Monday, December 29, 2008

Anaheim Green Chiles (chili)

Over at Blotanical I was asked to list my favorite plant when I joined. I want to meet others who love Anaheim Green Chiles, a mild variety of New Mexico Green Chiles. With the variety of plants to choose from, I have become the type of gardener who goes for new and different (having the students help pick varieties also leads to new things). However, in the ten years I have gardened, I have always grown these chiles. These came from my backyard in 2007.

It is the way to go for flavor and a bit of heat. I do grow hotter chiles, but when I make refried beans, I want these roasting in my oven. Lots of chile flesh provide for plenty of flavor. My wife introduced them to me back in the day when we met. We ate them out of a can. But what a difference it is to see them growing long and plump on a plant. To smell them fresh, as fresh as any veggie can smell. Then to smell them roasting. Before I gardened, we vacationed in new Mexico and I witnessed the large roasting operations that take place, even in front of grocery stores. Maybe the smell was imprinted at that moment. But I can't wait to see, smell, touch, and taste them again next summer. If plants can communicate, I can also hear them calling out to me.

OK, like I said they are my favorite plant.


Friday, December 26, 2008

On break--- hanging over my head

A friend, who teaches at a local college, recently spoke of being relieved for unlike most years, she had finished grading student papers before the holidays. They were not hanging over her head.

My seed order hangs there. Well not her head, but mine. The catalogs are resting over at the Pathway School where I teach. It is winter break. This weekend I will travel to the school, check the plants, and bring them home where I can sit back with some jazz and make a decision.

The students have helped quite a bit. First by circling photos of flowers and veggies that caught their eye. Then we get serious and narrow it down. I love to hand a seed catalog to a students and say, "read all the descriptions of ________ and then explain to me why I should go with your choice."

I have had more than one student drawn to the extra-large version of vegetables. I don't favor them, so I have rejected most of their requests with ... bigger does not mean better.

But this year a student told me a story. He remembers going to get a monster pumpkin and the trouble of getting it home. Later, after they had found a home for it, the pumpkin rolled and smashed. We do the math... one plant covers 70 square feet. We make a deal, he digs out a new bed, I buy the seeds and let him takeover. I will guide him, but it will be his plot.

Here is a photo my wife took when all the students were home during a summer break. I am a blur, but I love it all the same. Lets call it, "twilight and giants- summer of 2007."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Being a plant person and maybe creating a few along the way

As an undergraduate I studied Biology at East Stroudsburg University. I was clearly not what we called "cell smashers", though through the years I have become more open to being amazed at the cellular level of life. There were also lots of animal folk and I took my fair share of classes in that realm. But plants intrigued me and I was one of a small handful of students that took a course on plant physiology. The ornithology and entomology classes were crowded.

There is a long list of goals I have for my horticulture students to meet. But the one thing I desire the most... they become plant people.

But in this fast paced world, I have a problem. Plants operate on a different time scale and we tend to see them as nearly static, but somehow they change. I have a way to show them this change. It is best video ever made: The Private Life of Plants with David Atttenborough. I may be a bit biased, however, as I write this, it gets a 9.5/10 rating by 200+ viewers at IMDb. The series uses time lapse photography to show plant behavior. It shows what we all know, but can't see. Plants are active.

Here is a four minute segment on some giant water lilies.

But many years had passed from the time I left ESU to the day I was asked to start a horticulture program at the Pathway School. My plant essence was noticed and like a dormant seed emerged in ways I could never have imagined.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

more on loyalty--- seed catalogs

When speaking of pollinators and flowers in my classroom we ended up making an analogy. Flowers want loyalty in much the same way as chain restaurants --- look the same, smell the same, and the menu items are consistent and taste the same.

Inconsistency destroys loyalty.

My table space at Pathway has been encroached by seed catalogs and old seeds. Two of those catalogs have been favored for ten years. When they arrive in my mailbox (always after the first really hard frost) my eyes light up like a bee seeing the ultraviolet light reflecting off a dahlia.

So what traits bring upon loyalty...

  • early to arrive (I am far into my planning of a seed order and I am lacking one I used last year)
  • a desire to preserve heirloom varieties ( such as... Riesentraube Cherry Tomatoes from my ancestors-- PA Germans)
  • support of organic seed farmers
  • diversity
  • seeds that germinate at high %'s
  • information that helps to make wise purchases
  • fine customer service
  • plants that do what the catalog promises

Off to the left you can find links to my favored catalogs, here are the two that have earned my loyalty...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bread making--- using our dried herbs

Scents build loyalty. Bees return to favored flowers just as we return to favored foods. They look good, but more importantly... they smell good.

