Connecting to Our Food Web Dedicated to educational resources towards building and sustaining viable food webs and ecosystems Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Welcome to My Jungle - July 2018 Sun, 01 Jul 2018 08:00:00 +0000 What a difference the heat of late spring and early summer has on my jungle. I like a changing garden. Gone are all remnants of spring flowering plants; replaced with summer blooms, the likes of shasta daisy, bottlebrush buckeye, monarda, skullcap, oakleaf hydrangea and daylily. Everything has filled in and the entire garden has taken on the feel of secret, enclosed spaces.

Gardens like my jungle are a lot of work though. Unwanted volunteer plants like pokeweed, bush honeysuckle, and redbuds can easily become establish unnoticed. I just cut down a 5-foot tall black walnut trying to escape notice by growing in another plant. It is a constant vigil to keep and/or maintain spreading plants you want while rogueing out those you don't. A recent scouting of beds ended in a happy dance that I hope none of the neighbors witnessed. But really, what is more exciting than spotting a volunteer Indian pink (Spigelia)? Indian pinks are one of my favorite US natives, but I have always found it difficult to get new plants to take. Suffice it to say, Indian pinks are a welcomed spreader in my jungle.

Pretty soon it will be time to start dividing iris. Late summer through early fall is the best time to divide and replant bearded iris. This timing allows iris the four to six weeks needed following flowering for new rhizomes to fully develop before digging and dividing. Once the clump is dug, the individual new rhizomes can be cut away from the mother rhizome with pruning shears or a knife, then replanted. The spent mother rhizome can be disposed of in the compost pile. I usually tag iris that I plan to remove in the spring at flowering so I have a positive identification. Otherwise it becomes difficult to identify one set of rhizomes from another with just leaves present, especially if several cultivars have grown into each other. What I didn't plan for was our new golden retriever puppy, Sophia. Removal of those little ribbons tied to plants seems to be the best game in town.

I was asked recently if it was too late to plant onions in the garden. Although onions can be one of the earliest planted vegetables, early planting is needed only if the goal is the formation of large bulbs by late summer. If the goal is to produce green onions, then onions can be succession-planted throughout much of the growing season because a lot less growing time is needed if no bulb is being formed. Onions grown for bulbs need enough time to grow leaves (modified leaves that form "rings" in the bulb) before longer daylengths trigger the plant's bulbing phase (ring swelling with storage reserves). Onion cultivars are categorized by how many hours of daylength trigger the bulbing process: long-day (14 hours), intermediate (12 hours) and short-day (10–11 hours). In the northern half of Illinois, gardeners whose goal is large bulb onions should grow only l ong-day onion cultivars; gardeners with that goal in the southern half of Illinois can grow either intermediate- or long-day cultivars. A short-day cultivar never has enough time in Illinois to grow leaves before forming bulbs unless started very early as transplants and that is why they are usually planted only for greens in Illinois. This late in the season though, daylength is long enough to trigger bulbing in all types of onions, so long story short, yes it is too late to plant for big onions but not for greens.

Welcome to My Jungle - June, 2018 Fri, 01 Jun 2018 08:00:00 +0000 Portugal is a beautiful country and I wish everyone the opportunity to visit as I did just recently. Portugal is famous for many products but probably port wine come to mind first. Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is hard to grasp the human effort over the eons that have gone into building rock walled terraces that follow the contour of every inch of the Douro Valley. Much like the Mosel wine region in Germany, the Douro Valley is made up of incredibly steep slopes that one would think only a mountain goat would be able to traverse. But the Portuguese for centuries have scaled these steep slopes to hand harvest both grapes and olives. Stunningly beautiful!

The climate in Portugal is heavenly, zone 9a to 10a for winter lows but without the blistering summer heat and humidity of south Florida, which has a similar hardiness zone. The average high in the hottest part of the summer is in the mid 70's to low eighties. Since most of the country appears to be built on a steep slope, I can't imagine the effort to walk anywhere if it were hot. One thing you notice is that almost all Portuguese, young or old, have what out travel agent describes as "ballerina" legs. After walking about for two weeks I now know why.

The landscape is a gardener's dream…perfect for roses, camellias, orchids and any number of other temperate and semi-tropical plants. At one market I visited, one of the vendors was selling orchids. And not just measly little cuttings, but huge root bound clumps. Oh, how I wished I could have brought some of those clumps home.

