Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Gardening Indoors to keep the Winter Blues at Bay

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

As yet another “polar vortex” passed over my home in North Carolina last week with sleet and plummeting temperatures, I was cheered by seeing my phalaenopsis orchid blooming on the kitchen table, oblivious to the cold winds outside. That’s why I garden indoors - to keep the “when’s it gonna end” winter blues away.

Phalaenopsis 'Shang's Stripe' (photo credit C. Schultz)

Phalaenopsis ‘Shang’s Stripe’ (photo credit C. Schultz)

Making Choices

There are lots of choices for adding a little color to your life during the dull greys, whites and browns of winter. Little African violets bloom reliably for long periods of time during the winter with colors ranging from vivid purples and blues to pink and rose flowers which include variegation and picote colors as well. They don’t seem bothered by the low winter light or short days.

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha)

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha)
(photo credit C. Schultz)


Cactus are certainly easy to care for but also want higher levels of light (think desert.) They don’t need much watering during the winter, so if you’re going to be gone a lot, they might be a good choice for you. I love their quirky shapes.

Spruce Cone Cactus (Tephrocactus articulates) (photo credit C. Schultz)

Spruce Cone Cactus (Tephrocactus articulates) (photo credit C. Schultz)

Easy Care

Of all the house plants, I think I’d rate orchids right up there with the cactus for ease of care. Their fleshy pseudopods retain enough moisture to hold them over if they miss a watering or I’m gone a few days. Although they’re reputed to be fussy, I haven’t found them so. They like humidity but don’t necessarily need to be misted. Humidity can be achieved by simply setting the orchid in a dish of water filled with stones or glass beads to hold the plant out of the water. Most orchids like bright indirect light (think tropics with orchids perched on branches with the light filtering through the tree canopy above them.)

Orchids: Odontia ‘Vesta Charm’ and Laeliocattleya (LC) 'Blue Hawaii' (photo credit C. Schultz)

Orchids: Odontia ‘Vesta Charm’ and Laeliocattleya (LC) ‘Blue Hawaii’ (photo credit C. Schultz)

Scent as well as Beauty

As an extra bonus, some orchids are wonderfully scented. My favorite is Oncidium ‘Red Fantasy’ which smells sweetly of chocolate and vanilla. Scent can increase the power of flowers to drive away those winter blues so include fragrance when you’re shopping for springtime indoors!

Oncidium 'Red Fantasy' (photo credit C. Schultz)

Oncidium ‘Red Fantasy’ (photo credit C. Schultz)

Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC.

Brassolaeliocattleya (BLC) Hawaiian Wedding Song (photo credit C. Schultz)

Brassolaeliocattleya (BLC) ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ (photo credit C. Schultz)

Wordless Wednesday: Herald of Spring – the Cherry

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

by Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC


(Photos courtesy of the National Park Service and the University of Kentucky.)

(Photos courtesy of the National Park Service and the University of Kentucky.)


Cherry blossoms (photos courtesy University of New Hampshire)

Cherry blossoms (photos courtesy University of New Hampshire)


Pink cherry blossoms (photos courtesy North Carolina State University & Iowa State University)

Pink cherry blossoms (photos courtesy North Carolina State University & Iowa State University)


White cherry blossoms (photo courtesy Auburn University)

Cherry blossoms (photo courtesy Auburn University)


Cherry trees at University of Washington (photo courtesy University of Washington)

Bevy of blooms at University of Washington campus (photo courtesy University of Washington)


Cherry trees at University of Washington  (photo courtesy University of Washington)

Cherry trees at University of Washington (photo courtesy University of Washington)


Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC (photos courtesy National Park Service)

Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC (photos courtesy National Park Service)


Washington Monument, Washington DC (photo courtesy National Park Service)

Cherry trees in full bloom at Washington Monument, Washington DC (photo courtesy National Park Service)

To find out when the cherry trees will be blooming for the Cherry Festival in Washington DC,  go to the National Cherry Blossom Festival site.

Iowa Master Gardeners participate in CenUSA Biochar project

Monday, March 17th, 2014

In Iowa, to help determine biochar’s viability as a soil amendment product for the home garden, Master Gardeners are testing its ability to increase productivity in vegetable and flower gardens. Iowa Master Gardeners assisted with recording crop production and health data from the three test garden sites located across the state.

