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Friday, December 17, 2010

School Gardens

This year I’ve enjoyed opportunities for visiting school garden projects in other states. I’ve been impressed at the creativity and insight some of the schools have demonstrated. One in particular stands out of those I’ve toured recently.

Stonewall Jackson Elementary in Dallas has a 20,000 sq. ft. science lab, which includes vegetable and herb gardens, a large (and impressive) compost area, greenhouse, small chicken house, nature area and 35 class rows for food and fiber crops. All students plant vegetables, harvest, study insect populations, prepare the soil and compost and learn how to make landscape plans. The school takes a hands-on approach to teaching their students about science, as well as math, art and writing through the garden project. Imagine, in the middle of Dallas, students are learning where their food comes from and how it’s grown. (What these students grow, also ends up in the cafeteria, where the students can take pride in knowing they have a vested interest in the flavor and quality of their daily lunches).

This is just a portion of the compost area. The "crowd" is a busload of Garden Writers of America members.

Contrast that with schools that teach only reading, math and sports. My own grandson, when he was here for a visit at age 7, helped “pick” eggs from the hen house. But the look on his face when his mother broke one of the eggs into a skillet, showed he had no idea that chickens produced that flattened, fried thing he had for breakfast every day.

I visited a school in Cincinnati where students have plots of ground at the Cincinnati Botanic Garden. They work in teams of 8 students per 10 x 15 ft. plot. Each team is responsible for amending and tilling the soil, making a budget, planning and planting, tending and harvesting. A chef from a local restaurant set up a project for the garden that teaches the students about turning their produce into salsa, made in the commercial kitchen on the grounds of the Botanic Garden. The salsa is then offered for sale through the Garden’s gift shop. Those students learn not only how to grow and prepare the produce, but also how to calculate production costs, advertising, food safety, how to run a business as well as how to work responsibly in a team.

Students at Stonewall learn about planting seed and caring for them before transplant.

I see this as an encouraging trend in school curricula. As more and more schools look at connecting their students with real food (I don’t consider ‘tater nuggets and a hunk of breaded, frozen then deep-fried nameless meat patty to be “real” food for children’s brains) I believe children will have healthier meals and a deep respect for the food they eat. Call me old fashioned, but I believe children learn valuable life lessons about respect, food and life in general by working with plants and soil.

You can just barely see it, but the chicken house and laying nests are just beyond the tree in the foreground.
It’s easy to sign up to follow Ozarks Gardening blog, simply click the “Follow” button on the blog and you’ll be notified every time a column is posted there (and no, you will not receive ads or emails, either. It's a free service and you won't miss any columns that way). Happy gardening!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wasted Pumpkins, Wasted Food

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Wasted Food for the Holidays

I’ve been wondering lately if ours is really the only country in the world that has so much food we can afford to throw it away. It came to mind right after Halloween when I saw large numbers of pumpkins thrown in ditches along the roadsides. And more pumpkins stacked beside garbage bins in front of houses, waiting to be carted away to the landfills.

For Thanksgiving I’d planned to stuff and bake a pumpkin. My recipe calls for a 3 pound pumpkin, top cut off like a jack-o-lantern and the innards removed. Into that go 3 cups of bread cubes, 4 ounces of cheddar cheese cubes, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, 4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled, a diced green onion, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (I like orange thyme), 1/3 cup heavy cream and a tiny pinch of nutmeg. Mix all that together in the pumpkin, put the lid on and bake it for about 90 minutes at 325 degrees F. When the pumpkin is tender, remove it from the oven and let it set for about 15 minutes to cool. Just before serving, mix some of the pumpkin with the stuffing. It’s great.

But guess what? There were no pumpkins to be had at any of the stores. When I inquired at the produce departments of some stores I was told they had trashed their left over pumpkins after Halloween. One of them said, “People don’t think of pumpkins as food, just decoration so we throw them in the dumpster to make room for other things.”

I can’t imagine not recognizing pumpkins and squashes as food. Nor can I imagine throwing away crates of pumpkins to be sent to the landfill. Hogs eat pumpkins. They can be put in the compost where they become more soil. Even people eat pumpkins!