It was not uncommon to see huge camellia hedges and shrub/trees. Unfortunately we missed the peak bloom season, but there were enough hangers on to get a taste of their beauty. While visiting the Lello Bookstore in Porto, rumored to have inspired J.K. Rowling's depictions of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, I bought a book on the Camellias of Portugal, written in both English and Portuguese. The very next day, we visited the private gardens of Casa Villar d'Allen, and wouldn't you know, the current owner turned out to be a contributing author for that very book! Had I put it all together ahead of time, I would have taken my copy for her to sign but instead I have to be happy with a picture of her with her copy of the book.

Did I mention cork? Let's just leave it that Portugal has a lot of cork oaks (Quercus suber) and in addition to their wine cork industry, you can buy just about anything made out of cork.

Portugal is covered with beautiful tiles. It was not uncommon to see entire buildings faced with tiles, including floors and walls. Many were repeating patterns while others were individually unique, painted to tell stories when put together. The U.S. is such a relatively young country, it is always stunning to see a work of art like 'Susanna and the Elders,' a wall-sized work of tile attributed to Marçal de Matos from 1565, still intact in an outdoor environment

It is hard to not think of all the craftsmen over the centuries that contributed to the beauty of Portugal. In additional to the impressive architecture, most of the city streets are still cobbled and the walkways made up of intricate tile work. Walking was not always the easiest, partly due to the unevenness and partly due to the distraction of its beauty.

Welcome to My Jungle - May, 2018 Tue, 01 May 2018 08:00:00 +0000 With some plants gardeners are quite happy to see spread around in the garden, while others not so much. Maybe the "not so much" plants aren't as coveted, not as showy or maybe they spread a bit more than considered polite. But are the negatives overshadowing the potential benefits for some of these plants? Take our native violets for example. Many gardeners view our state flower as an aggressive weed, both in the lawn and the planting bed, and never really see their full beauty that can be attained under "preserved" cultivation. Compare a violet growing in a lawn under selective mowing pressure to a violet that is managed. The lawn violet will have developed a very short stature in order to avoid the mower blade, whereas the cultivated violet will easily be 6" tall by early spring and full of multiple booms due to crown development. One of the other benefits of violets is their role as an important larval food plant, specifically for fritillary butterflies. Although the adult fritillary butterflies don't sip nectar from violets, females do lay their eggs on violets and the larvae feed on the leaves making violets a critical need in the development of fritillary butterflies. According to Butterflies of Illinois by Jeffords (a must have), fritillary butterflies only produce one generation per year and females only lay their eggs on or near violets. So if we want fritillary butterflies to flourish, like the variegated fritillary and the great spangled fritillary, we need to adjust our perception of violets and welcome them into our gardens. It will take some added work, but the benefits are worth it!

Spring for gardeners is both a time of joy and a time to mourn. Already this year I have done the happy dance several times when a special plant has survived the winter to give delight yet another year. But I have also stood in silent frustration when a plant tag has to be pulled…I hate recycling plant tags because it means something has died. My most recent happy dance was over the emergence of a lady slipper. I planted two last year, so I was pretty excited over this first success. I trotted over to my other terrestrial orchid expecting to see a similar emergence pattern, only to find it had been entirely dug up, presumably by some rodent over the winter months. Since the planting site is all set up for orchids…sharp drainage, no direct sun from 12-4pm, my next orchid planting in that spot will include a wire cage during establishment.

Welcome to My Jungle - April 2018 Sun, 01 Apr 2018 08:00:00 +0000 Wattle is not only beautiful but also a great use of repurposed pruning materials. Even if you are unfamiliar with the term "wattle," you most likely have seen examples of fences and other structures made by weaving thin branches ("weavers") between upright stakes ("sales") to form a woven lattice. Check out the Kemper Center vegetable garden at Missouri Botanical Garden where staff are building a short wattle around the central bed using brightly colored weavers and spiral shoots of contorted filbert for additional flair (top image). The more traditional weave would be to weave each row of weavers alternating around the sales, with the next row woven on the opposite side of the sale from the weaver below it. Each weaver row is firmly pressed down before starting the next course. This not only provides support to the sales and the overall structure, but it also hides the sales, resulting in a basket weave appearance. The lower image was taken in Holland and demonstrates a pollarded willow wattle (say that three times quickly!). Because willow readily roots from cuttings, the willows not only supply the withes (weavers) through pollarding, the pollard trees themselves act as the sales to create a living fence. If you have some free time, do an image search on wattle fences or a search on how to build a wattle fence and you will find yourself totally absorbed with the creativity and beauty being shown.