Iowa State Master Gardeners teaching about biochar research

Iowa State Master Gardeners learned about biochar

These sites, which include the Armstrong Research Farm in Lewis; the Horticulture Station in Ames; and Fruitland Research Farm in Muscatine; are each made up of different soil types and composition.

Ames horticulture research farm

Ames horticulture research farm – good black loam


Armstrong plot (for sure)

Armstrong farm in Lewis – marginal soils



Fruitland in Muscatine – sandy soils

These soil differences will help to provide a broader spectrum of results from our test plot gardens. As sister plots to the biochar test garden plots in Minnesota, Iowa’s test plots included the same crops, as well as the same levels of biochar incorporation at each of the test plot sites in both states. The same crops will be planted for testing again in the 2014 season.

Harvest data was taken in a similar fashion in both Iowa and MN for most crops – however 2013 weather extremes may have skewed the data from “normal” years, due to the late planting dates (due to wet weather); above average rainfall, followed by hot and dry periods.

Harvest weighed

Harvest weighed


Plant growth measured

Leaf color checked

Leaf color checked

Iowa Master Gardeners are gearing up for 2014 – and hope to experience a “normal” growing season – we are due!

If you would like further information becoming a volunteer with the biochar project, contact Yvonne McCormick at

Iowa State Master Gardener Participating in CenUSA Bioenergy project

Stay tuned – Iowa State Master Gardeners are ready to step back in these test gardens in 2014!

“The CenUSA Bioenergy project is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2011-68005-30411 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.”

Ohio State University EMG Trip to Ecuador – Wrap Up and Five Reasons to Go!

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

I have to apologize for the delay in posting.  After airport delays and lack of a good internet connection, I was not able to get this posted over the weekend.  Better late than never and I didn’t want to leave you hanging!

Our final work day in Ecuador took us about 8,000 feet high to the vivero (tree nursery) that is located in Achupallas.  We finished up the weeding and then had a great time with the kids from the nearby school.  Some of our volunteers walked to the school and escorted the children to the nursery.  The other volunteers had set up three stations for different plant related activities.  The kids had a blast making hanging baskets out of plastic soda bottles, learning about the parts of the seed, and stamping paper with paint and vegetables and flowers.  I think our EMGs had more fun however!  These kids are so cute and so eager to learn.

Debby works with the children planting hanging baskets

Debby works with the children planting hanging baskets

In the afternoon, we headed to Panecillo for an authentic cooking class.  I wore my authentic blouse (made by Christina last year, embroidery by hand!) and skirt.  We learned how to prepare an authentic Keechwa meal completely from scratch.  We divided into teams and some did the prep and others did the cooking.  The chicken was cooked over the campfire.  After it was ready, we all enjoyed a wonderful meal, complete with an incredible dessert made with lots of butter, sugar, egg whites and more, wrapped in large leaves that resembled a banana leaf, and then steamed.  It was really good.

Pam and Christina

Pam and Christina

Overall we planted 500 seedlings in Muenala, two hundred pounds of potatoes in Padre Chupa, filled a couple of hundred soil bags for planting, and weeded and cleaned up the vivero.  All in all we donated 436 hours of work.  This may not seem like a lot but if you compared this to Matias working eight hours a day, we completed about 55 days of work for him, getting him that much further ahead.

Friday was our travel day back to Quito to the airport but before we left Otavalo, we had a few more minutes to spend money at the market.  After this, we loaded up the bus and headed to the Quito Botanical Gardens for a guided tour.  It was really nice hearing about the different eco-systems in Ecuador and the plants associated.  Following the gardens, we were treated to an incredible experience at the home of world-renowned orchid growers Harry and Rosemarie Zelenko.  He and his wife combined their collection of orchids years ago when they moved to Ecuador.  Harry brought more than 3,000 and Rosemarie brought more than a 1,000.  He couldn’t even tell us how many he had at this time.  His greenhouse was amazing as was his garden.  We are very grateful to the Zelenko’s for opening their home to a bunch of plant nuts!

Now for the five reasons Extension Master Gardeners should consider the trip to Ecuador!

1.  The opportunity to give back to a community in need is very gratifying.

2.  The opportunity to learn about another culture from a perspective that most tourists never have is awesome.

3.  The experience of traveling with other EMGs allows you to meet a whole new group of like-minded people.

4.  The cost of the trip is fairly reasonable.

5.  You are well-fed during the trip but you are guaranteed to walk it and work it off!  We walked 126,396 steps in eight days, an average of 15,800 steps a day!

I could give you lots more reasons to go on this trip.  I encourage you to check out the website at and learn more about the organization and the volunteer opportunities.  The next gardening vacation is open to anyone and will be on October 10-17, 2014.  If you have any questions or are interested in going, please contact me at 937-521-3860 or

I am already excited about going back next year!


Pam Bennett, EMG State Coordinator, Ohio State University Extension


2014 Pacific Northwest Rhododendron Winners

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Deciduous Azalea 'Homebush'

Deciduous Azalea ‘Homebush’ Photo by Sally and John Perkins

Elepidote Rhododendron 'Fire Rim'

Elepidote Rhododendron ‘Fire Rim’ Photo by Don Kohlenberger

Evergreen Azalea 'Komo Kulshan'

Evergreen Azalea ‘Komo Kulshan’ Photo by Sally and John Perkins

See what the 2014 winners are in your area!

Garden Trends 2014: A Year in Balance

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Just like the fashion and design world, trends can also affect the gardening world.   From influencing the types and colors of plants found at the garden center and used by landscapers, to book topics, and more, gardening is influenced, for better or worse, by trends.  During the first few months of 2014, we’ll be taking a look at garden trends and other things that influence the world of gardening.

There a few organizations that help to set trends, and also take note of trends.  Plant organizations, such as the Perennial Plant Association and All-America Selections list plants of the year that will likely show up at your garden center.  Pantone selects a color of the year.  And the Garden Media Group (a PR firm) releases an annual trends report.  In the 2014 Garden Trends report, we see the following trends affecting gardening:

1. Ground Up (Composting/Sustainable Gardening)
2. Super Foods Super Models
3. Drink Your Yard (Fermentation Gardening)
4. Dress Up Your Yard
5. Bee-nificials
6. Cultur-vating
7. Simple Elegance
8. Frac’d Up
9. Young Men Get Down & Dirty
10. Think Gardens
11. Fingertip Gardening
12. Tree-mendous Reversal

I’ll kick off the conversation here by sharing some of the topics I have written about in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, where I write the weekly gardening column on Sundays. You’ll notice that we will feature theses trends as weekly topics on our Facebook page and other social media outlets in the next several weeks.  Be sure to join us for the journey and add your own two cents.

Plants of the year

There are several different organizations that pick their own plants of the year, so I’ll just mention a few. The Perennial Plant Association ( chose an ornamental grass as the ‘Perennial Plant of the Year’ for 2014. Panicum virgatum‘Northwind’ is a tall, native switchgrass that turns golden yellow in the fall. (We’ll have a profile of this plant in the near future)

Radiant Orchid is the Pantone color of the year. (Photo:

Radiant Orchid is the Pantone color of the year. (Photo:

All-America Selections ( is an organization that releases an annual list of vegetables and bedding plants based on variety trials around the country. This year, the national winners included the ‘Mamma Mia Giallo’ pepper, ‘Fantastico’ and ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ tomatoes, ‘Mascotte’ dwarf French bean, ‘African Sunset’ petunia (it’s brilliant orange), and ‘Sparkle White’ guara, a delicate-looking yet tough, drought-resistant perennial. The neat thing about the AAS program is that their winners are grown at display gardens around the country so you can get up close and personal with the plants. To find a display garden near you, visit their webpage.

Color of the year

Each year, the Pantone Color Institute (, the company that acts as the standard-keepers for colors for everything from commercial printers to the U.S. Patent Office, selects its color of the year. This year the color is “Radiant Orchid,” which is based on the purple-pink color in the Phalaenopis orchids you see in grocery stores and garden centers. While this color is most commonly seen in fashion and home decorating trends, you will also likely see an increase in the number of flowers at the garden centers this year with similar color profiles.

Sustainable gardening

Collecting kitchen scraps in a compost pail. (Photo: John Porter)

Collecting kitchen scraps in a compost pail. (Photo: John Porter)

The Garden Trends Report (, lists composting as a top trend. More and more gardeners are interested in reducing the amounts of inputs they put in the garden — from fertilizers to chemicals and more.