We’re fortunate we have such bounty that we can be wasteful. I was brought up to believe it’s wrong, even immoral, to waste food. Evidently I’m in the minority. It just seems like there should be a better solution. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

This week in the garden we’ve planted radishes, lettuce and carrots in the cold frame. To see more of what’s happening in the garden each week visit my garden blog: Present and past Ozarks Gardening columns in this newspaper can be found at: Happy gardening!

Drying Chilies

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Drying Chilies

“Last night, there came a frost, which has done great damage to my garden.... It is sad that Nature will play such tricks on us poor mortals, inviting us with sunny smiles to confide in her, and then, when we are entirely within her power, striking us to the heart,”  a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne in The American Notebooks.

I feel like that sometimes, too. I dread the night when the garden must die. In mere hours it goes from lush and green, to a deadly shade of brown. The last of the string beans hang like socks hung out to dry. The hot chilies turn into tiny deflated balloons, hanging where they grew.

I gathered about a half bushel of hot peppers before the frost came. I grew 18 varieties of chilies in all, plus 5 plants of the ghost (Bhut Jolokia) pepper. Most had begun producing peppers again after the drought passed, but it was still a smaller pepper harvest than I would have liked.

Once the peppers were picked from the plants, I brought them indoors. With scissors, I cut the stem end off of each pepper. With the larger, more fleshy ones, I also split those in two. I learned years ago that the drying time for chilies can be cut in half if the peppers are split open for air flow.

All the peppers went together. The ‘Yummy Orange’ (a sweet pepper), some Jalapenos, Big Jim, Trinidad Scorpions, Trinidad Spice and some of the Bhut Jolokias, all went in together. Once the stem ends were off and slits cut, the peppers went into the food dehydrator. It takes 3 days on fairly high heat to dry them, a bit longer for fleshy ones.

Once the peppers are dried to total crispiness, I put them in gallon zip plastic bags and put a new batch in the food dehydrator. Over and over I repeat the process until all of my chilies are dried. Then I put on protective glasses and a dust mask and process them in small batches in the food processor. I’ll have several quarts of fine pepper flakes (seed and all) for my cooking this winter, and some to give away to my pepperhead friends.

To see photos of the peppers I grew and the food dehydrator process, check my garden blog: You can also see photos at the blog for this newspaper: Happy gardening!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Compost the Leaves of Summer

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright Jim Long, Oct 31, 2010

The Leaves of Summer

I’m sure leaf raking is great exercise and I’m sure I could benefit from more of it. The fact is, I really don’t like raking leaves and so I look for ways to not have to do it. I use a leaf blower when the leaves are newly fallen and still dry. If a stiff wind is blowing, all the better, hustling the leaves off down the hill. But more likely that would-be welcome wind blows the leaves right back again.

We have a lot of trees in the lawn. Several oaks, a couple of hickories, a silver maple, 2 native hard maples, several dogwoods, redbuds and assorted pine and cedar trees. When fall comes, there are enough leaves to fill a large dump truck, two or three times.

I used to rake the leaves into piles, haul some away on tarps and burn the rest in the driveway. But that meant a lot of raking, piling, tugging and emptying, not to mention piles of ashes and burnt gravel from the fires. Now I use the leaf blower to get the piles of leaves away from the buildings and into windrows. Then I use the riding lawn mower to chop them over and over into mulch. I start when the leaves begin to fall and repeat the operation several times over a few weeks until I’ve chopped up all the leaves from the now-bare trees.

But the next part of my little operation is the best. I rake the chopped up mulch into plastic garden carriers and take them to the compost pile. Once the leaves have been chopped into smaller pieces, even the big, leathery oak leaves will compost. I mix the chopped up leaves into the compost pile, along with some grass clippings and a bit of chicken manure from the barn. I turn over some of the older compost on the far end of the compost pit, then I leave it for winter. By next spring I’ll have compost that I can add to my garden soil. And I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something beyond just getting rid of the leaves.

This summer while in Dallas for a writer’s conference, our conference group visited a variety of substantial home gardens. One of those, a multimillion dollar house, had a big compost pile in their back yard, not unlike mine. All of their grass clippings, leaves, vegetable peelings and coffee grounds, went into their compost. I figure if a fancy place like that home in Dallas can do such a good job of composting, then my method of getting rid of leaves and making compost isn’t too far off the mark.