This has been a great year for hellebores, that is, up until Mother Nature played an April Fool's Day joke on us with snow and freezing temperatures. So, knowing the storm was coming, I took the opportunity to collect blossoms for use in a floral display. Hellebores in general have downward facing flowers, so most passerby miss the true beauty of the individual blooms unless they are displayed in a more upward facing manner. The best method I have found for displaying hellebores is floating the individual flowers in a shallow bowl of water. When collecting the flowers, I try to retain ⅛"- ¼" of the peduncle for water uptake and extension of the life of the bloom. As to the cold outside and its effect on hellebores? Hellebores are cold tolerant plants and will eventually straighten from their current bowed state as if nothing had ever happened. Another reason to love these beautiful winter-bloomers!

Let's hear it for ants! Did you know some plants have evolved a method to entice ants to harvest and disperse their seeds? The technical term for this is myrmecochory, and many spring blooming plants like trillium, blood root, twinleaf, hepatica, Dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn, trout lily, and some violets partner with ants to move their seeds from place to place. Ants are attracted to elaiosomes, which is a nutritious fleshy structure rich in lipids and proteins attached to the seed. Foraging ants take the seed to their nest and feed to their larvae. After the elaiosome component is eaten from the seed, the seed is then discarded to their waste area, effectively planting it. Seems like a great tradeoff for all involved, including the gardener who gets more of these spring beauties.

Welcome to My Jungle - March 2018 Thu, 01 Mar 2018 08:00:00 +0000 Signs of spring are everywhere, but the "peep, peep, peep" of the spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) is what truly heralds its coming. These quarter-sized frogs are members in the Anura order of amphibians comprising the frogs, toads, and tree frogs, all of which lack a tail in the adult stage and have long hind limbs often suited to leaping and swimming. Spring peepers come in shades of brown, gray, or olive, and occasionally towards yellow or reddish. Its underside is cream or white, and it is patterned with a dark cross on its back and dark bands on its legs. A spring peeper's feet are moderately webbed with noticeable disks on its fingers and toes. And although it is a good climber, it seems to prefer the relative safety of the ground in amongst leaf litter.

Late-winter blooming plants also provide good buildup to the coming spring. Walking my jungle the first day of March revealed a number of plants in bloom including hellebores (Helleborus), winter aconite (Eranthus spp.), Fragrant Dawn Viburnum (V. bodnantense), Crocus, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis spp.), and Hazelnut (Corylus spp.).

Flowers can be absolutely fascinating…the color, the scent and most especially the structure. Take for example the American Filbert (Corylus americana). Being monecious, male and female flowers are borne on the same plant. The very visible male catkins appear in the fall and open in the spring, becoming more yellow as pollen develops and is released. The female flowers are so inconspicuous, they are easily missed unless looking for them specifically. That's because only the stigma and styles protrude just enough to collect pollen from a bud scale on the tip of a shoot, appearing as thin red threads.

If you remember your witch hazels, the eastern witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms in the fall and all the rest (H. mollis, H. vernalis and H. x intermedia) start blooming in mid- to late-winter. Many selections, most especially the vernal witch hazels (H. vernalis) bloom while retaining leaves (marcescent), while others drops their leaves and allow their spidery blooms to take center stage. Look closely and you will see that each sweetly scented flower sports four narrow, crinkled, strap-like petals that en masse creates a beautiful ray of color.

This is the time of year when time can get away from you in terms of establishing an early vegetable garden. Let's assume April 20th as the date to reference for the last average frost date for the St Louis Metro-east. That means roughly the 2nd and 3rd full week of March (4-6 weeks before the last average frost date) is the window to transplant outdoors very hardy vegetables like asparagus (crown), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, horseradish ("set" root), onion (set or plant), parsley, Irish potato (tuber "seed" piece), and rhubarb (crown piece). Unless you seeded these transplants in early February, store-bought transplants are your best option for such a short turnaround. Don't forget you can also direct seed a number of cool season crops in this window as well, including kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, onion, pea, rutabaga, salsify, spinach and turnip. Keep in mind that onions cultivars differ in their bulbing potential in response to light duration. For our region, select long-day or day-neutral types if your goal is large bulbs. Short-day types are more suitable in this region for green onions.

