The Great Green Hunter

What looks like an alien, moves with the deliberation and grace of a martial arts master, and consumes vast quantities of the insects in your garden that you wish would graze elsewhere?  A praying mantis.  Just a few weeks ago you may have seen this interesting creature in your garden.  Hopefully, you left them alone to do their work.  Praying mantis got their name because of the way they sit with their front legs folded together, as if in prayer.  The name probably should have been preying mantis, because they excel at the hunt.

Mantids are carnivorous predators that feed on many insects in your garden such as beetles, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, aphids and flies.  They are one of the few insects that are fast enough to catch moths on the wing.  Unfortunately, they do not discriminate between pests and beneficial insects and will also eat lacewings and hover flies.  They do not, however, bite gardeners.  All in all, these curious looking insects are a valuable addition to the garden as a natural insect control.

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The Lion in Your Back Yard

It always amazes and frustrates me when I hear people go off about dandelion.  How has this attractive and useful plant become public enemy #1 at the garden center?  Okay, granted, those puffballs are an incredible seed dispersal system and they don’t always disperse where you might want them.  And I have to admit the root system on a dandelion is an engineering marvel.  But look at what else a dandelion has to offer.

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Prunella vulgaris: The little plant that can.

Self heal, or heal all (Prunella vulgaris), was blooming away along the trails of one of our favorite parks yesterday. Very simple lance shaped leaves and a slender stalk that are all but invisible until they flower.  Then what a show!  The plant spreads quickly.  So if you put some in a corner of your garden expect to watch it conquer new territory.  The good news is that it is easy to remove or relocate plants that appear where you rather they didn’t.  The plant prefers a shady, moist area to grow and you will often see it growing in disturbed edges of woodland, though I have also seen it spread happily through bark paths in my garden in full sun.

As the common name suggests, this plant has a long history of use to heal wounds and staunch bleeding.  It has been used as an alterative, antibacterial, antibiotic, antioxidant, antiviral, antiseptic, astringent, bitter, carminative, febrifuge, hemostatic, hypotensive, styptic, tonic and vulnerary.  The plant contains beta-carotene, vitamin B1, vitamin C, vitamin K, zinc, the flavonoids hyperoside and rutin, pentacyclic triterpenes, rosmarinic acid, essential oils and tannins.

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Fireweed the Survivor

Fireweed, or Epilobium angustifolium, is in full bloom in fields and along roadways right now and provides a beautiful splash of color against the mature greens of July.  The plant has an erect, un-branched stem with short stiff hairs on upper part.  The leaves are alternate, lance shaped, and 2-8 inches long with short petioles.  The flower inflorescence is an airy, delicate spike of deep pink to magenta blooms.  Fireweed is a common plant in the Northwest and can be found in any kind of soil, but is most often seen growing in areas that have been burned out, logged, or disturbed in some way.  It is one of the first pioneer plants to show up after a devastating event to the land, as was seen when stands of fireweed appeared on the barren Mount St. Helens.  Adele Dawson in her book “Health, Happiness, and the Pursuit of Herbs”, describes fireweed as “…a badge of nature’s rural renewal program”.

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Someone ask me recently if artichokes really do bloom.  They do.  Spectacularly, in my opinion.  Globe artichokes, Cynara scolymus, is a member of the Asteraceae family.  It is a perennial thistle that has been cultivated to its present appearance over centuries and is closely related to C. cardunculus, or the cardoon.  Both of which have both been grown and enjoyed as vegetables.  The artichoke is a rich source of dietary fiber (41% of the daily recommendation), and includes 45 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, and 126 mg of omega-6 fatty acids.  In addition, it also includes significant amounts of folate (107 mcg), vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, manganese and vitamin C.  Cynara is a source for lutein, a carotenoid, antioxidant, and flavonoids.  Cynarin and silymarin, compounds in artichoke, act as cholagogues and aid liver function.  Artichokes have also been identified as one of the highest sources of dietary antioxidants, and as such are valuable at scavenging all those free radicals in our bodies, potentially preventing or reversing disease.  All in all, a pretty impressive thistle…that blooms.
Copyright Colleen Gondolfi 2012
Coila, B. (2010). Nutritional Values for Artichokes.…
Hoffmann, D. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press: Rochester VT.

Yelm…the Chicago of Washington

Chicago is called the “windy city”.  Justifiably.  I’ve been there.  Definitely breezy.  I had no idea that little Yelm, WA, Pride of the Prairie, was just as blustery.  Perhaps the word “prairie” should have clued me in.  I don’t know.  I do know that we had our third cold frame disaster this past week.  This time I was standing right there watching as a big gust of wind blew up out of nowhere (okay…probably Chicago) and knocked another cold frame flat.  Seedlings everywhere, soil, mayhem.  It was a mess.  Managed to rescue most of the plants.  They are now in plant triage while they recover from their ordeal.

We have been thinking about just how we will install poly tunnels on the property.  The current thinking is steel girders and six foot concrete footings.

Happy Spring!

Happy spring!  The second batch of seed trays were planted and put under lights this past weekend.  I even managed to get the timer set correctly for a change today.  Well, I think I got it set correctly.  When all the grow lights come to glaring life at 2 AM I might have to reevaluate that statement.

I dealt with the timer after re-writing roughly half of all the plant labels in the seed trays.  This weekend I broke out my bright, shiny, and new, fine tipped Sharpie to clearly print out the botanical nomenclature on the seed tray labels.  Anyone who has used a standard Sharpie will understand why a fine tipped pen is so wonderful when you are writing something like Scutellaria baicalensis on 1.5” of plastic and expect to be able to read it two weeks later when you no longer remember what you planted in that tray.  What I neglected to notice was that these were Sharpie’s basic writing pens…not permanent markers.  Guess what happened as soon as I watered the trays?  Hence, the scramble to re-write the labels while I could still make out the names.

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