Want to know why leaves change colors? Go here.
To find my books on herbs, gardening and history subjects, visit my website: Happy gardening!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Controlling Japanese Beetles

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2010 Jim Long

Controlling Both Japanese Beetles and Armadillos!

This summer was my third year of dealing with Japanese beetles. Before that, I had no idea what one even looked like. The first year I had them I bought a Japanese beetle trap and hung it in the garden, and within days, had hordes of the beetles. (Recent research has shown that the traps actually attract more beetles to your yard then you would have normally had; so no more traps for me).

Japanese beetles begin as grub worms. You remember those pesky grubs you found when you were turning over the garden soil last spring? (Several other beetles begin as grubs, too). I feed the grubs to my chickens when I find them in the soil, but I miss a few thousand.

One of the best controls for Japanese beetles is something called Milky Spore Bacteria. It’s a powder that includes a natural bacteria that gets into the bodies of the grubs and gives them disease. They die and their decomposing grub bodies spreads the disease in the soil to more grubs. This bacteria is not harmful to humans, pets, birds or even other kinds of worms, like earthworms - which are beneficial. It only affects the grub worm stage of Japanese beetles.

Milky Spore Bacteria must be applied three times, once in the fall, the following spring, then again the next fall. It’s applied with a simple garden fertilizer spreader and you’ll find the rate of application on the Milky Spore bag; it usually comes in 10 and 20 lb bags.

There is, of course, another method of control, which is to apply a chemical grub killer to your lawn. It does kill the grubs, but you don’t want your pets or children in the grass for several days after the poison is applied. That kind of poison also kills everything else in your soil, including earthworms and over wintering beneficial insects. It often kills birds that eat the poisoned worms, often kills chipmunks, too. And if your cat or dog eats the dead or dying chipmunk, it will probably kill your pet, as well. (You don’t want to kill earthworms, or “fishing worms” as I grew up calling them. They are what keep your soil aerated, help increase the nutrients in the soil and keep the grass roots from becoming compacted).

The safest control is to use Milky Spore Bacteria, If your neighbor’s yard butts up to your lawn, getting them to apply the Bacteria, too, helps even more. Once the three applications of Milky Spore Bacteria has been applied, it remains in the soil for years, continuing to safely control Japanese beetles. Be sure to apply the Bacteria to your garden beds, in addition to the lawn, the sneaky grubs are everywhere.

According to Purdue University, things that have been proven to absolutely not work include the traps, interplanting with supposedly beetle-resistant plants, nor  grinding up the insect bodies and making a spray.

Milky Spore Bacteria is available at many hardware and garden stores (including Nixa Hardware in Nixa, MO). You can easily order it from companies that deliver it to your door. In checking the web, I found varying prices and sizes: Snow Pond Farm Supply Co. Phone 781-878-5581  Biocontrol (800) 441-2847 and Dirt Works, 877-213-3828. Order yours now and get a jump on next year’s Japanese beetle problem. Oh, and the other benefit of controlling the Japanese beetle grubs? Armadillos, which dig in your yard looking for the grubs, will go over to your neighbors yard and dig there instead!

To see what’s happening in my garden this week: To read past Ozarks Gardening columns from this newspaper, visit: and to see links to additional on-line information. Happy gardening!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bringing Herbs Indoors for Winter

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2010 Jim Long

Bringing Herbs Indoors for Winter

Every fall I receive questions from gardeners about bringing their herbs indoors for the winter. I’ve found that most people (myself included) aren’t willing to do all of the things necessary to get their herbs to thrive indoors, and ultimately before spring, will be disappointed. Here are the basics for growing herbs indoors in winter.

1-Start with smaller plants, which transplant easier than larger ones, and give the plant a slightly larger pot than you think it needs. For example, a well-established basil plant, 24 inches tall in the garden, will be fairly difficult to dig and transplant. But if it’s already growing in a pot, you can shear it back by about a third of the size before bringing it indoors. Also, be sure to spray it well, under the leaves, on the stems and around the rim of the pot with one of the food-safe insecticides listed below before bringing the plant indoors to avoid transporting insect pests with the plant.