The frost hardy vegetables are planted outdoors next (2-3 weeks before the last average frost date), either transplanted or seeded in the garden. Like the hardy vegetables, there is not time to grow your own transplants to a sufficient size if you want to hit the optimal window, so store-bought is the next best option. Seeded frost hardy vegetables include beet, carrot, Swiss chard, mustard, parsnip and radish. Transplanted frost hardy vegetables include Chinese cabbage and cauliflower.

You do still have time though to start transplants for the warmer season vegetable crops. Tomatoes can usually be transplanted outdoors without protection any time after the last average frost date. Tomato transplants should be started no later than the 3rd full week of March to give a full 4-6 weeks for transplant growth. Transplants for peppers and eggplant should be started a week later.]]>
Welcome to My Jungle - January 2018 Mon, 01 Jan 2018 08:00:00 +0000 You know, one of the inherent problems with hanging out with other plant fanatics is that they tend to suck you further into your own fascination with and addiction to plants. Case in point, I was recently enjoying a night out with colleagues when one fellow plant enthusiast mentioned she was planning a workshop on marimo moss balls (Aegagropila linnaei). My ears perked right up. Marimo balls? What are they and where I can get my own so I can see why they are so fascinating? Turns out I don't spend enough time in aquarium shops. My plant fanatic colleague explained that Marimo moss balls are a highly unique and rare form of algae growth that can only be found growing natively in a few lakes throughout the world, which are located in Japan, Iceland, Scotland, and Estonia. As the algae grows in these lakes, the movement of the waves causes them to gradually form into spheres of soft, green algae with a fuzzy, velvet-like texture. In nature, marimo balls can eventually grow larger than a soccer ball, but aquarium suppliers usually carry the more user friendly golf ball-size and smaller. Small-sized marimo balls are perfect for aquariums and aquatic art; just check out Pinterest and you will see some really creative design ideas. My story continues with ordering online ten marimo balls for my own evaluation and sharing with others. They arrived in perfect condition and I followed the simple instructions on how to care for them. After looking at them in a glass bowl for a few days, I decided I would prefer a small aquarium with gravel on the bottom to display my marimo balls, so off to the local pet store I went. As luck would have it, the store was having a special. With every aquarium purchase over a certain dollar amount, you got a free beta fish. So far, the marimo balls appear to be providing good enrichment for "Herald" the veil tail beta fish; mostly for resting on, providing hiding places and for catching food that drifts down from above. Their temperature requirements are compatible, plus they look good together.

Winter may have just officially started, but I am already working on plant orders for spring 2018. The thrill of the hunt is one of my favorite past times. I usually keep a running list of plants that interest me, from those that I might have seen them in a garden or nursery setting, featured in a magazine or recommended to me by a fellow enthusiast. 'Lemon Splash' burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) is such a plant and was featured in the February 2018 edition of Fine Gardening. It is already proving hard to find even though it is not a new introduction. I find that plants featured in magazines attain somewhat of a celebrity status which results in suppliers selling out quickly. When this happens, I take advantage of mail order nurseries who provide a free online service that notifies via email when something is back in stock. I also love online wish lists because you are free to add every single plant you think is neat, plus there is the thrill of seeing that heart attack-inducing grand total should you actually buy every plant on your wish list. That just might be a bucket list item for me, but unfortunately I would have to win the lottery first. But in reality I use the two features together. Usually when I get an email notice about a plant being back in stock, I jump on it right away because everyone else who wanted that plant got the same email. After adding the back in stock item to my shopping cart, I then check my wish list to see if there is anything I might want to add to make the best use of shipping.

2018 Small Farms Winter Webinar Series Fri, 08 Dec 2017 14:54:00 +0000 Registration NOW OPEN!

University of Illinois Extension presents a weekly educational series for the small farm community. This series will provide practical knowledge on emerging topics which advance local food production in Illinois. These online presentations will give small farm producers a look at how leading practices in production, management, and marketing enable operations to improve profitability and sustainability. The complete list of topics and speakers is included below. Webinars will be held from noon -1:00 pm on Thursdays and are free.

