Friday, January 14, 2011

Plant of the Week

Butterfly milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa L.
other common names: pleurisy root, butterfly weed, yellow milkweed, orange swallowwort, orangeroot, whiteroot, Indian posy, windroot, Canada tuber, Canada flux, chigger flower
Asclepias: from the name of the Greek god of healing and medicine
Tuberosa: meaning “tuberous,” referring to the tuberous root
Milkweed family: Asclepiadaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg,
Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Interview with Carl H. Klaus: Part 2

Do you follow a strict routine for starting seeds? Tell us your secrets for successful germination and transplanting.
My seed-starting routine ordinarily begins in early to mid March, when I fill several plastic six-packs with a moistened germinating mix and then plant the seeds for my early spring garden of arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, and various lettuces. I carefully place 3 to 4 seeds in each slot, cover them lightly with moistened mix, pat down the mix to be sure that seed and soil are closely joined, then place the six-pack in a clear, plastic-covered container to retain the moisture, until the seeds begin to break ground. At that point, I remove the lids, put the tray of six-packs under grow-lights, and let the seedlings develop 2 pair of true leaves, at which point I transplant the individual seedlings into the separate slots of a plastic six-pack, using a moistened growing mix, and let them develop further under the grow lights. Then I gradually acclimate the seedlings to the cooler and windier climate of the outdoors by moving them to a cold-frame-like cellarway entrance and then to a table on my back terrace, allowing approximately 10 days to 2 weeks to harden off the plants. 

Beginning in late March, I use a similar routine to start the seeds for my summer garden of cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. But I put these seed trays on a radiator or heating pad to give the seeds a quicker and surer start. And I gradually transplant the tomatoes to larger containers to help them develop a large root mass, planting them deeper down each time to encourage roots to form along their stems, a unique property of tomatoes. 

Your garden is both a lesson and an inspiration. What caused you to become such an avid and thoughtful gardener?
My interest in gardening took seed during my childhood years, thanks in part to growing up just a few blocks from Cleveland’s west side market, where I was dazzled every weekend by the vegetables, fruits, and flowers on display in the truck gardeners’ open stands. During that same period, I also remember summer visits to the country garden of a wealthy uncle, who put a little salt shaker in my hand and told me to try a ripe tomato or two. The memory of those fruits bursting in my mouth and the warmth of the sun all around me made me yearn for a garden of my own. I planted my first vegetable garden some 55 years ago, when I was a graduate student at Cornell University. I didn’t know the first thing about gardening back then, but Cornell’s ag school had a sheaf of guides to tell me how. Then by trial and error and reading, I discovered more each year and more still from the wise old gardeners whom I discovered in the Goosetown area of Iowa City where I live. All of which is to say that gardening, like writing, is always a work in progress and thrives on careful revision.  

Carl H. Klaus, Weathering Winter: A Gardener’s Daybook

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Midwest Nature Quote of the Week

Birds are arguably Iowa’s most conspicuous and best-known animals. If invertebrates are excluded, birds dominate our state’s wildlife in sheer number and diversity, comprising about 60 percent of all vertebrates known from Iowa. About 150 birds now nest regularly in the state. In all, around 200 species have nested here between 1840 and 2000. Including migrants over 400 bird species have been observed in Iowa—nearly half of the roughly 900 birds known to North America.

Cornelia F. Mutel, The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa