Poisonous Plants (Wild Parsnip)

Wild Parsnip (via DNR)

Wild Parsnip (via DNR)

I had previously been aware of Giant Hogweed‘s dangers, and noted when it was reported in Wisconsin recently.  Certainly glad there was none of it around here, and then I found wild parsnip!  Same theme; different plant.

This strikes a little closer to home- literally.  I found a few plants in our yard, thankfully in an easy to access area from all sides.  I don’t recall hearing anything about the plant up until now, and I don’t remember seeing it growing anywhere from when I was a kid.  Other than the small patch of plants, it’s not close to our area that I’ve seen, but we don’t have to go far to see whole ditches and edges of fields full of it.  The DNR and local media have shared more information now that the plant is in bloom with the summer season.

It looks fairly innocent, almost like tall dill!- nothing that would suggest that precautions are needed to deal with this thing.  Mainly, my concern is for friends, family, and their kids who visit our place.  It seeds like crazy, and the sap causes burns on skin in conjunction with sunlight (cloudy weather doesn’t make it safer!)

I’ve taken precautions to eliminate this noxious greenery– unfortunately, I didn’t catch it sooner.  I’ve taken steps to kill the weeds at the roots, and dressed appropriately to remove and burn all the seedheads.  Thankfully, it all was still fairly green, so I think we got to it in time before seed dispersal.

I’m not sure how it traveled to our yard since there’s not much else close around.  Perhaps via creature travel… Watch out in your own outdoors and adventure safely to save yourself some trouble!

Sampling of Summer

Happy mid-summer from Wisconsin!  Now that we have an additional year in our new space, we’re starting to transform our yard with a variety of new plants as I’ve noted earlier.  It’s a slow, albeit rewarding, process for sure; there’s only so much we can do in a day/week/month, particularly when life and weather can intervene.  The pace also allows for some thoughtful reflection:  I know I’ve re-imagined our layout plan numerous times, but it will gradually fall into place.

We’ve been marveling at all the new flowers- some in the garden and some in the yard, and I wanted to share some Wisconsin summer with you wherever you are…








Runner beans on a tomato cage- something has been snacking on them, unfortunately…


radish flowers







More from the garden- radish flowers










Some Tristan strawberries-to-be (doing exuberantly well in a pot)



M (2)







Milkweed (We have been pleased to see more butterflies than Monarchs in our yard, as well!)











A prickly pear cactus flower (I somewhat recently found out that prickly pear cacti are native to Wisconsin!)











Non-floral color- a Wisconsin sunset.  Good night to all!

New for the Garden in 2015

pepper flower

I’ll be the first to admit it… I’m a tinkerer.  I can’t just leave well enough alone- whether it’s a recipe (even when I know it’s good!) or gardening, I always have to try a little something new.  Now that we’re getting our outdoor space settled and organized, there is some work (really, actually fun) to do! We were fortunate to get a lot of space for our yard, so there is plenty of room to experiment.

Last year, we put in our new garden and did a lot of yard adjustments.  While we did and will continue to fight the weeds back (organically) for the near future, I could no longer deny the glossy pages of the seed catalogs that beckoned with spring-y seductiveness all winter.  And don’t get me wrong, I buy local also, with the occasional detour for items that are fairly unique offerings.  Unfortunately, not everything is grown organic, but I figure that by doing things as organically as we can, we can mitigate that part somewhat.

Here are some of the new vegetables and plants we’re trying this year… More to come on the results!


I’ve started homebrewing, so a combination of a steady future supply of this essential ingredient and an abundance of fences make hops bines a perfect yard addition.  I’ve bought some locally and at beer fests, and I’ve seen collections in catalogs, but The Wine and Hop Shop had the most options and good quality, also.  (I think I have a few more varieties… and some wine grapes… in my future.)


Strawberry, Tristan (We liked the color of the flowers; they’re different!  And… strawberries.)

Pineberry, White Carolina  (Strawberries that taste like pineapple?  And we’re in a zone that can grow them?  Sign me up.)

Yellow Wonder Wild Strawberry (Another strawberry- another flavor.)

