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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Fruits, Vegetables, & Herbs
Rhondas Spice Surprise Te
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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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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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Hops

Grow Your Own Hops

Gardeners have been growing hop as an ornamental vine for many years. Recently, I have seen more hop grown in backyards for home brewing. This is especially popular among younger male gardeners aged 18-34. Hop is a herbaceous perennial vine that grows well in central Illinois. Two types of hop grow here. Our native American hop ( Humulus lupulus ) comes in various cultivars used...

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Cold Frames Extend the Garden Season

Do you plan to grow your own food this summer? Would you like to extend that growing season a bit more in the spring and fall? If so, there are several options you might consider, including cold frames, hot beds, hoop houses, cloches, and floating row covers. I remember my dad using a cold frame that he made of old windows to harden off plants in the spring before planting them in the g...

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Seedlings ready for planting on May 7, 2012

Starting Seeds Indoors

Are you "itching" to start your vegetable garden? One way to jump-start the growing season is to start seedlings indoors. There are many advantages to starting your seeds indoors in addition to allowing anxious gardeners to "get their fingers dirty." In theory, plants started indoors will be bigger and produce faster than seed planted directly into the garden. Many of us wait until the cell pac...

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Indoor Herb Gardens

I have been enjoying the fresh basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley I'm growing indoors this winter. I use the herbs to make fresh pesto, teas, salsas, and more. Gardening is not limited to outside in the summer. Herbs are probably the easiest to grown indoors, but there are many more. Last winter I grew salad tomatoes and carrots. As I learn more, I was amazed by how many food crops you...

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strawberry

Strawberry Slumber

If you grow strawberries, you may be wondering when to cover them for the winter. Recently retired University of Illinois Extension Local Foods and Small Farms Educator Mike Roegge provides the following tips. Straw is traditionally applied to strawberries when they have gone dormant. You don't want to cover them too soon as you can smother the plant. We've had a couple of days of 20-de...

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Sweet potatoes with black plastic mulch

Sweet Potato or Yam?

As the holiday season approaches, it seems appropriate to discuss the issue of sweet potatoes versus yams. Officially a sweet potato is never a yam, but sweet potatoes are often sometimes referred to as yams. Sweet potatoes ( Ipomoea batatas ) are yellow or orange tubers that elongate into ends that taper to a point. There are two types of sweet potatoes, which creates the confus...

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herbs drying

Dry herbs for winter use

I recently harvested herbs from my garden. They are drying in my kitchen so that I will remember to use them regularly. I add them to my evening tea or as added flavor to our meals. Here are some of my favorites. Lemon balm is true to its name. This plant has a very strong lemon scent and provides a nice subtle lemon flavor. My plant grew about two foot tall this year. Since this is a tender p...

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Ornamental gourds drying

Ornamental Gourds

It's fall festival time again. Time for spiced apples, beautiful fall colors, arts and crafts, and locally grown produce. I've never been to a fall festival when those items didn't include gourds either for sale individually or crafted into exquisite creations. Gourds have been cultivated for thousands of years by many cultures worldwide. Found in Egyptian tombs were 4,000-year-old gour...

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Night in the Garden Series Spotlights Food Gardens

"A Night in the Garden" SeriesThis summer a "Night in the Garden" series spotlighted various gardens growing fruits and vegetables in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. Each night began with a short garden tour at 6 pm, followed by informal time for questions and answers with University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and Horticulture Educator Rhonda Ferree. Dates and location...

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blossom end rot on tomato

SOLVING TOMATO PROBLEMS

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in the United States, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. "They are probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but no vegetable is problem proof," said Ron Wolford. "Here are some of the common tomato problems you may encounter during the growing season." "I get calls in late July from gardeners who ha...

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Spinach growing in Morton Giving Garden

Midsummer Vegetable Gardens

Are you enjoying the "fruits of your labor" from your vegetable garden this summer? With proper care, vegetable gardens provide fresh produce well into the fall. It is essential to keep plants watered consistently during the heat of summer. On average, plants need one inch of water per week and this may need to be stepped up to one inch every five days during the heat of summer. Waterin...

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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.
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Fresh Tomato Salsa

Over the past decade, Americans have grown to love salsa, surpassing ketchup as a favorite condiment. While there are many variations, a basic salsa recipe includes tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro and tomatillos. I make tomato salsa several times each summer from plants grown in my garden. You can too! The type of tomato used will affect the thickness and quality of the sals...

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Sweet corn and watermelon growing in a garden.

Supersweet Sweet Corn

Did you know that the sweet corn you eat this summer most likely has direct ties to the University of Illinois? John R. Laughnan, a University of Illinois professor of botany and plant genetics, discovered supersweet corn in 1953. He discovered that the kernels of a mutant of corn were "unusually sweet and have a pleasant malty flavor." Unfortunately, the sweet corn breeders of the day...

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