plant salad greens outdoors in the garden. There are many different types of salad greens to choose from, in a variety of flavor types. Arugula, mustard greens, and chicories provide a strong peppery flavor....

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Rosemary

Give Rosemary as a Sign of Love and Remembrance

Rosemary is a wonderful herb. It not only looks and smells great but makes a great addition to many culinary dishes. Rosemary is often found at Christmas time in wreaths and topiaries. If you follow the meaning of flowers, rosemary signifies love and remembrance, making it a great holiday gift. Rosmarinus officinalis is a tender perennial plant that is native to the coo...

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Spice Special Tea

Last night while making my newest favorite evening tea I got to thinking about the plants that produce these ingredients. My Spice Special tea is a blend of rooibos, anise, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, orange bitters, and honey. Let's look at each of these a bit closer. Rooibos comes from the African plant ( Aspalathus lineraris ), also called Red Bush. Traditional black and green...

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Popcorn

Enjoy Locally Grown Popcorn on the Spoon River Drive

I love popcorn! Each year I buy kettle corn at one or more locations along the Spoon River Drive. It is a good possibility that the popcorn I purchase was grown and packaged locally. Mason County, Illinois grows a lot of popcorn! In 2012, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service's Census of Agriculture ranked Mason County the No. 1 producer of popcorn in the United States with...

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Plant Garlic This Fall

Do you use a lot of garlic in your cooking? If so you might try growing your own. Fall is the best time to plant garlic in your garden. Garlic is a hardy bulb, and thus is best planted in the fall when other bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, are planted. October is the ideal time in this part of Illinois. With garlic, new plants are grown from the individual sections of the bulb know...

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Purple Vegetables are Beautiful and Delicious

I have several purple vegetables and herbs growing in my garden this summer. Botanically, purple plants are fascinating to me. We all learn in science class that plants get their green color from the chlorophyll in their leaves, which is used in photosynthesis to make food. Actually, plants have three color pigments: chlorophyll (green) carotenoid (red), and anthocyanin (blue). Various...

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Basil

Lime Basil Adds Zest to Food and Drink

I grow several different types of basil, and try new ones each year. Usually, I end up preferring the basic sweet basil to other kinds, but not this year. A new favorite this year is lime basil. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) has many different cultivars. They are generally divided into four groups: sweet green, dwarf green, purple-leaf, and scented leaf. Lime Basil is a scented leaf...

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Sour cherries on tree
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Fruit Trees

I recently attended an Illinois State Horticultural Society summer field day at Christ Orchard near Brimfield. The day included tours of apple orchards, current pest management information, and new technologies for the fruit industry. I left the day even more impressed with the amount of work it takes to grow apples, pears, and other fruits commercially. For those that want to grow thei...

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Mints are aggressive herbs that can quickly take over a garden.

Mints…Friend or Foe?

Mint! For some, the word brings to mind fresh breath, refreshing drinks, or a place where money is printed. As a plant nerd, to me, mint means square stems. Here's why. All mint plants are in the Lamiaceae family. Although not exclusive to this family, most mint stems are square rather than round or flat like other plants. Most are also quite aromatic. All mints have opposite leaf arran...

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Tomato on right and tomatillo on left on 7-13-12. Notice leaves go all the way to the ground on this tomato. I rotated it to a new location this year. Last year's tomatoes had lots of foliar leaf blight.

Do I Need to Prune My Tomatoes?

I recently overheard a conversation while shopping for plants. The shoppers were discussing whether or not to prune their tomatoes. Pruning tomatoes can help some types produce more fruit. University of Illinois Extension educator Maurice Ogutu explains why below. "Tomatoes are divided into two different types namely determinate and indeterminate varieties based on their growth habits."...

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Food Garden Safety Begins with a Lead Test Soil

The garden season is in full force, and I'm excited to hear about all the food and community gardens happening in our area. As we begin growing food and other plants this summer, please consider some potential health hazards. A growing concern in urban soils is lead contamination, though suburban and rural soils may also be contaminated. I recently partnered with the Peoria City/County...

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tomato grown in a container

Dwarf Tomatoes Save Space

This year I am planting a dwarf, determinate tomato in my herb garden. It will take less space and produce as much fruit as I need. And, this makes more room for herbs! Tomatoes are divided into two different types based on their growth habits: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties set fruit at the ends of their branches on terminal buds. Once buds are set they stop growi...

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Rhubarb

Rhubarb

I love rhubarb! Also known as the pie plant, rhubarb is a very hardy perennial garden vegetable that grows extremely well here. Although considered a vegetable, rhubarb is used as a fruit in pies, tarts, cakes, and sauces. Rhubarb is available in either red or green stalk varieties. A popular green stalk one is Victoria. More is available in red including Canada Red with long, thick, extra swe...

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Vegetable Planting Dates

Our abnormal spring temperatures have many folks antsy to begin gardening, but remember that we could still get freezing temperatures. How early you can plant depends upon the hardiness of the vegetables and the date of our last spring frost. Our average frost-free date is April 22 with the actual frost-free date varies 2 weeks or more in either direction. Vegetables are classified as v...

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Pruning Fruit Trees

Now is the best time to prune many of your trees and shrubs, including fruit trees. Pruning of fruit trees is done to improve fruit quality, develop a strong plant, facilitate harvest, and control the size/shape of the plant. According to Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, unpruned trees and plants are difficult to maintain, produce small fruit and are m...

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