Choose any number of the following webinars to attend when you register.

Topics include:

Jan. 18-Less Common Fruit Bearing Plants, Elizabeth Wahle,University of Illinois Extension Commercial Ag Educator (Fruits and Vegetables)

Everyone, or most everyone is familiar with fruits like apples, pears, cherries, blueberries and raspberries, but what about lesser known fruit plants like bush cherries, medlars, shipova, goji berries and pawpaw? This session will cover 24 of the lesser known fruiting plants, including their care, which are hardy for outdoor planting and which taste good straight off the plant or require processing to bring out their full flavor profile.

Jan. 25-Updated High Tunnel Concepts, Zack Grant,University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator

High Tunnels are a new priority when it comes to infrastrucutre on the small farm. Even if you have some experience growing in protected culture the learning curve is often steep with new information and cultural techniques always advancing. This webinar will bring you up to speed on the latest trends, tips, and techniques in high tunnel production.

Feb. 1-Introduction to Certified Organic Production, Grant McCarty,University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator

This course will provide an introduction to organic certification, alternative marketing strategies to organics, and understanding how to get started in seeking certification.

Feb. 8-Christmas Tree Production and Business Considerations, Dave Shiley,University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator

Small farm owners looking for another way to diversify, may see Christmas trees as the perfect winter crop. However production of the winter crop requires labor and chemical inputs throughout the year. This webinar will present production requirements, as well as, business management considerations in Christmas Tree operations.

Feb. 15-An Update on the Grand Prairie Grain Guild: Developing Staple Crop Varieties and Associated Regional Food Grade Markets, Bill Davison,University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator

This webinar will cover lessons learned from two years of trialing diverse varieties of grains and beans as well as providing an update on a new two million dollar USDA grant funded project that will support a regional team in breeding corn for organic farms over the next four years.

Feb. 22-Creating Community Food Production Systems, Laurie George,University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator

Join Laurie George to learn about the steps needed to get going in establishing community food projects like community gardens, school gardens, and food pantry gardens.

Mar. 1 -Heavy metals in soils: identifying and acting on contamination, Dr. Andrew Margenot,University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences, College of ACES

This webinar will address an oft-suspected but sometimes under-evaluated risk to (peri)urban agriculture: soil contamination by heavy metals. The causes of heavy metals common in soils and their risks to producers via soil exposure and consumers via consumption of crops will be reviewed. Best practices, resources for identifying potential heavy metal contamination, the interpretation of test results, and management strategies to mitigate heavy metal risks will be discussed.

Mar. 8-Native Pollinators on your Farm, Doug Gucker,University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator

Native bees and pollinators are important pollinator for crops and fruits and are well adapted to our Illinois climate. Learn how to: identify common native pollinators, provide pollinator habitat and other pollinator friendly practices for your farm.

Mar. 15-Small Acres Pastured Poultry, James Theuri,University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator

Small scale poultry raising can be profitable, and especially when value is added by grazing the flock. Presentation will describe best breeds; housing; stocking density; pasture advantage; seasonal pastured system; food safety; wildlife control.

Mar. 22-Growing Ginger, Turmeric, and Other Unique Crops, Chris Enroth, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator

Are there markets beyond tomatoes for local growers? During this winter webinar session University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Chris Enroth, will share his experience growing tropical crops like ginger, turmeric, and other unique vegetables in the Midwest.

Mar. 29-Tips for Modifying and Building Sprayers for Specialty Crops, Nathan Johanning,University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator

Need to modify or build a custom sprayer for your specialty crop operation. Join Nathan Johanning for an in depth discussion in sprayer modifcation for your specialty crop operation.

The webinars can be accessed on-line from your personal computer. In case you cannot attend these dates, register anyway to view an archived, recorded version. Information will be provided via email (by the Monday after airing) for viewing at your convenience.

Contact your local Extension office for more information about live viewing sites.

For more information, contact: Zack Grant, University of Illinois Extension, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator at 708-679-6889,; or Doug Gucker, University of Illinois Extension, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator at 217-877-6042,