• Jul 7

Growing and Using Sunflowers By Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

In my opinion, the happy-face of the plant world is a big, beautiful, yellow sunflower.   They can be grown as a cash crop for their edible seed and oil or for the sunshine they add to a floral arrangement.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) grow rather rapidly producing large, rough leaves and seed laden heads.   The yellow petals that you see around the outside of the head are ray petals, attracting pollinators to the disk and the face of the head actually contains hundreds of disk flowers, each of which will form a seed.  Sunflower heads turn with or track the sun during the early stages of their development .  This aids in light exposure and photosynthesis.  After pollination the disk will remain east-facing and eventually turn downward to protect the seeds from solar radiation.

Seeds may be planted about 1-2 inches deep after the soil has reached a temperature of 50-60 degrees and all danger of frost has passed, through mid-July.  Sunflowers prefer well-drained, sandy loam soil and 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight.  Depending on the variety, sunflowers mature and develop seeds in 80 to 120 days.  Sow a new row every few weeks to provide continuous blooms until the first frost.

While the shorter varieties will not require staking, it is helpful to provide support for those that grow more than 3 feet tall or are multi-branched.  Plants that are shallow rooted and weighed down with heavy flower heads are vulnerable to summer storms with wind and rain.

I have not had much of a problem with diseases or insects.  Grasshoppers and caterpillars like to feed on the leaves but not so much that it has been detrimental to the plant or yield.  As with everything else in the garden, good crop rotation will prevent problems with sunflowers.

If you are not going to use the seeds, it is fun to watch wildlife enjoy the bounty.  But if you do want to save them, protect the seed from birds by covering the head with burlap or netting.  Sunflower seeds are considered mature when the back of the seed head is yellow.  Remove the entire head and place it in a bag or wrap it in cheesecloth and hang it in a cool, dry, dark area to finish drying.  After about 2 weeks the seed should be ready for eating.   The birds like them raw but I like them roasted with a little salt.  Arrange the dried seeds in a shallow pan and roast them at 300 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

There are so many different varieties and colors of sunflowers to choose from.  Start planting today and bring a little sunshine to your life!

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • Jul 1

by Rene Hostetler

There’s no time like summertime!  In the summertime you have so many more options for staying active, interacting with nature, and entertaining.  It’s when the relatives come to visit and the family reunions all happen.  The kids are home from school.  You take a vacation and hopefully get some much deserved R & R.  It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

But what do you do when you have a house full of people and they need something to do?  And what do you do when the kids start repeating every mother’s nightmare of a phrase…I’m bored! What do you do when you find yourself overtired from too much activity and too many menus to plan and prepare and too much summer?!

Is there such a thing?

For me the solution is always getting back to nature.   I am always refreshed after a walk in the woods, a visit to a garden, a float on a lake, or just sitting on a park bench breathing the fresh air.  One of the amazing things about Indiana is the number of lakes it has.  LaGrange County alone has 72 lakes to enjoy!  Not to mention the Pigeon River where the scenery inspires memories and you find yourself thinking, “Why don’t I do this more often?”   If water isn’t your thing consider a picnic at one of the six county parks where there are playgrounds, hiking trails, picnic tables, and plenty of grassy areas to toss the Frisbee.

Summertime is when you forget the nasty winter we had and you celebrate the joy of getting off the couch and getting outside!  I remember when I was a kid and my neighborhood friend, Margaret would knock on our screen door and ask if I could come outside to play.

Can you come out to play?

Ride bikes! Fish!  Eat food outside (it’s called a picnic)!  Take a hike!  Visit a garden!  Float a boat!  All these things can be done just down the street in LaGrange County!

Or….if that therapy doesn’t work….there’s another really effective therapy…it’s called shopping! And LaGrange County has this other really cool place that’s outside where you can shop.  It’s called Shipshewana!  Yeah…I can get into that too!

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  • Jun 19

Monarchs and Milkweed by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

Lite and airy butterflies flitting about are a nice addition to any garden area.  To attract butterflies to your garden, it’s important to understand what it is that they most want out of life…food!  Well and a place to sun themselves out of the wind and a source of water.