Attila Strawberry (I’m a fan of the productivity and flavor of alpine strawberries.  And these have runners!)

White Soul Alpine Strawberry (Strawberries… gotta collect them all!)


Potato, Blue  (These are just plain interesting.  Several catalogs have them, but I haven’t seen them in stores yet.  The story partially behind purchasing them is that my father and grandfather would argue over whether white or red potatoes, respectively, were better.  I guess I’m obligated to like blue ones best!)

BEIRA TRONCHUDA PKT (Maybe not a true kale, so my wife will be extra disappointed…not really.)

Scarlet Runner Bean  (The color of these, flowers and seeds, is just awesome.)

ORACH PURPLE PKT  (I can’t say I’ve ever had a salty leafy vegetable, but it will be a nice contrast in the garden and should be a healthy add-in to salads.)

‘Strawberry Spinach’ (Neither strawberries nor spinach- it should be good for salad.)

Santon Charentais Melon (I am a fan of melon varieties, especially the non-standard/rare ones.)

Tigger Asian Melon  (These will stand out in the garden for sure.)

Petit Gris de Rennes Melon (The melons I bought are all open-pollinated, so they will grow true from saving seeds- versus hybrids.)

Long Island Cheese Pumpkins (These are a recommended variety to use for pies.  I also like to make pumpkin risotto or pumpkin soup.)


Shiso Green Perilla Aoshiso (I have red shiso/perilla.  It’s extremely easy to grow from seed and makes an attractive contrast plant with the leaves and flowers.  It has a wonderful aroma and appealing basil-like oil to the leaves and can be used as an herb for cooking.  Just be careful when it gets close to seeding or you may end up with them everywhere.  It didn’t do too poorly in a pot last year as long as I kept it watered.)

Garden Sorrel (It’s perennial, and can be used in salad.)


Quinoa, Brightest Brilliant (Quinoa is not just trendy; it is truly healthy!)

India Red Popping Sorghum  (I thought this might be an alternative to growing popcorn along with sweet corn.  We’ll see how this grows and how it tastes.)

Emmer Wheat (Since I’m getting into brewing, it looked intriguing.  The note about the old variety sometimes being more palatable for those with gluten issues piqued my interest.)

Et Cetera
Passion Flower, Maypop (We think it has neat-looking flowers, and I’m a fan of anything edible- maximizing use and utility of space.  Oh, yes, and we still have lots of fences for vines.)

Lilac, Dwarf Josee Reblooming   (My wife adores lilacs; this one blooms for quite a while.)

Luffa Sponge, Packet  (I thought we’d give these a try to see if we could grow some sponges.  The biggest challenge will be the time to maturity.)

PEANUT JUMBO VIRGINIA (This is another item that might be a plant maturity stretch, but I’m willing to give it a go.  Not many catalogs had peanuts for sale.  The flowers are a nice accent in the garden.)

VIOLET CHOCOLATE VINE  (Not actually chocolate… they just smell like it!  The seed pods are tasty too!  At least one of each vine is needed.)

Apios Americana “Potato Bean/Groundnut”  (I’m still debating on which vendor I will use to get this, as it’s not offered in many catalogs I can find.  I discovered it via the linked blog.  This flowering native plant with edible parts looks well worthy of growing. Ahem… fences.)

Sunberry/Wonderberry  (An interesting find… appears to be an annual.)

Fir, Korean (Blue pine cones!  Blue pine cones!)

Redwood, Dawn (I was intrigued partly that this is an ‘older’ type of tree.  Not too long ago, I read that it was somewhat recently fairly rare.)

Phew!  It’s a lot of seeds and plants, but time and the season will tell what the garden and yard may provide.  As you may have noticed, I’m a fan of the rare and/or different.  And don’t worry, we’re still growing the classics, too.  What new plants are you trying this year?

Flight of the Bumblebee?

flowers in field








We just purchased a house with some additional outdoor space, and we are reaping lots of color in our first growing season here!  I plan to add plenty to this blog about some of our gardening projects around the new place as we dream them up.