2-Most culinary herbs require full sun to survive. "Full sun" means at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Less light and the plants will be spindly and weak and not grow. A sunny window facing south, can help but the danger there is the window glass may act like a magnifying glass if the plant is too close and actually scorch the leaves. And most windows in winter only provide about 3-5 hours of actual sunlight each day, less than is necessary for an herb like basil to grow well. The most successful way to grow herbs indoors is to use either a greenhouse room that gives all day sunlight, or a grow-light with a timer set to be on 8 hours each day.

3-Once the plants are moved indoors, plan to spray the plants every two weeks with a safe insecticide, such as Safer's Soap solution, or ultra-fine oil spray to prevent mealy bugs, red spider, scale insects and aphids. Keeping current with the spraying will help avoid insect problems that once started are difficult to control and can destroy the plants. (To make your own oil spray: 1 cup vegetable oil mixed with 1 tablespoon dishwashing liquid. To use:
mix 1 tablespoon of mixture with 2 cups of water. Fill a spray bottle and shake wel, then spray).

Plants that work well indoors under a grow light or in a greenhouse room include chives, garlic chives, parsley, marjoram and oregano. Basil is more difficult indoors but can survive if provided with enough light.

Rosemary, on the other hand, should be kept in an unheated, well lighted room, such as a garage or enclosed back porch. Water it sparingly (about every two weeks) Too much water, or too warm a room, will kill rosemary. Sage, thyme, oregano, chives (and usually rosemary) are all hardy outdoors and can usually be harvested for much of the winter from the garden.

Once you have your herb plants indoors, don’t fertilize them. Plants go into a period of semi-dormancy, meaning they do little growing indoors in winter. Fertilizing them can actually cause them to die. Wait until March, when the days are beginning to get longer, then begin lightly fertilizing.

My book, Growing & Using the Ten Most Popular Herbs, is an excellent resource for this very thing. It's available from my website: and lists the requirements for growing all of the top 10 most useful culinary herbs. Happy gardening!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Invasion of Spotted Cucumber Beetles

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

An Invasion of Cucumber  Beetles

Hordes of the twelve-spotted cucumber beetles arrived in my garden last week. As if the eight weeks of no rain in our area wasn’t bad enough, here come the bugs!

The first wave of cucumber beetles hatch out of the soil in early spring, just when most of us are planting curcurbits (the plant family which includes cucumbers, melons, squashes and pumpkins). As the beetles emerge from the soil they eat the seedling curcurbits, both the leaves and the young stems. Then things settle down for awhile, with another wave of the pests in late summer.

Cucumber beetles are present throughout the United States and cause serious damage to most curcurbit crops. Over wintering adult insects cause feeding damage on young plants, larvae in the soil feed on plant roots and second-generation adults cause feeding damage on plant leaves, blossoms and fruits.

The adult insects transmit bacterial wilt and squash mosaic virus. Organic management measures include delayed planting in spring, trap crops, floating row covers, parasitic organisms and botanical pesticides.

However, there is no one single solution for these pests. Some people spray with conventional insecticides, but that has little effect simply because of the large numbers of the insects. The additional problem with the spraying broad-spectrum insecticides is the chemicals kill the beneficial insects along with the beetles, and only the cucumber beetles that come in contact with the insecticide are effected. In my garden, the numbers of spotted cucumber beetles are so vast, there is no way of spraying, even if I was willing to kill everything alive in the garden.

Control measures consist of preventing the larvae in the spring from hatching and destroying plants by the use of a combination of parasitic nematodes and biopesticides. Parasitic nematodes produce ineffective spores that attach to the larval host, multiply inside the host and killing the larvae. Parasitic nematodes find and penetrate soil-dwelling larvae of cucumber beetles. (Mycotrol-O is a commercially available mycoinsecticide formulation containing spores of the fungus).

The next step in controlling spotted and striped cucumber beetle is the use of trap plants around the edge of the garden, if you have the space. There are several curcurbits the beetles like most, and the idea is to plant these crops a week or two earlier than your other curcurbits, hoping the beetles go after the tender, tasty ones first, giving you a couple of additional weeks longer to harvest your crop.

