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Archive for November, 2012

Old fields are a great place to find teasel to harvest.

Old abandoned fields and roadsides are a great place to find teasel to harvest.

Teasel flower in mid-July. Photo by Eric Jones

Teasel flower in mid-July.
Photo by Eric Jones

Teasel (Dipsacus spp.) is a common biennial “weed” that has very distinctive spiny flower heads. These unique flower heads dry right on the tall prickly stems and are extremely long-lasting in dried arrangements or for craft projects. Teasel is commonly found in fields and meadows and along the roadside. They are rather inconspicuous when they are in flower during the summer but in the fall, after the flowers have dried and turned to a beautiful golden brown, they really stand out. The seeds provide food for many birds over the winter.

Teasel was introduced to the United States from Europe in the 1700’s for its use in the woolen trade where the dried head was used to “tease” the nap of woolen cloth. It has now spread throughout much of the U.S. and is considered invasive in some areas.

The stiff prickly stems and dried flowers are great additions to natural fall arrangements but a really fun project for fall or holiday time is creating neat “things” with the dried flower heads.

Making Cool Critters from Dried Teasel Flowers

Dried teasel flowers in the field.

Dried teasel flowers in the field.

My first introduction to teasel critters was at the retirement village of Foulkeways in Gwynedd, PA where my in-laws were living. For many years, Eric’s mom was in charge of the Nature Board in the central building and whenever we visited, we would always go down to see what she had put up on this big bulletin board. It usually included interesting natural history stories and articles, a list and photographs of the birds that had been spotted on the Foulkeways campus, and a listing of the plants that were in bloom in the wildflower meadow which Foulkeways had created and planted under her direction. The board was often decorated with fresh cut wildflowers she collected from this beautiful meadow.

On one fall visit, she took us down to the Nature Room where there was a display of various “teasel critters” that had been made by one of the residents. There were wonderful squirrels, bunnies, woodchucks, reindeer … You name it, she had created it! They were adorable! One of the first things I thought of was that this would make a great project for kids. It turns out they are pretty easy to make – all you need is a little imagination and a few supplies!

The following is an excerpt from the Brandywine River Museum website that describes how to create a cute teasel reindeer. You can substitute beads for the eyes and nose if you don’t have the appropriate berries at hand and the legs can be made of twigs instead of soybean pods. Just use your imagination and the materials you have at hand.

Making a Teasel Reindeer
Teasel reindeer from Brandywine River Museum

Teasel reindeer from Brandywine River Museum

MATERIALS:

  • 1 small teasel
  • 1 large teasel
  • 2 dried daylily stems
  • 2 golden chain tree seeds
  • 1 small dried red seed

EQUIPMENT:

  • clippers
  • pointed scissors
  • glue gun
  • wire cutters
  • clear acrylic spray
  • 2 white pine cone petals (scales)
  • 4 soybeans
  • 1 pussy willow bud
  • 8″ lightweight, green floral wire

DIRECTIONS:
Be sure to supervise children when using scissors, shears, and hot glue. Wearing gloves also makes working with these spiny flowers more comfortable!

Trim off the stem and the spiny bracts at the base of the flower.

Trim off the stem and the spiny bracts at the base of the flower.

  1. Using clippers, cut the stem and bracts from two teasels. The larger teasel will be used for the body, the smaller for the head.
  2. With scissors, trim the spines from the smaller and larger teasels where the head and body will join. The trimming will enable a stronger bond when glued.
  3. Using a hot glue gun, glue the trimmed areas of the teasel together. Hold until glue is set.
  4. For antlers, cut dried daylily stems to 1-1/2″. Use hot glue on ends of stems and insert into small teasel.
  5. With the point of your scissors, make small holes in front of antlers for the eyes, glue in golden chain tree seeds using hot glue. Make a third hole for the nose and glue in red seed.
  6. Trim white pine cone scales for ears and hot glue one behind each antler, slightly to the outside of each daylily stem.
  7. Using hot glue, glue in the four soybeans for legs. See picture for placement.
  8. Using hot glue, glue in a pussy willow bud for the tail.
  9. With wire cutters, cut an 8″ piece of lightweight, green floral wire. Wrap 2″ of wire once around body behind the neck and twist tightly. This is the hanger.
  10. Spray entire critter with clear acrylic spray.

