Marilyn's Musings

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Monthly Archives: January 2011

February Gardening Calendar

February Gardening Calendar

February is a month that can vary widely from year to year in the Southern Great Lakes Region. Some years, February is an extension of January, merely a flip of the calendar page. Other years, February is a preview of spring, with rainy days and a few pop-up flowers. It is really a roll of the dice; one never really knows what February might bring, or the March that follows.

Just when winter starts to wear thin, Valentine’s Day comes to the rescue. Young and old alike participate in the exchange of Valentine cards, gifts, dinners, and nights out on the town. Whatever it might mean to an individual, this little holiday offers a mental break from the sameness of routine that winter brings.

Many of the same gardening chores of January follow into February. But, this is also the time of year when the tide starts to turn for the gardener. Some plants can be started for the upcoming spring season, and there are some other chores that can be tackled towards the end of the month. Let’s see what the short month of February brings:

1.  Continue to order early from mail order sources. Many choice plant items sell out quickly, and many early ordering bonuses end in February.

2.  Continue to bring in pre-chilled pots of spring flowering bulbs for early season floral displays.

3.  If the snow melts and the lawn in matted, gently rake up the lawn to help get air circulation down to the crowns of the grass plants.

4.  Continue to fill bird feeders and maintain an open-water source of drinking water for the birds.

5.  Inspect flowerbeds during the thaw cycles for signs of frost heave. Place the plants back into the ground, and when the ground refreezes, apply mulch.

6.  Remove any storm-damaged branches from trees and shrubs, pruning away cleanly.

7.  Towards the end of the month and into March, pruning can begin now on deciduous trees, fruit trees, and grapes.

8.  Reapply anti-desiccant to broadleaf evergreens and exposed rose canes one more time. Do this when the temperature is above 40 degrees.

9.  Continue to inspect young trees for rodent and rabbit damage. Make sure tree wraps and tree guards are holding up to winter weather. Inspect windbreaks as well.

10. Crack open coldframes on sunny, warm days to vent. Again, check for any signs of trouble such as too wet, too dry conditions, diseases, etc.

11. Continue to check tubers, corms, and other summer “bulbs” for disease and excessive drying out. Mist the holding medium and bulbs if they are becoming too dry.

12. Towards the end of the month, branches of many early flowering shrubs such as forsythia and pussy willow can be taken indoors for forcing.

13. Check houseplants for heat stress. Maintain adequate humidity and light levels. Water appropriately.

14. Continue to remove newly fallen snow from evergreen branches and other shrubs and trees that can suffer breakage from the weight of the snow.

15. Some seeds of early plants or those plants that require a long indoor growth period can be started. These include pansies, seed geraniums, and seed-started begonias. Get a book or magazine with a timetable to help determine when to start seeds. For example, if your average last frost date is April 20 and a plant requires twelve weeks before the last frost date to reach transplant size, count back those twelve weeks from April 20 to determine when to start seeds.


The latest chapter in the Ted Williams story: Vicki Lawrence’s video

A few weeks ago, we saw the incredible tale of a homeless man, Ted Williams, unfold.

For those out of the loop, Williams had a successful career in radio, most notably in doing voice overs. His career was derailed due to a troubled life which included drugs, alcohol, and several convictions. He was alienated from his family as a result. He was rediscovered on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, by a member of the local press who took interest in the Man With The Golden Voice.

His story was picked up nationally and snowballed from there. Jettisoned from the streets to the studios of NBC and others, he began a trek back to reuniting with family and restoring his career.

No one can dispute that much of what happened in his life was a result of his own poor choices and actions.  No one can say for sure at this point if his story will have a positive, happy ending or if he will fail because of his addictions and his past pattern of mistakes.

But one thing, he does deserve the chance to redeem himself, same as every single person alive on this planet. We all make poor choices. Maybe not to the extent as Mr. Williams, but we all have made mistakes or choices that have formed us and shaped the paths we are walking.

But that really isn’t the issue here. The issue is that after the initial good-feeling, warm fuzzies characteristics of this story had passed, various members of the press and of the entertainment industry have taken to criticizing and judging this man.

As far as the pundits go, I take what they say with a grain of salt. It’s their bread-and-butter to create controversy with their analysis of issues. If they weren’t provocative, they wouldn’t stay in business for very long and might also find themselves out on the street some day as well. Along with that, I am betting some hope Williams will fail since he checked into rehab. It will give them more fodder to chew on.