In recent times the Monarch butterfly population has declined.  Mowing their habitats and the use of pesticides has been blamed as the culprits.  While butterfly nectar plants are usually in good supply, it’s the needs of the Monarch larva that some folks may be unaware of.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to complete their life cycle.  Female butterflies lay eggs on plants within the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae).  In the larval or caterpillar stage, a Monarch feeds on the milkweed leaves.  When it is ready to pupate, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis (attached to the milkweed) in which it grows into a butterfly.

Milkweeds contain toxic steroids, known as cardenolides, which have a bitter taste.   Monarchs store the cardenolides in their bodies when they eat the milkweed as a caterpillar.  When the Monarch emerges as an adult, it still has the steroid in its body.  This is a form of defense for them against predators that try to eat them.  They soon learn that the Monarchs do not make a tasty meal.

The common milkweed will grow to about 3 feet, produces a globe-like flower cluster and will bloom in the summer.  This type typically grows in zones 3-9.  It likes full sun and well-drained soil.

So what can you do to help the Monarch population?  Plant milkweed, do not use or be extremely careful with the use of pesticides and plant lots of nectar plants for the adults with a continuous supply from spring through fall.

Among a few of the milkweeds that can be used are…common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) often grows along roadsides and in fields, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) have showy, bright orange flowers and are native to Indiana and swamp or marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) found near lakes, ponds and marshes, also native to Indiana.  When the stem or leaves are damaged, a white, milk-like substance will ooze out which gives the plant its name. The monarchwatch.org website has numerous listings with pictures of milkweed.

Some examples of nectar rich plants are…garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) native to Indiana, blanket flower (Gaillardia),  goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), blazing star (Liatris spicata), tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata), aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), native to Indiana and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) native to Indiana.

The nice thing about planting native plants is that they are adapted to our growing conditions and therefore will grow well without a lot of pampering as long as you place them where their light and moisture requirements are met.

Do your part to help the Monarch and plant some milkweed in your garden.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • Jun 6

DIY Rain Barrel by Karen Weiland,  Purdue Master Gardener

Using rain barrels to collect and conserve water creates an alternative supply that will not tax the groundwater supply or hike up your water bill.  For each inch of rain that falls on 500 square feet of roof, you can collect 300 gallons of water.  It has become a rather popular do-it-yourself project for gardeners.  I have 4 of them and can tell you they are very easy to make.  Here’s how I made mine.

Gathering the materials-it is important to use a food grade barrel.  Do not use one that had chemicals stored in it as residue could remain and kill plants.  Some people have also used large, plastic, lidded trash cans.  You can use whatever size fits your needs.  I was able to order 55 gallon, clean barrels, from a large farm store.  You will also need a spigot, a bung or bulkhead adapter, a gooseneck elbow, riser blocks, landscape fabric or screen, spray paint and silicone caulk.  Some folks use a diverter system for excess water.  I simply drilled a hole in the side, near the top of the barrel for the water to escape.  I also bought a rain chain that hooks into the gutter drop hole and hangs into the rain barrel.  This is for decorative purposes only and not something you have to have to make the whole thing work.

The first thing I did was to paint my barrel using a spray paint made for plastic. Using a drill bit that is a little smaller than or the same size as your bulkhead adapter, drill a hole near the bottom of the barrel.  I made mine about 4 inches from the bottom.  Don’t make your hole too low.  You will need room to place your watering can underneath to fill.  Unscrew the washer from the bulkhead adapter.  Place a ring of silicone around the neck of the bulkhead adapter and, from the outside of the barrel, thread it into the hole of the barrel.  Screw the washer onto the bulkhead adapter from inside the barrel.  When dry, attach the spigot and gooseneck elbow.

Carefully cut a hole in the lid of your barrel.  This hole should be positioned so it sits under the downspout of your gutter.  Cut enough landscape fabric or screen to cover the top of the barrel and bring it down the sides enough to secure rope around the circumference of the top.  This will create a barrier that will keep mosquitoes, birds and pests from getting into your rain barrel.  Drill a hole or two near the top of the barrel for overflow.  It is possible to use a length of hose or PVC pipe to connect to another barrel so you don’t waste the overflow water.

