Written by Chandra L. Mattingly
Friday, March 22, 2013 3:00 PM
Last year on this date, I was eating fresh asparagus and we were
enjoying some 80-degree days.
Not this year!
When will winter withdraw? This morning, three days into spring,
the outside temperature was 17 degrees Fahrenheit at our Rising Sun
home. One 50-degree day is predicted for this weekend, but the lows
next week are expected to be back in the upper 20s.
Nonetheless, thanks to the strength of the sun, some of the spring
flowers are blooming: daffodils and iris reticulata, snowdrops,
crocus, and the very first of the glory-of-the-snow with their
cheerful blue blooms. The wolfbane's (winter aconite) bright yellow
blooms are long over, but the helleborus continues to bloom.
Only a couple of the wildflowers in my home patch are visible; I
saw the leaves of one trillium and one shooting star poking out this
week. There was no sign yet of bloodroot, usually one of the first to
emerge with its white flower opening above a stalk wrapped with a
Indoors, I have broccoli, cabbage, onion, leek and shallot plants
ready to go into the ground as soon as it dries and the weather warms
a bit. Last year I was able to plant these, and lettuce and spinach
seeds, in mid-March.
Not this year!
Usually by now I can set outside some of the flowers and herbs I
raise for my May plant sale. This year the only seedlings that have
gone outside are the onions and parsley, and they are on the concrete
porch tucked under a row cover to stay warm. The others are getting
12-hour shifts under florescent bulbs as I run out of room!
But despite having nowhere to put them, it's exciting to have new
sprouts almost daily! This week it was coleus, fenugreek and summer savory;
soon the half-dozen varieties of basil I planted will emerge as well.
Meanwhile, the larger plants need transplanting. The lemon eucalyptus
(the oil is a mosquito repellant,) elecampane, rosemary and butterfly
bushes are in individual pots, as are the parsley, but the stevia,
thyme and lavender are awaiting their individual homes.
Most springs I've spent some weekend days dividing and potting
outdoor perennials by now, but this year that's been pretty limited,
due to rain as much as cold. Fortunately I got some things potted
last fall which have wintered well, including liriope, raspberries
and lambs ear, but there's always so much more I want to do!
Meanwhile, the honeybees are foraging on any day they can,
including some I'd think were too cold and windy. Unlike a lot of
beekeepers this year, I've not lost any of my three hives, and
actually found them the strongest ever for this time of year when I
was able to check them on a (rare) warm day a couple of weeks ago. I
did feed them honey from old cappings last fall and am doing so again
Please consider the honeybees and other pollinators when you turn
to your lawns and gardens this year. Chemical lawn care not only is
dangerous to human health, it eliminates many of the plants which
provide needed forage for bees, including dandelions, white clover,
and that stinky purple stuff that's blooming right now (most likely
purple dead nettle or henbit, both members of the Lamium family and edible,
as are dandelions and clover).
As for gardens, if you must use pesticides, apply early in the
morning or late in the evening when honeybees are less likely to be
flying, and avoid spraying bee-pollinated crops while they are in
Last Updated on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 2:11 PM
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly
Friday, February 22, 2013 9:26 PM
Attention, horse owners: beware of trees!
Box elder trees have been newly identified as a danger to pastured
horses, according to the latest issue of Equus.
Long blamed on ingestion of white snakeroot, seasonal pasture
myopathy apparently is (also?) caused by ingestion of box elder
seedpods. The condition is nearly always fatal in horses, and most
often occurs in younger horses or horses newly introduced to a
pasture containing box elder trees.
The link to box elder seedpods was made by veterinarian Stephanie
Valberg, according to Christine Barakat's article in the March issue
of Equus. A researcher specializing in equine muscle
disorders Valberg learned white snakeroot had not been available to
many of the affected horses.
But when she inspected the pastures of horses diagnosed with the
disorder, she found box elder trees, said Equus. Her further
research, which included finding a reference to Native Americans
using box elder bark to make a tea that induced vomiting, is a
So do horse owners need to identify and remove all box elder trees
from pastures and fence rows? Not necessarily; the article includes
some pasture management recommendations, and the danger occurs only
in the fall when the “helicopter” seeds are whirling from the
A relative of other maples, box elder grows quickly, has
three-part leaves somewhat similar to poison ivy, and sometimes green
trunks rather that the more mature brown or pale gray bark. (As a
youngster, I got in trouble for rubbing other kids' arms with box
elder leaves and telling them it was poison ivy. I could be rotten at
times.) Sometimes the leaves have up to seven leaflets, however.
I suppose if you have a horse that cribs on tree bark, these trees
might be especially dangerous, as would black cherry trees. The
latter are known to be deadly to horses and other livestock when the
animals eat wilted leaves from fallen branches and trees.
But cherry trees also indirectly contributed to the loss of
numerous foals aborted by mares a few years back. The pregnant mares
ingested tent caterpillars which had fed on black cherry leaves, then
fallen into the horses' pastures. There, the caterpillars were eaten
along with the grass, resulting in aborted or very weak live-born
foals. Many horse owner removed all black cherry trees from their
properties after that tragedy.