My late planted cucumbers were wiped out in just two days. The cucumber beetle population has exploded and just walking through my garden means dozens of beetles lighting on my arms and face. They’ve devastated the tomatoes, killed the leaves of the okra and defoliated several basil plants. They’re eating into the not quite ripe peaches on the peach trees, ruining those, just as they are eating into the remaining tomatoes. They're eating the blossoms of my loofah sponge vines and are defoliating my sweet potato vines.

Predators and parasites that prey on cucumber beetles include hunting spiders, web-weaving spiders, soldier beetles, carabid ground beetles, tachinid flies, braconid wasps, bats and entomopathogenic fungi and nematodes. Bats eat large numbers of cucumber beetles and several web sites suggest putting up bat houses, too.

To see photos of both the twelve-spotted and the striped cucumber beetle, as well as links for more information, including sources of the controls I’ve mentioned, go to the Ozarks Gardening blog: Meanwhile, I hope your garden is doing better than mine this week. Questions and comments can be posted on the comments page of the blog.  (You can also sign up to follow Ozarks Garden blog, to be notified when a new column is posted and it's possible to search the columns by subject). Happy gardening!

For more information about controlling cucumber beetles: National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

Companies that sell beneficial insects, parasitic insects and biopesticides, scroll to the bottom of this page:

Visit my website to see my books and Nail Fungus Soak:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Finding Information for Your Garden

Ozarks Gardening, August 17, 2010
Jim Long

I receive questions by email each week from readers, and I’m always happy to try and answer. The questions fall into two categories: (1) wanting specific information about a plant, or (2) looking for information about finding a seed, plant or supplement.

When I make a reference to a specific plant, seed or organic product, I always try to list the source where readers can find that item. Occasionally I leave out a source, and when that happens and you want the information there are two easy ways to get access to that information.

The first method should always be to do a simple Google search. For those who use computers for email, but may not use it for anything else, here’s the method. Look at the screen you use for email. The screen you see is a “browser.” No matter whether you use AOL, Firefox, Safari or some other browser, everyone uses some form of a browser to access the internet. The browser is the page you see on your computer screen when you are connected to the internet.

Look at the upper right corner of your browser’s page. There will be a blank box that is labeled either Yahoo or Google. Simply type in the word, plant or seed you are looking for and hit the return button on your keyboard (or click on the find symbol next to the box). That will allow Google to search the entire internet for the reference you are looking for. So if you are looking for Red Seeded Chinese Long Bean, type that in and it will bring up references (including links to my blog postings, other people’s writings, and the sources where you can buy the seed). It’s that simple. Don’t know how to spell the name? Get as close as you can in the Google search, Google will bring up the corrected word. And, no, doing a Google search does not open you up to Spam. No one can get information from you when you are simply doing searches for information.

The other method is to type in my website address: and when you arrive on my home page, look for the button (on the pull-down menu) titled, “Looking for Plants?” That page will take you to my list of recommendations of plant and seed sources, with links directly to those so you can browse through their on-line catalogs.

So many times the internet is the last place people go to find information, and yet it probably should be the first place they think of. Want information about controlling potato beetles, or whether control is even necessary? In less than 2 seconds you can have that information right in front of you. Need to know where to find Native American bean information? As fast as you can type it in the Google box, you will have the information. Want to know what bugs are good bugs to have in the garden, or how to control a new undesirable bug? You can find the information on Google. Insects bothering your indoor ferns or houseplants? The answer is a simple click away by doing a Google search.

If you miss one of my columns, or want to reread something I’ve written about previously, you will likely find it on my Ozarks Gardening blog. Type in this address: You can go there and read the postings. I would be grateful if you would click the “Follow” button and follow the instructions. That will let me know that people are actually reading my OzarksGardening blog. You will get a notification by email every time I post a new column there, as well, so you won’t miss any. You can leave comments and ask questions, too.

My website:; see what’s happening in my garden each week on my garden blog:, and now the new Ozarks Gardening blog which archives my columns in this newspaper: Happy gardening!