Set your rain barrel on some sort of blocks to raise it up off the ground, positioning it directly under the gutter downspout.  I used some decorative landscape pavers. Now allyou have to do is wait for the rain.

Using this water for edible crops is questionable since it has the opportunity to contain petrochemical compounds from asphalt shingles or treated wood shingles.  If you are going to use this water for your veggies, avoid getting it on the leaves or fruit and water just the soil.  Give your rain barrel a good cleaning at the end of the season before putting it away for the winter.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.hort.purdue,edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

Karen Weiland, Purdue University Master Gardener, Purdue Extension, LaGrange County

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  • Jun 3

by Rene Hostetler

Ok, so I’ve spent the last week piecing together a quilt for my grandson, Owen.  He’s 9, and the last time I visited him in Colorado he declared that he had outgrown the quilt I made him when he was born and “would you please make me a new one.”  A big one.  Well, yeah, he’s up to my shoulders now!  I readily agreed and started the wonderful pursuit of just the right fabric.  This really is my favorite part because it requires an artistic eye and appreciation for pattern, color and the texture of the fabric.  And once you put it all together it is truly art.

Now, please understand, I’m not what I would call a legitimate quilter.  I don’t call myself a quilter.  True quilters are in a league of their own.  But I do make quilts… or really nice blankets.  The pieces of fabric are sewn together and the batting, top, and back are all tied together, and that is the process which qualifies it to be called a quilt.

This “quilt” for Owen is my 19th or 20th, and it’s kind of funny.  I just realized I’ve never made one for myself.  I think that’s because there is so much of myself in each one, it just has to be a gift.

I’ve been inspired by the beautiful quilts I’ve seen in the shops in Shipshewana and admire the ability, time, and talent it takes to create such artwork.  Shipshewana is kind of known for beautiful quilts.  And you may be surprised to know that not all of them are made by Amish ladies.

Speakers 2014 Shipshewana Quilt Festival

Because quilt making can be called a way of life for some, a very special event was created to recognize and celebrate quilts and those who live this way of life.  It’s the annual Shipshewana Quilt Festival which offers prizes, lectures, workshops and great fabric deals in some of the local shops.

People who are “real” quilters come from all over the country, and there are quilts to be seen from all over the world.  The 2014 Shipshewana Quilt Festival takes place from June 25 to June 28th, and you can learn more about it and see some great pictures at www.ShipshewanaQuiltFest.com.

No, I probably won’t ever win a prize for one of my quilts, but they get so worn out they have to be replaced when a boy reaches his Nana’s shoulders.  And the smile, hug and thank you is reward enough for me.  That, and seeing him all wrapped up in it.  Like me with my arms around him all night long!

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  • May 27

Gardening Tips    by Karen Weiland,  Purdue Master Gardener

I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my gardening life easier and less time consuming.  I have a few tips that I would like to pass on to you that you may find useful.

To keep my garden twine from getting all tangled, I like to place it in an old watering can with the free end coming out the spout.  You can also use a can with a plastic lid, such as a coffee can, cutting a hole in the lid for the free end of the string and you can store the scissors in the can with the string ball.

Mark inches and feet on tool handles with a sharpie to help measure depth and spacing for transplants.

Fill a pump soap dispenser with mineral oil to use on the metal parts of your tools after you have cleaned the dirt off of them before storing until next use.  Using a spray bottle also works well for this.

A mixture of equal parts of water, white vinegar and rubbing alcohol can be used to clean dirty tools and it takes the salt residue off plant pots.

Garden labels can be made from strips of old mini-blinds.  Just cut to the length you need and use a permanent marker as your writing tool.  You can also use a  wine cork pierced at one end with a length or two of sturdy coat hanger wire.

Saucers of cheap old beer works great at attracting and drowning slugs.  Check the traps every day or two and after a rain for a refill.

To get rid of Japanese beetles, fill a bucket with soapy water, hold it under the beetle laden branch and tap the branch.  The beetles will fall off into the soapy water and drown.  Gosh, isn’t that just awful….not!

Got aphids and mites?  Use a forceful stream of water on them.  Just make sure the stream isn’t so forceful that it tears the plant leaves.  You can also wrap a wide strip of tape, sticky side out, around your hand.  Pat the leaves, undersides too, of the infested plants.