Another poisonous tree horses will eat when wilted is red maple,
an eastern species planted here as an ornamental. And beware of yew,
an ornamental shrub. At least one horse in the area died in recent
months after a homeowner threw yew clippings into its pasture.
Walnut trees also can be hazardous, but horses' exposure to walnut
is most often through shavings or sawdust. Horses can be poisoned by
eating the shavings – so if you use wood products for bedding, be
sure they don't contain walnut, cherry or – now that we know –
box elder. Mature walnut trees don't seem to be a problem, though
again, if a horse cribs bark, that could be a different story.
Finally, be aware of direct physical dangers of trees. Many of us
have seen the photo shared on the Internet of a horse caught in the
fork of a tree (supposedly rescued via chainsaw, leaving me amazed
the horse didn't further injure herself panicking from the chainsaw.)
Years ago, one of my horses fell in icy weather on a skinny,
pointed stump, resulting in a deep puncture just inside her front
leg; a few years ago, another ducked under the branch of a fallen
tree, trapping himself inside an encirclement of fallen branches. The
branch he'd ducked under was uphill and low enough to bump his
buttocks whenever he tried to back out – until yours truly came to
the rescue and extracted him from his unusual stall.
I also remember cutting somebody else's horse free of a grapevine,
though that was hanging from a tree and not a tree itself.
Of course, trees can fall on horses or draw lightning, killing
animals standing beneath them, as happened to one Ohio County 4-Her's
mare some years back. And all riders know what trees can do to a
But the benefits of trees are endless, including the shade they
provide on sweltering summer days for those same horses susceptible
to all the above.
This blog was updated 3/18/13 to correct an erroneous reference to Barakat, author of the related story in Equus.
Last Updated on Monday, March 18, 2013 2:02 PM
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 6:21 PM
My senses say signs of spring surround me, even though true spring is over two months away.
Our front yard is peppered with purple snow
crocus, which have been blooming since Tuesday, Jan. 29. The cold snap
later that week barely thwarted the first blooms, and now the tiny
forest gleams in the sunshine. The honeybees shift from
clump to clump on warmer days, or gather pollen from the
dandelions which never quit blooming this winter, or from maple and
willow trees which also are blooming now.
Nearby the snowdrops are poking up their greenish-white buds, and everywhere other bulb flowers are reaching toward the sun
with green, strap-like leaves.
Out back, two bright yellow winter aconite buds have popped open, and the song birds are filling the air with cheerful trills.
Some days the breeze feels warm, and on sunny days the heat of our star sinks into bare skin and even through clothing.
On a recent walk through town, the contrast between sun and wind was distinct. During the gusts of wind, we were quite happy
to snuggle into our coats and warm hats; when the wind died down, the sun's warmth had us unzipping jackets!
Despite looking, I saw no blooms in others'
yards on that walk, aside from a robust clump of gold crocus at Hoosier
These early flowers are so cheering, I don't understand why more
folks don't pop a few bulbs in the ground to enjoy year after
year after year!
Indoors, the first fat bud of an amaryllis has
emerged, and many of the seeds I start for our garden and my plant sale
sprouted. The tomatoes, lavender, lemon eucalyptus, onions, leeks
and shallots are well up, as are sweet peppers. The pinks,
cardinal flowers, oriental poppies, elecampane, eggplant, purple
coneflower and rosemary are just breaking ground, with parsley,
thyme, cabbage and broccoli soon to follow.
If you haven't already, now is a good time to start onion and related seeds. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can be started
anytime from now to early March for decent-sized transplants. Most annual flowers are best started later in March.
This week I moved two pots of hyacinths indoors, from over a dozen I potted in late fall and set outside. They need about
eight weeks of cold weather before coming inside to bloom, and many years the ones in the ground are blooming by the time
my forced ones bud. But I so love their beauty and their intoxicating fragrance!
Spring cannot be far away!
Written by Chandra Mattingly
Monday, January 14, 2013 8:56 PM
It may be cold outside, but seed and nursery catalogs keep
arriving in the mail, with glossy photos of perfect plants.
Ah, the joys of poring through page after page, imagining the
beautiful flowers, the pristine peppers and ruby-red tomatoes, the
rich, black earth unblemished by weeds!
Whether or not that garden is to be, 'tis time nonetheless to
order garden seeds if you want specific varieties. Or you can shop
the seed racks at local stores, though you may not find that certain
herb or special heirloom tomato.
I do both, as well as keep seeds from year to year. Stored in
zipper freezer bags in the refrigerator, most seeds will keep at
least a year. Some, such as tomato and pepper seeds, keep well for
That's why I like John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. The catalog
lists average seed life of various vegetables – though it says only
two years for tomatoes and mine, refrigerated, have germinated well
for six or more. The company also emails garden-related news; the
most recent one discusses how early to plant various seeds for
transplants, both of flowers and vegetables. (On their website, look
under horticultural tips for seed-starting schedule. We're in Zone
Last Updated on Thursday, January 17, 2013 10:46 PM