When a honey bee finds a good feeding site they come back to the hive and do a dance that informs the other bees which way to fly to find the flowers. When a bumble bee finds good food they return to the hive and release a combination of their own pheromone and scents from the flower which inspire feeding frenzies.

Monday mornings I like getting to Pathway early, but in order to bake bread a stop at a grocery store was needed so as I drove to work I had thoughts of passing the plan to bake break. But the idea of not finally getting back to bread baking seemed wrong.

So the morning was rushed and as I sat to eat lunch I felt like I would never get caught up. But, then the first batch of whole wheat sage rolls were placed into the oven and soon the smell of fresh bread filled the kitchen. And at the end of the class after the last bread was placed into the oven and all was cleaned... I handed rolls to my students, my assistant and myself. And like a bee we went off to Pathway staff who love our rolls. We did not dance, but it did cause a feeding frenzy.

Here is a link to the recipe.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Scales on our spiderplants

Things go wrong here at Pathway, but that is how it goes everywhere. Over the years our two biggest pest problems in my classroom have been fungus gnats and scale insects. Could be far worse for neither will kill a plant quickly and both can be taken care of with low level pest management techniques.

This week I chose to repot the spider plants and pot up some of the spiderettes. Scale insects favor those stems that connect the mother plant to the new plant (sorry no disgusting photos were taken of those infested stems). By cutting them off at the base, then snipping off the young plant, we could toss the stem and be rid of most of the pests in that matter. Here are a few of the young ones which got potted ...

As for the pests that lingered. The small plants will get sprayed with some organic pesticide before I leave for the day. The larger plants will get wiped down with rubbing alcohol.
We still have two plants to divide and pot. Hopefully I will bring my camera to get some photos.

UPDATE... I handed my camera to a student and said, "Take lots of photos." Here is the best action shot, which shows team work. One student holds the leaves as another student digs up potting soil...

Spider plants Chlorophytum comosum have thick fleshy roots and I still remember being shocked the first time I removed one from a pot and saw the roots. Now I look forward to students having the same experience.

Points go to the student who was curious enough to ask to see what the insides looked like. Texture reminded me a bit like a radish.

At the end of the day, I was proud of the work we had done dividing the larger plants...

Friday, November 21, 2008


With winter hitting early and with us still awaiting more of the seed catalogs to arrive, we turned our attention to the house plants that dominate my classroom... and their needs for new homes.

The jades came first for it had been two years and some had finally out grown their pots. Most of the other plants in our space will get potted each time winter comes around to Pennsylvania.

In the midst of the jade plants are a handful of cuttings we took off a dieing plant given to me to save last year. The owner, who works with me at Pathway, told me the sentimental story of the jade. Now, I have brought some plants back from near death states, but this plant had roots which had too much rot, so we did what we could do...

2 inch long shoots, which appeared to be healthy, were cut and placed in sand till roots came to be. All survived and one will soon be delivered back to the one who first gave us the plant.

Here is some advice on growing Crassula ovata.

I go heavy on sand (1 part peat, 1 part compost, 3 parts sand) because with my life filled with students who love to water, I want to avoid having Jades with rotting roots.

The info you may need to hear the most is this: I asked a student to tell me a fascinating fact about jades. He says, "They are beautiful."

Their beauty can fascinate.

Jades can live for years and at a young age will begin to resemble a miniature tree. This shape may be what draws us to Jades. It will resemble a bonsai and with pruning you can maintain it at a small size. Give it time and sunshine and they will get taller than you stand. Given plenty of sun and a pleasant red will appear on the leaves.

and the next time you pluck off a jade leaf, give a whiff. A student did today and discovered a pleasant scent reminiscent of a banana. If you stick it in some sand... it just may sprout some roots. A desire to live can be strong.

A month early

Winter has arrived a month early here in southeast Pennsylvania. Nights dipping down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, wind chills, and now a covering of snow this morning. The broccoli raab just looked plain sad this morning when I pulled my car into a parking spot at Pathway. I have not glanced under the floating row cover which hid the one remaining bed of lettuce. The two other beds were harvested at the beginning of this week and has found its way to the homes of my colleagues.

And that may be one of the saddest aspects of this seasonal change here in zone 6. My students love to go about the campus of Pathway and sell our veggies. One day I asked a student why he wanted to be part of the selling team. He answered, "People smile at me when I walk into the room."

We may or we may not have some lettuce to sell. Here is how our spring crop looked as I sit hoping for one more harvest before springtime, 2009. Who doesn't need some more smiles?

morning after deluge 2-- leaf lettuce


Driving home late Saturday night, I saw temperature signs that ranged from 20 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Can't say I had a bunch of hope as I walked down to the garden with a student, but I had some. Lettuce is hardyy and it was covered. So I am glad to report that we had one last harvest, but as of now the garden is done producing for 2008.