Draw your fingernails across a bar of soap before working in the garden to prevent dirt from accumulating underneath them.  When you are finished in the garden use a small brush to wash away the soap.

Make your own hose guide by pounding a length of steel reinforcing bar into the ground.  Slip two clay pots over it, the first one upside-down, the second one right-side up.

I especially like this tip.  To dry herbs, place a layer of newspaper on the seat of your car.  Place a single layer of herbs on it, then roll up the car windows and close the doors.  The herbs will be dry in no time and your car will smell great!

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • May 20

by Rene Hostetler

I was thinking the other day about how there are just some places that bring the adventurer out in you.  Or maybe it’s that the place makes you feel so comfortable that you are willing to try new things.  Shipshewana is one of those places for me.

It was in Shipshewana that I went shopping in my pajamas for the first time.  I don’t usually appreciate people who shop in their pajamas, but I actually really enjoyed it.  Hey, you don’t have to get up as early to get dressed!  I’m all for sleeping a little longer…especially on a Saturday…in February…when it’s dark…and cold!

It was in Shipshewana that I went to my first auction.  Now that’s an experience and if you’ve never done it, you really should put it on your “bucket list.”  I almost don’t know how to explain it but be prepared for a lot of noise, moving people and dirt!  Yeah, it’s kinda dirty.  Well, you’ve got all that old stuff!

It was in Shipshewana that I had my first taste of kettle corn.  Seriously…I could get addicted!

It was in Shipshewana I had my first and only elephant ride.  Oh, wait a minute that was somewhere else, but they did have an elephant in their Mayfest parade one year!

It was in Shipshewana that I bought the dress I wore to my son’s wedding.  No, it wasn’t the first time I bought a dress, but it was the first time my son got married.  And only time!  Does that count?

I could go on and on, and I’m thinking I’m not done having “firsts” in Shipshewana.  It’s just a happening place and the town is always coming up with fun experiences to encourage people like us to “come on over and set a while.”

Ok, so here’s another first! On June 18 there’s a new event called “Walldogs.”  I’m sure you are as puzzled over that name as I am and it really doesn’t pertain to what happens.  Except the “wall” part.  On that Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday artists will literally be painting some of the walls in Shipshewana.  You can even participate if you’d like.  Kind of like a giant “paint by number” project which will result in beautiful murals depicting all things Shipshewana which visitors can enjoy for years and years.  Still curious?  Check out Shipshewana.com for more info and make some plans to join in.  That will be a true first for everyone involved.  Except, hopefully, the artists!

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  • May 15

Ticks by Karen Weiland, Purdue Master Gardener

Often found near wooded and highly vegetated areas, ticks seem to be very abundant at this time.  They are blood-sucking, external parasites that require an animal host to survive.  There are about 90 species in the US with the black-legged (deer) tick, American dog tick and lone star tick being the types that are most likely to be encountered by humans here in Indiana.  The lone star tick is most commonly found in southern Indiana but has been found throughout the state.

Adult ticks are very small with an oval, flat body and eight legs.  Ticks do not have wings and therefore have to encounter their host in passing.  Adult ticks most commonly climb upon vegetation such as bushes, trees and tall grasses to grasp onto their host.

Not only does a tick bite cause irritation and discomfort, it also is capable of transmitting serious disease to humans and animals.  After the tick has attached itself and begins to feed, it secretes saliva containing compounds that prevent clotting, increases blood flow and suppresses the hosts’ immune response.  They also regurgitate excess water that has been extracted from their blood meal into the feeding wound.  This is where the possibility of disease causing pathogens is introduced to the host.

There are some old folk remedies that say to apply a lit match or cigarette, nail polish or petroleum jelly to the tick to make it detach from the skin.  Do not attempt these things.  They can kill the tick before it disengages its mouth parts and can cause the tick to regurgitate into the wound and increase the chance of introducing pathogens to the host.  The most effective way of removing a tick is to grasp it behind the mouthparts, as close to the skin as possible, with forceps, pulling gently and steadily until the tick releases its grasp.  Wash the wound with warm soapy water and rubbing alcohol.  Flush the tick down the toilet or place it in a re-sealable plastic bag and throw it in the trash.