What really bothered me, though, was when Vicki Lawrence came out with her parody and video of Williams and the homeless in general. Her video, done behind the guise of her character, Mama Harper, rips into him and the homeless in general. It can be said it is a satire/commentary. But it can also be said that it was done without much forethought and was insensitive and in extremely poor taste. I also would like to see what Ms. Lawrence feels without standing behind the shield of her character. That is the crux of the issue here. We just don’t know how she herself feels. View it here and decide for  yourself:

Personally, I thought it was in poor taste. If it was done as a social commentary, I think it failed. Why?  Vicki Lawrence has never been one to speak out on what her position is on many issues. If we knew beforehand that she was a supporter of helping the homeless and downtrodden or her views about the press and commentators, I think most of us would be able to accept and understand that this was her commentary on how so many in the media and general public feel about this man, that he doesn’t deserve a second chance and he brought the whole Karma of his life down on his own head.

As I previously mentioned, I feel that there are many who are circling overhead, waiting for him to fail,  so they will have even more to swoop in and feast on. Without further explanation, this video seems to reflect that cynicism and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe they are right and it will, but let’s give this man this chance to redeem himself.

Most of all,  I don’t wish to sound cynical myself. But I find it rather ironic that Lawrence herself rose from the ranks of the everyday people to celebrity status and a successful career when she wrote to Carol Burnett that she could pass for her little sister. Intrigued by the letter and the enclosed photo, Burnett contacted Vicki and gave her a start in a successful career in TV comedy.  Although she wasn’t an addict who undermined a successful career, Lawrence also had her own fairy tale start as well. I can’t help thinking that she has forgotten her own lucky breaks.

In her defense, I hope she does come out and offers some explanation of her motives behind making this video. It would greatly clear the air for many, myself included.

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

This year, I’ve promised myself to cut back on meat and make more vegetable-based meals. Not that we are turning vegetarian, but I do think we need to put more emphasis on fruits, grains and vegetables and less on meat.

The challenge is to come up with tasty ideas that will go over well.

Here is an easy homemade ravioli recipe to try:

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Using Wonton wrappers makes this a breeze. You can find them in most grocery stores in the specialty section of the produce section or in the international food aisles:

24 wonton wrappers
1 cup low fat or fat free ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup fresh grated or Parmesan cheese shreds (Please don’t use that nasty stuff in the green cylindrical container!)
1 cup fresh spinach leaves–buy the already washed leaves, pat dry if you do rinse them again.
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tsp. parsley
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

Egg Wash:

1 beaten egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of water

1. Mix the ricotta, egg, garlic, parsley, and Parmesan together.

2. Chop the leaf portion of the spinach. Discard stems and add the chopped leaves to the ricotta mixture.

3. Saute the chopped mushrooms in a little heated olive oil until softened. Remove with slotted spoon, draining well.

4. Mix into the ricotta mixture

5. Separate the wonton wrappers. Cut each one in half. Brush each half with the egg wash. Set one half of the divided wrapper aside.

6. On the first half, lightly mark across (not through) to mark the half wrapper into 2 squares.

7. Place the prepared filling–a small teaspoon in the center of each marked square.

8. Now, place the other half of the wrapper, egg wash side down, over the top of the first wrapper. Before pinching together, make sure all air pockets are pressed out.

9. Pinch to seal. Cut between the two ravioli and if you have a pastry wheel, cut all edges.  Or after cutting with a knife, use a fork and on all sides, press down to mark the edges.

10. Set aside on a non-stick baking sheet. When all are finished, you should have about 48 average sized ravioli. Refrigerate about the time it takes to set a large pot of salted water to a brisk boil.

11. Remove the ravioli and cook. They are done when they float to the top of the water. Be sure not to crowd them!

13. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.

Serve with your favorite spaghetti or marinara sauce, and be sure to sprinkle some extra FRESH parmesan shreds on top!

–Note: If you don’t need to cook all 48 of these ravioli for dinner, use what you need and freeze the rest on the non-stick baking sheet and then pop them into freezer bags. You can add them directly from the freezer to a pot of boiling water for a quick dinner.

If you aren’t “in” to spinach or mushrooms, you can make these with fried and drained, seasoned ground beef or Italian sausage. You can also make plain cheese ravioli. Simply omit the spinach and mushrooms from the ricotta blend.