From: Brandywine River Museum

Now that you know the technique, you can make up your own critters!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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The fruit of Oriental Bittersweet

An oriental bittersweet vine has engulfed a black locust tree

An oriental bittersweet vine has engulfed a black locust tree

The other day as I drove down our road on my way to work, a bright patch of yellow and red caught my eye. I looked over and saw a colorful bittersweet vine draped over a dead black locust tree at the edge of the road. Since I had my camera with me, I stopped to take some pictures.

The berries of bittersweet are quite beautiful and sections of these berry laden vines are often used in natural fall arrangements.

But Beware!

There are two types of bittersweet vines that can be found over much of the eastern half of the United States; the good guys, American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) and the alien invaders, Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).

Bittersweet vines are a colorful addition to festive fall arrangements

Bittersweet vines are a colorful addition to festive fall arrangements

Unfortunately, the bittersweet that is growing on our property is oriental bittersweet and by all accounts, I should go out with Roundup and kill it off – the sooner the better. How sad because it is such a colorful vine and would be great for fall decorating. I guess I could still harvest some nice pieces of the vine before we annihilate it!

Oriental bittersweet is a deciduous vine that is native to Asia. It was introduced to the United States in the 1860’s as an ornamental plant. I can understand why it was considered desirable because the fall berries are very colorful and extremely plentiful on the vine.

On the other side of the road, oriental bittersweet climbs over a locust and into the cedars.

On the other side of the road, oriental bittersweet climbs over a locust
and into the nearby cedars.

According to the Plant Conservation Alliance, though, oriental bittersweet has escaped from cultivation and become an “ecological threat” to our native plants because the vigorous vines quickly grow up and over trees and shrubs. Eventually they kill the trees by either girdling them with their thick constricting vines, shading them out with their dense foliage, or uprooting them with their excessive weight (especially after a heavy snow). In addition, oriental bittersweet is successfully outcompeting our native species, American bittersweet, and replacing it in the wild. Oriental bittersweet has been listed as an invasive species in at least 21 states.

One of the reasons that it spreads so easily is that it reproduces readily from seed – and it produces a lot of seed. In addition to germinating from fruit that drops to the ground, the seeds are also dispersed by birds that eagerly gobble up the berries and deposit the seed over a wide area. The plants are pretty adaptable to different growing conditions so these “deposited” seeds often germinate where they drop.

Bright yellow capsules split open in the fall revealing the colorful red fruit

Bright yellow capsules split open in the fall revealing the colorful red fruit

Both American bittersweet and oriental bittersweet are dioecious which means they have separate male and female plants, like hollies. Berries are only produced on the female plants and only if a male plant is in the area to pollinate the female flowers.
A relatively new cultivar of American bittersweet, Celastrus scandens ‘Bailumn’ (Bittersweet Autumn Revolution), produces flowers with both male and female parts (perfect flowers) so only one plant is needed to have beautiful berries in the fall. This is a great variety to plant in the landscape – just don’t plant it where it can climb on your trees or shrubs because, like the oriental bittersweet, it can damage and even kill them if it grows over them.

Oriental bittersweet easily overtakes trees and other plants in its path

Oriental bittersweet easily overtakes trees and other plants in its path

So how do you get rid of this extremely invasive alien plant? First make sure it is not an American bittersweet – these we want to save. If it is indeed oriental bittersweet, you can try digging it out but sometimes this is difficult. If it isn’t practical to remove them manually, you can control them by applying a product that contains glyphosate (such as Roundup) or a product that contains triclopyr (such as Bayer Advanced Brush Killer Plus). Be sure to read and follow the label directions when applying either of these chemicals. More information about identifying and controlling oriental bittersweet can be found on the Plant Conservation Alliance website.