But gardeners are going beyond that and adding more sustainable practices, such as collecting rainwater, using recycled materials in the garden, and more. Sustainability is not just about being environmentally conscientious though. It’s also about choosing practices that are more economically sound (cheaper) and thinking about your neighbors when you make decisions.

Further reading: “Sustainable practices enhance environment” John Porter (Charleston Gazette-Mail)

Growing more food

Vegetable and fruit gardening has been on the rise over the past five years now, and the trends looks to continue into 2014. The initial interest was fueled by the crashing economy, where people decided to be more self-reliant in the face of higher food costs and smaller paychecks. But the interest continues now that people are more interested in knowing where their food comes from and being more self-sufficient thanks to a rise in the DIY and homesteader attitude. So backyard vegetable gardens, edible landscapes and community gardens will continue to pop up at a good pace.

Drinking your garden


Homemade beverages with homegrown ingredients is a hot trend (Photo: John Porter)

According to the Garden Trends report, this trend is twofold: Gardeners are growing more things to turn into juices and smoothies as well as things to ferment and turn into alcohol. There’s big interest in both of these concepts, judging alone by the number of books on the shelves. Health-conscious gardeners are growing fruits and vegetables to add to their juicer machines and blenders at an increasing pace.

The new DIY trend, though, is to make your own alcohol, whether you are growing grapes and fruits to make your own wines, or hops (and even grains) to brew your own beer. People are also growing the ingredients you add to cocktails and flavorings to add to spirits. If you want to know what goes in your favorite drink, I suggest “The Drunken Botanist,” by Amy Stewart, for a fun read.

Further reading: “Homemade beverage production is growing” John Porter (Charleston Gazette-Mail)

Men in the garden

The Garden Trends report also states that more young men are starting to garden, and even spend $100 more per year on average than the basic gardener. The reasons? First, I’ll refer you back to the section on drinking your garden. But the trend is also due to young guys liking to grill out and entertain their friends. It seems that they also enjoy growing hot peppers (the hotter the better) — I’m not making this up, it’s straight out of the report.

The report also states that these guy gardeners have a strong interest in workshops and classes. For a tongue-in-cheek look at why guys should be gardeners, check out my guest post last spring on the blog “Art of Manliness” at

Interesting outdoor spaces

The Garden Trends report also states that, more than ever, people see their gardens as a place to both relax and enjoy the outdoors and entertain. It seems that garden parties and outdoor entertaining are on the rise. As a result, you see more art in the garden and a bigger emphasis on creating outdoor rooms. It seems that straight and tidy lines are also out and curves are in, as are geometric shapes and broken lines.

Gardening for beneficials

Gardening for pollinators and wildlife is also on the rise, according to the Garden Trends report, and I can attest to this myself. Gardeners are interested in planting foods that feed native pollinators and incorporating habitat such as bee boxes for solitary bees. This is a great trend! While the number of beekeepers is up, Colony Collapse Disorder makes it harder and harder to keep hives of honeybees alive. We need all the pollination we can get!

Stay tuned….

We’ll be talking about these gardening trends and more in the coming months and weeks.  We hope you’ll join us for the journey.

Almost Wordless Wednesday: A Green Reprieve from Winter Doldrums

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

During these long cold days, the monotony of the winter landscape with its whites, greys and browns grows tiresome. We long for the vivid colors of spring. To lift the winter doldrums, I suggest orchids. Despite their reputation as being “difficult,” they’re much easier than most houseplants. Many of them are equipped with fleshy pseudopods that hold moisture and nutrients for the orchids so they can tolerate some periods of drought - in case I get too busy and forget to water them. Only cactus are easier to keep! Enjoy a brief reprieve from the winter blahs!