Some of my favorite seed sources

Herbs: basil, scallion

Various Veggies

I figured this could go hand-in-hand with my posting about online and mail order shopping.

Here are some really great places to do a bit of winter dreaming and buying for your gardening needs:

Pinetree Seeds

It would be hard to top this company. A tremendous selection of vegetables, spices, herbs, flowers, and and and!!

The best things after the quality and wealth of offerings are the prices. Many of the seed packets offered are less than a dollar, many are an ounce or more of seeds, you simply cannot go wrong here!!

Reimer Seeds

Reimer Seeds, based out of North Carolina, is a great all-around seed source. Offering many favorites and some unusual seeds at fair prices, Reimer Seeds offers a loyalty points programs for customers to save even more on future orders.

The Cook’s Garden

From Warminster, PA, The Cook’s Garden is, indeed as its site states, ” Dedicated to cooks who love to garden and gardeners who love to cook.”

Emphasis here is on culinary herbs, vegetables, edible flowers, and anything for the gardener who also enjoys cooking. There are also other flowers and plants available. An added bonus: Recipes for the gourmet gardener as well.

Artistic Gardens/Le Jardin du Gourmet

If you are like me, a big bone of contention is receiving a humongous packet of seeds when only a few are needed. Sometimes they carry over for another year, sometimes, they don’t despite seed saving efforts.

Artistic Gardens/Le Jardin du Gourmet, offers many varieties not found elsewhere for the dedicated kitchen gardener. Seed packs for samples start at 35 cents apiece. This makes it very easy to buy many different “bits of this and that.” Also offered are flowers and herbs, bulbs and plants.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed

Sooner or later, most gardeners will try their hand at old and proven varieties of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Baker Creek offers many old varieties, many with great disease resistance and old-time color, fragrance, form, and flavor. I highly recommend them!

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Another great company with a good reputation. Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers many great offerings across the spectrum. It is one of the few places where I was able to find Hungarian Paprika Peppers. Perhaps a bit more expensive than some other places, it is still competitive and Johnny’s seeds have never failed to grow for me. Well worth the price.

Pantry Garden Herbs

If you love herbs, this is THE place to browse! The selection is great, the prices are fair. For herbal gardeners everywhere. I highly recommend this site!

When computers go haywire

I type this on another computer while mine is getting exorcised.

Thursday, my computer went haywire.

I was just doing business online, and suddenly, my antivirus started going ballistic. Every half minute or so, it would pop up a message that so many malware or viruses were cropping up. I was quarantining left and right when my computer froze.

I hit the control-alt-delete to smack down the antivirus, log off, and reboot, and THAT froze.

My desktop icons and my bottom bar disappeared completely. The computer, which is normally very quiet, was whirring up a storm. I did what I hated to do and what I had no choice to do: turned it off by pushing in the button.

On reboot, I got the usual windows splash screen, then when the desktop should have appeared, this ugly blue error screen with “Fatal Error” and not allowed to log on.

I tried every way possible to log in to no avail. I do know that in safe mode with commands, windows is still present. I just cannot completely boot. I finally gave up and contacted my son-in-law who is going to have a go with it, and hopefully, I’ll have my computer back.

Later on Thursday evening, I was speaking with my best friend, Marty. Now, we usually spend hours (literally) talking or visiting. This was no different.

In the course of our conversation, several times one of us would mention something and it would involve,  “I wonder how much this costs?”,  “Have you seen?”,  “Marilyn, type in…” types of comments. Of course, it stopped dead in the water when I’d remember and say I can’t.

Now, years ago we had no Internet. Then we had Internet and it was more of an enhancement than a necessity.  Now I’d think it is safe to say that we are so bound to the Internet and electronic technology that if we don’t have our smart phones, IPads, or other computer devices or access to the Internet, our lives are severely hamstringed.

January Gardening Calendar

January Gardening Calendar

January is a quiet month for gardeners in the Southern Great Lakes Region. The flurry of the holiday season has passed. Long nights and short days bring out the urge in some to nestle in and wait out the worst of winter weather. Others relish the season with outdoor activities: Ice hockey, ice fishing, skiing, and tobogganing are among the activities that residents of the region take pleasure in. For indoor types, college and high school basketball rules. For armchair quarterbacks, there are the playoffs leading up to the big Superbowl weekend.