As I have been maintaining our greatly increased lawn space, I have been fortunate to notice more than a few bumblebees in the area.  As a gardener, this is definitely a major positiveHoneybees and bumblebees have been facing some tough times.  Colony collapse disorder is very real, but not fully understood yet (though there are some possibilities).  I don’t know that we currently plan to have a hive nearby or take a beekeeping class yet, but at the least, some of our field will stay as it is.  A few more native wildflowers may make an appearance, as well.

(The honey is a bonus!)

Insidious Invasives

Certain invasive plants and animals receive greater media and government attention (for good reason). In our part of Wisconsin, the Emerald Ash Borer has been one of these species.  Similarly, I recently came across a news clip about giant hogweed as an invasive plant in Michigan.  What I did not realize was the danger in even trying to get rid of it:

This plant is also on one of Wisconsin’s lists, which also include some aquatic and wetland plants.  Invasive species will vary by location, but the potential negative impacts are similar: native species can be affected.  Wisconsin has Administrative Code NR 40, (the invasive species rule) which “makes it illegal to possess, transport, transfer, or introduce certain invasive species in Wisconsin without a permit”.  The counterpoint to this is the benefit of researching, planting, and promoting native species.  As planting season has arrived/is arriving, take a few minutes and make yourself aware of your region’s invasive and native species.  Report any invasives you find.  It could save you and your neighbors some trouble.  And watch out for the giant hogweed!

Some additional national resources:





Guerilla Gardening, or “Plant some sh!t”! -Ron Finley

I enjoy this video clip for a number of reasons- first, because I love gardening, of course…  Ron Finley makes some wonderful statistics-backed points about what can be done with vacant and underutilized land to help fight the food desert phenomenon.   I won’t spoil the video for you, but he speaks about the prevalence of vacant lots and even how yards can be utilized for greater benefit.  Ron, however, had a similar problem as others have had when attempting to garden outside of the (planter) box.  Now, I semi-understand why there is the push to keep grassy, standardized lawns so that properties look pleasant, but I find it much easier to sympathize with the gardeners when the clearly conspicuous gardens are 1) more useful for food purposes and 2) well-kept.  All of the examples I have ever seen in the news for similar reasons have been gardens that were well cared for.  Just imagine how much food we could produce if lawns in the cities were converted.  Regardless of climate, quite a bit more food could be locally (and cheaply!) produced via fruit trees and plants and other vegetable plants.  I try to garden with a little extra space and in a few extra pots, but ideally, I would like a larger garden.  This is not to say that urban gardening is not without a few concerns, such as the quality of the soil.  However, the larger point in this whole narrative is that if each of us was able to plant even a bit more food locally, it could have quite a few positive ripple effects.  “Plant some sh!t!”

“The Sistine Chapel… of Green Tomato”

Chow Ciao logo

Chef Fabio has a quick and tasty way to enjoy green tomatoes.  This may be the only way I’ll get to enjoy tomatoes from our garden, as just about the time they are ripe, they are gone! (e.g. my wife has eaten them right off the vine, or the vexing planting zone 5 phenomenon also known as the “tomato monster”)  We always plant quite a few plants in our limited space to maximize tomato production.

These stuffed green tomatoes were making me hungry!


Fungus Among Us


This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at //commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ChampignonMushroom.jpg under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.

Springtime makes one think about- mushrooms?  Well, if you’d like to start a mushroom-growing kit, now might be the time!  If you’re near Wisconsin, you can find them at Patty’s Plants and River Valley Ranch.  If you’re not, some plant and seed companies carry them.

We’ve grown portabellas before, and have gone with them again this year.  Next year might be button mushrooms, to try something different.  The kits grow a lot of mushrooms over a few months’ span.  Be prepared to make a lot of tasty mushroom dishes!  (Marinating and grilling sounds like a delicious idea- see the Fireside meal review earlier in the blog…)  Portabellas and pasta was another tasty, frequent meal.  You can’t beat the freshest mushrooms you can get when you pick them yourself.  Our box even lasted longer than we expected- just make sure to water appropriately and not let it get too dry.