Orchid Brassia-laelio-cattleya Hawaiian Wedding Song

Orchid Brassia-laelio-cattleya Hawaiian Wedding Song (photo credit Connie Schultz)


Orchid Dendrobium Burma Stripe

Orchid Dendrobium Burma Stripe (photo credit Connie Schultz)


Orchid Laelio-cattleya Blue Hawaii

Orchid Laelio-cattleya Blue Hawaii (photo credit Connie Schultz)

Orchid Odontia Vesta Charm & Orchid Laelio-cattleya Mini-purple

Orchid Odontia Vesta Charm & Orchid Laelio-cattleya Mini-purple (photo credit Connie Schultz)

Orchid Phalaenopsis Shang’s Stripes

Orchid Phalaenopsis Shang’s Stripes (photo credit Connie Schultz)


Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC


December Blog Post Recap

Monday, January 6th, 2014

This will be a really quick monthly recap: aside from the November Blog Posts Recap on December 18, we featured just one other post in December. That’s okay, though, because it was a good one that opened the door to many additional posts on the same topic! Connie Schultz, of the Johnston County, NC Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, wrote a lovely piece about regional wreaths (Celebrating Christmas with Regional Wreaths). Appearing on December 9, this post touched on some of the huge assortment of regional items (think red peppers in the Southwest) that are pressed into service as holiday decorations. Here in the Southeast, we have more traditional evergreen foliage we can use, along with the colorful berries of plants like nandina, aucuba, and hollies. Connie concluded her post with an invitation to our readers to send in photos of their wreaths so we can all enjoy the creativity and beauty.

Traditional wreath from JC Raulston Arboretum NCSU

Traditional wreath from JC Raulston Arboretum NCSU


What’s Next?

Now that 2014 is off and running, we should have many more posts to highlight at the end of this month. Wouldn’t you like to share something from wherever you garden? We’d love to hear from you, and we’d also love you to share these blog posts with your friends and colleagues. Happy New Year!

Find us in the following spaces:
Here –
Extension Master Gardener Blog

Blog Recap prepared by Linda Brandon, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator, NC Cooperative Extension/ Guilford County Center, Greensboro, NC


Wordless Wednesday: Have a Happy Healthy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 28th, 2013


Food infographic courtesy the USDA

Enjoy a Happy Healthy Thanksgiving today with these easy tips! (Food infographic courtesy the USDA)


Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC

Bees 101 – And the Bees Were Snuggled All in Their Beds

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

In the cool autumn weather, when the temperatures outside drop into the 50′s, big changes happen in the honeybee hive.  The worker bees stop the Queen’s laying of eggs.  That means, the eggs that have been laid must sustain the hive for the cold winter months.

Food is at a premium in the winter.  Bee are also masters at conserving their food stores.  When the temperatures outside are consistently below 50 degrees, the worker bees dispose of all of the drones (male bees).  The only purpose of the drones are to mate with the Queen.  Because there is no need for mating in the winter months, the drones are kicked out of the hives when the temperatures change.  The drones never contribute to the cleaning of the  hive or raising of the young.  They are extra mouths and need to go.  This conserves the food stores in the hive.

Truly Amazing Creatures !!!!

Working with the bees

Working with the bees
Photo by: Terri James

Winter time for the Bees is a time of snuggling together in the hive.  All of the worker bees “cluster” into a round mass around the Queen to keep her warm.   The  bees warm themselves and the nest as a whole by exercising their flight wings.  Like revving the engine in neutral, they flap their wings so hard that it creates warmth for their Queen.  They use plant resins and gums and saps from trees to seal holes  and cracks in the hive, making it fairly air tight.  To maintain such a microclimate, the colony  must consume more than two pounds of honey a week throughout the winter, making the collection of nectar during the warmer months so very important.  The cluster’s temperature must not dip below 50 degrees F, which would be deadly for the Queen and therefore her hive also.

So in the winter, honeybees don’t become dormant like many other insects.  They are working even when you do not see them flying in and out of the hive.  They are truly amazing creatures !!!!

Gifts Under the Tree

Honey Bees give us many gifts.  Of course we all know and LOVE the pure wonderful honey that they make.  Honeybees are the ONLY creatures on earth that make honey!!

I use honey almost daily.  In the spring and summer I use it against my allergies.  When the weather turns cold, I use it in my hot oatmeal and in my wonderful freshly brewed teas.  Honey is used in making of craft beers and in the making of a honey wine called “Mead”  It warms the soul with it’s sweetness.

But there are other gifts too.  The wax that the bee’s make is used in lotions, candles and lip balm.  The “propolis” that the bees make to stick their house together, is being used as an amazing supplement.

So if you are looking for a special gift for that special someone, consider a gift from the Bees !!!

-Gladys Hutson
North Carolina -Union County Extension Master Gardener
Union County Beekeeper’s Assoc.