While not much is happening outside, there are still gardening and maintenance chores that can and need to be tackled this time of the year:

1.  Trim the branches off your Christmas tree and use the boughs for mulch. Or, you can set the tree outside and add fruits and suet balls and other goodies for the birds and other wildlife to enjoy.

2.  Avoid walking on lawns when there is snowpack to prevent compaction and snow mold later in the season.

3.  Avoid the use of salt-based products on sidewalks and drives. Sand or cat litter provides good traction on slick spots without damage to lawn, ornamentals, or concrete.

4.  Inspect tree trunks for rodent and winter damage. If you haven’t already done so, time’s a-wastin’ to add tree wrap and mesh guards to prevent girdling and other damage by rabbits and rodents.

5.  Cleanly prune any storm-damaged branches from trees and shrubs.

6.  Inspect flowerbeds during the January thaw for signs of frost heave. Place the plants back into the ground, and when the ground refreezes, apply mulch.

7.  Check the cold frame for signs of trouble. On warm, sunny days, vent the cold frame.

8.  If the winter is not particularly snowy, check plants such as rhododendrons and other broadleaf evergreens for signs of dehydration. If the temperatures are above freezing and these plants are dry, water them. Also, reapply an anti-desiccant to your evergreens to prevent excessive moisture loss. Do this on a day above 40 degrees.

9.  Gently remove freshly fallen snow from evergreens to prevent limbs from breaking.

10. Start bringing in a few pots of forced bulbs for a touch of spring.

11. Remove snow dams from eaves to prevent damage to your eaves and roof.

12. Start ordering early from mail order sources for best selection.

13. Check seed-starting supplies. Replace old fluorescent or grow lights before the seed starting season begins.

14. On warm days, take a look at the bare bones of your garden structure. See where plants can be placed, which plants might need to be moved, and write down your thoughts and ideas for future reference when the planting season begins.

15. Check houseplants for heat stress. Maintain adequate humidity and light levels. Water appropriately.

16. Houseplants, especially tropicals, might suffer cold injury if they are placed too close to window panes during the winter. Move them back a few inches, and make sure their leaves are not touching the glass.

17. Continue to feed the birds! Think about adding a birdbath heater to the birdbath so birds can find a source of fresh water to drink.

18. Inspect summer tubers, corms, and bulbs. If they look like they are drying, spritz them with a little water. If they are in a medium such as sand or peat, moisten that as well. Discard any diseased or dead bulbs, etc.

19. Can’t afford a trip to Florida or Hawaii? Find out where you can take a day trip to a conservatory. Many large and medium sized cities in the region have indoor botanical gardens that offer a nice escape for those of us who need to see some green and smell the organic scents of growing plants and soil.

Some of my 2011 goals

Note: I did not say resolutions! To me, resolutions are meant to be broken. They aren’t so much goals as massive self-improvement projects that are insurmountable or almost impossible to achieve for many people. They almost universally fall by the wayside within a month to six weeks. Goals, on the other hand, are small steps in the process of self-improvement or working on a project and can be tackled one by one or several at a time in order to achieve success. Goals are easier to succeed with–like climbing a ladder step-by-step–than a resolution which requires one big leap.

Anyhoo, here are my biggest goals for 2011.

1.  Spend a little time each day with one of my family or friends. Be it online, on the phone, or with a visit, I want to keep in touch with the people who are most important to me.

2.  One goal I have is to make special time for hubby and myself. It seems we never do much together because we have this mistaken notion that we have to do something expensive to make it memorable, like trips or expensive dinners. My take is there is no reason why we can’t have a little together time–even if it is to pack a picnic lunch and sit out at the county park a few miles away or even on the gazebo before he heads into work. We don’t have to spend oodles of money to build memories and to have quality time together.

3.  Enjoy every day in some small way. Even a bad day has some good in there, even if it is only to pause to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

4. Read a little something and learn something new every day.

5. Tackle big projects in little phases  rather than fretting about the whole. I need to do some serious beating back of the forest in my garden. It’s an ongoing process. Even with Winter well under way, I can still do some pruning and clearing chores on nicer days. Some of the beds adjoining the house never freeze. I can work on them throughout the winter a little at a time, whether it’s cutting stuff back or tidying the beds up themselves. I don’t need to take hours to do it, either; fifteen or twenty minutes a day, unless the weather prohibits it, should be enough. As long as there is progress, be happy with it.

I think what all this is are little things I can do that aren’t overwhelming but that will bring great satisfaction to life in general. Beats a resolution any old day!!