Growing mushrooms is not your thing?  No worries!  Learn more about mushrooms and check out a group dedicated to understanding a natural part of our habitat.

The mighty mushroom may even replace Styrofoam or break down plastic!

Growing Your Own Pineapple

(Photographs of a real pineapple our grandparents grew!)

Spring is here- but it seems like it’s almost been summer here in Wisconsin for the last few days.  It’s supposed to cool down a bit, but it’s been warm enough to make me want to start gardening.  I planted some radishes and peas to hopefully get a few early vegetables.  They’re relatively cold-hardy and our garden is decently sheltered from a hard freeze, so I thought I’d take a chance.

If you are looking for a unique (and cheap!) plant project for this year- try growing a pineapple.  Depending on your location, you may have to start this inside for now, but eventually you can put it outside to bask in the sunshine.  I’ve had one growing for a while, and consistently take it inside over the winter, and it has persisted in our basement, with sufficient light, of course.

Pineapple plants don’t need a lot of water, and they’re fairly easy to take care of.  All you need to start one is a pineapple top from a grocery store pineapple (yes, it’s that easy!).  It just gets discarded otherwise, anyway.  I’ve read a few different directions for starting a pineapple top, and can say that the easiest way is to simply twist the top from the pineapple.  You can trim off a little bit of the fibrous pineapple core at the bottom if it is stuck to the top, but do not actually cut into the pineapple top “stem”. All you need to do is peel off a few of the bottom leaves until you see some brown rootlike buds close to the stem.  These will eventually be your pineapple’s roots.  Some directions will recommend specific types of soil, but I’ve had decent luck with basic potting soil.

Just push the top into the soil slightly, so the root buds can grow into the soil.  Then just water and let it grow!  Pineapple plants love sun.  The pictures above show just how large a plant can get- this one was kept inside in a sunny spot.  (It was nicknamed “Killer” due to its pointy leaves!)  Once the plant is large enough,  (this may take years) you can force the plant to grow your very own pineapple!  It may flower of its own volition, but there are no guarantees.  The easiest way to have it flower is to place two apples in the pot with the pineapple plant and seal the whole plant in a garbage bag for a week or so.  The gas the apples give off as they ripen can make the plant flower.  The flower stalk will then become your eventual pineapple. The fruit will be smaller than the one you originally purchased from the grocery store.

The growth of the flower stalk and pineapple may take a while longer, but you’ll never have a fresher pineapple.  Make sure to give it enough time to ripen.  It’s a fun project and easy to do, since pineapple tops are typically discarded anyway.

One potential problem is that the center of the stem may rot.  If this happens, the center of the leaves (where new growth originates from) may turn brown.  It is possible you may need to start over, but once when this happened, the plant started some new growth off to the side of the original plant.

Good luck!

Here are some pineapple-growing resources that I found useful.

Welcome, 2012!

Welcome 2012!  I begin the year with continued apologies for a low posting volume.  I promise- this blog will be built up! (It just may have to wait a bit longer due to current commitments.)  This provides the perfect transition to my more-or-less official-ish resolutions, specific to the topics of my blog.

Writing:  2012 will be the year of creativity.  There’s much writing to do, so it’s time to be inspired!  This blog, poetry, prose- I need to write more.  2011 had much too little of this.

Cooking:  Continue the adventure of new cuisine.  At worst, I don’t care for a particular dish.  No harm done.  I’ve already expanded my range of food options- what’s next?  I’m loving more and more Indian food that I try.  2012- perhaps more Thai?

Gardening:  I hope to try a new plant this year in our limited gardening space.  Maybe it will be in the garden spot, or perhaps in a container.  Varying varieties gives a chance to find a new treasure.  One of my new favorites from last year- red shiso (perilla) looks great amongst all the green with purplish-red leaves and flowers.  Even better, it has wonderfully aromatic foliage (kind of like basil in aromatic power).





Whatever your resolution or lack thereof, make 2012 meaningful.  Numbers are just numbers.  Time is what you make of it.

Indulge and create!