I suspect that the oriental bittersweet vine along our road had something to do with the demise of the black locust tree it was growing on but I’m not particularly sad because I’m not especially fond of black locust. However, I guess in the name of ecological preservation, we should go out this weekend and destroy this unwelcome alien.

But the fruit is so pretty, I wish there was some other way …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Cover crops in November

It’s been really cold the last few evenings – down into the mid 20’s. This got me thinking about the fate of the “edible” cover crops that Mark planted this fall. I blogged about them a few weeks ago and said I would report back once we’d had a few hard freezes.

Well now we have and here’s my report!

The lettuce, believe it or not, is still in beautiful shape as you can see in the photo above! I was really surprised when I went over to the garden to check it out. I thought for sure that I would find the lettuce completely melted out because the temperature Sunday night was 25oF and Monday night it went down to 23oF. I found no sign of wilting at all. I guess winter lettuce means “winter” lettuce.

This daikon radish was over 2" in diameter!

This daikon radish was over 2″ in diameter!

The daikon radishes, turnips, and rutabagas are still growing strongly but this isn’t surprising. These are truly hardy cool season crops. It’s the lettuce I was curious about.

The kohlrabi is beginning to swell and some of the radishes are HUGE! Mark has been harvesting lettuce from the plot fairly regularly since early October and also some of the daikon radishes. When you look at the garden, it’s pretty hard to tell where he has harvested the lettuce because he doesn’t pull it up, he just cuts off the leaves about an inch above the ground. When he harvests the radishes though, it tends to leave a bare spot in the plot because the tops of these are pretty big and tend to shade out the lettuce that is growing right around the plant. Some of the radishes he’s been harvesting have been up to 18″ long. No wonder they make such a great cover crop for the vegetable garden; the roots really break up the soil deep down. Maybe Mark should leave them to do their job but I guess it doesn’t hurt to pull a few for dinner every once in a while – there are still plenty left!

Mark covered part of the plot with cover cloth to protect it from the freeze.

Mark covered part of the plot with cover cloth to protect it from the freeze.

Last Sunday, Mark must have been a little concerned about the hardiness of the lettuce because, knowing that the nighttime temperatures were going to plummet, he covered part of the plot with some cover cloth as an experiment. He used crates to keep the cloth from laying directly on the plants. It turns out this wasn’t necessary. I did peek under the cloth after I took these pictures and it seems that the cover is doing more harm than good because the plants are no longer receiving the light they need and have begun to wilt and lose some of their color.

Hoof prints show where deer have been wandering around the plot

Hoof prints show where deer have been wandering around the plot

Something else I noticed as I walked around the garden is that a few other “guests” have also been helping themselves to some of the crops. All around the perimeter of the plot, there were little cloven hoof prints; that’s right – deer have been visiting the garden! Generally, we have very few problems with deer at the nursery – even in the hosta gardens. They don’t even seem to munch on the daylily buds in the display gardens that are located a little farther from the house. I’ve always been surprised about that because we’ve often seen deer in the fields around the farm.

I could tell that the deer had been nosing around in the lettuce at the edges of the plot but they didn’t seem to be walking through it. I didn’t really see a lot of evidence that they had even eaten very much. Perhaps they don’t like the taste of lettuce.

Insect damage on kohlrabi leaves

Insect damage on kohlrabi leaves

Some of the turnip greens and kohlrabi foliage on the other hand have been eaten by caterpillars and grasshoppers. I noticed this back in mid-October and it looks like they continued to chew on the leaves for a while after that. Now that we’ve had some hard freezes, I’m guessing they’re not a problem any longer.

So there you go! It looks like Mark’s edible cover crop experiment is a success – at least for now. I’ll continue to keep an eye on it. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my Thanksgiving rutabagas!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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