Peak tick season in Indiana is early April thru July.  To avoid a tick bite wear light colored clothing (easier to see ticks on you), a long sleeved shirt which should be tucked into pants and those pants should be tucked into socks.  Applying a repellant that contains DEET will also help.  After an outing, remove your clothing and thoroughly check it and your body for ticks.  They will not attach themselves right away, giving you a chance to nab them before they start their dirty work.

There are numerous websites that contain more detailed information.  I urge you to check them out.  Here are a few.
http://extension.entm.purdue.edu http://www.cdc.gov

http://www.in.gov/isdh http://cms.bsu.edu

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in De Kalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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  • May 12

by Rene Hostetler

My husband and I just took a couple of days away from work and home to relax, reconnect and play.  It was glorious!  But don’t we just always have to find a reason to feel a little guilty about not being productive every minute of every day?  Why is that?

Studies show it is essential for adults to find time to play.  It is a time to forget about stressful work situations and responsibilities.  It improves our overall health and well-being.  It adds joy to our lives which improves our productivity and ability to learn.
It even makes work more pleasurable!  That’s reason enough not to feel guilty, don’t you think?

What other reasons do you need to play?  Our time away certainly helped my husband and I to reconnect and improve our relationship.  It helped us to feel younger and more alive. George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  Playing boosts your vitality and can even help us resist illness and disease.

Plan some play in your day.  LaGrange County has several county parks open to the public to accommodate your picnic and Frisbee throwing adventures!  Find locations and what there is to do at lagrangecountyparks.org or “like” them on Facebook at .facebook.com/pages/LaGrange-County-Department-of-Parks-and-Recreation to get all the up-to-date information on activities and events.

So grab the kids, your friends, neighbors, spouse and anyone else who looks like they could benefit from some down time.  And, in my world, that would be just about everyone I know!

I remember when I was a kid and my friend from across the street would come to our house, knock on the screen door, and ask my mom, “Can Rene come out to play?”  The answer was always “yes!”

Come on out to play!

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  • May 8


By Karen Weiland, Master Gardener

Believe it or not, there’s treasure to be had in your yard trash and kitchen scraps.  Composting is a convenient and practical way to use waste such as leaves, grass clippings, thatch, plant trimmings, fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells and coffee grounds.  Finished compost will improve the quality of almost any soil, and for this reason it is often considered a soil conditioner.

The break down of organic matter in your compost pile is facilitated by numerous bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes.  These “chemical decomposers” change the chemistry of organic wastes.  The macroorganisms  or “larger decomposers”  are ants, nematodes, spiders, slugs, earthworms and flies to name just a few.  Because they grind, suck, bite and chew materials into smaller pieces they are considered the “physical decomposers” of a compost pile.

Your compost pile can be placed in some type of structure such as a woven wire bin, a concrete block bin or a bin made from wooden pallets.  It can also be left in an open pile. It’s best to place your composting site in a shady spot with protection from the wind so it will not get excessively hot and dry.  A good sized compost pile is about 4-5 feet in diameter and about 4-5 feet deep.

It is important to have a good balance of materials in your compost pile.  This is done by using layers: alternating carbon-rich materials such as leaves, straw and wood chips with nitrogen-rich materials such as fresh grass clippings and food waste.  The right carbon to nitrogen ratio affects the rate of decomposition and water and oxygen are important ingredients too.  A tip to remember is to use from one fourth to one half high-nitrogen materials in your compost pile. Too much nitrogen in a pile will likely give off an ammonia smell.  If you have too much carbon in a pile it will not produce the heat needed for decomposition. Nitrogen is needed by the microbes in order to break down and make use of the carbon that is found in organic matter.

Use a pitchfork or shovel to turn the pile once or twice a month to keep the materials supplied with oxygen and to bring the outer contents to the center for heating.  The center should reach a temperature of 130* to 140* when it is working properly.  Check the pile occasionally for watering needs.

Compost has so many uses.  Adding it to your garden increases the water-holding capacity, aeration and nutrient exchange sites in the soil. It can be added as an organic media in potting soil or for starting seeds of garden plants.

Recycling is very important to me as it is to many other people. This is one way of reducing the waste that goes to our landfills.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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