1. Published

    Hello? Does this thing still work?

    I'm dusting off the old Green Speak Blog to encourage anyone who has subscribed to this blog to check out Good Growing. This is another blog I've worked on for the past several years with my colleagues.

    This will be the final post on the Green Speak blog, which will eventually be removed from the Extension website. I will likely repost much of these articles after updating them onto Good Growing.

  2. Published

    Some things in nature are a delight to observe. Rainbows, thunderstorms, and fungus, well, specifically fairy ring fungus. Fairy rings are near perfect circles of toadstools, often seen in the lawn following a period of wet weather. Fairy rings can also be observed as a ring of abnormal turf that is a bright green or a halo of dead grass. Lore surrounds these curious circular formations. As far back as Medieval times, people believed fairy rings appeared after a band of fairies had danced on the lawn.

  3. Published

    It seems during every class I teach, or group I talk with, there are two things I say every time: 1) Read your pesticide labels, and 2) test your soil. It is what I call my "Extension Mantra." The reason I routinely tell folks to read labels and test soil is not that I get a kick-back from pesticide companies and soil labs, it is because these two simple tasks could save Illinois homeowners money.

  4. Published

    One of my favorite times of year to garden is in the fall. Growing vegetables during autumn in Illinois as the weather cools and daylight dwindles, can be a bit of a challenge, but the reward is quite sweet.

  5. Published

    There is something about a butterfly that makes most smile. As I travel from speaking location to meeting to my garden in Central Illinois, I smile each time I see a monarch butterfly flit by in the distance. However, I also cringe at the handful of times a monarch butterfly strikes my car window. Mother Nature has designed for so much, but she could not have foreseen the implications of the automobile.

  6. Published

    This year I was so hopeful. My yard has been cultivated, or perhaps a better term is 'uncultivated,' in hopes of creating an oasis of beneficial insects. I neglected to reapply mulch, leaving a bare patch of soil in my planting bed. It soon became a delight to my kids to watch songbirds taking dust baths. I let the violets have their way, and they rewarded us with an outstanding flower show this spring and an excellent groundcover up until mid-summer when the heat and sun forced remaining violets into the shade.

  7. Published

    Last Sunday night we arrived home in Macomb, tired from a short trip visiting family in Quincy. Moreover, hauling around an infant and two young boys full of boundless energy tend to produce weary parents. Upon opening the door into the house, we were greeted as usual by our dog Murphy. Excited as a puppy to see us though his years now approach eleven.

  8. Published

    Observation is part of the fun of gardening. Waking up in the morning, I let out my dog Murphy, and walk through my yard studying the intricacies and habits of the plants in my landscape. A morning dew is helpful to spot spider webbing or allow the tiny hairs on a flower petal to shine in the rising sun.

    Walking through the garden in the early morning is just as good as drinking a cup coffee, although coffee certainly makes the experience better. If a neighbor were to peek over the fence, they would see both dog and human with our faces buried deep in plants.

  9. Published

    Year three of growing cascade hops and I finally invested time to install poles for the bines to properly train. Lacking money, to buy actual poles, the overgrown wooded area behind the McDonough County Extension office yielded several dead snags. Ideally, when harvesting poles for hops, select trees that are naturally rot resistant such as Eastern red cedar, black locust, or larch. Because my venture into hops is purely experimental, I used mostly dead oak snags for poles (and they were closer).

  10. Published
    Hooray! Winter has returned. While sane people stayed inside, horticulture educators like myself headed outside to take pictures. Many homeowners and gardeners may be feeling a panic rising in their chest seeing their emerging plants and spring blooming bulbs covered in snow. Oddly, I find it a great time to examine how plants respond to this kind of environmental stress. I'm also the neighbor who grows a weed to see what the flower looks like.
  11. Published
    The winter has been unusually warm these past several weeks (even months). While it has been nice to go for walks in short-sleeves and even grill outside, I truly long for winter weather. Winter without snow is terribly bleak. Snow gives residents of the Midwest something visually stimulating in an otherwise dull, dormant landscape.

    Finally, we're seeing a bit of colder weather as we enter March, despite that many of our gardens are beginning to come out of dormancy.

    Here are a few photos of what is popping in my backyard.
  12. Published
    It seems fitting to post my photo of an icy morning taken earlier this year at the start of January. Presently in late February, we seem to be in a prolonged stretch of warm weather. Perhaps next week I'll post emerging daffodils or my lilac with leaves bursting through their buds. Today, let's remain in winter for a moment and remember what typically is our current state in February.
  13. Published

    As gardeners, we seek to connect with the world and ourselves through the cultivation of plants. Gardening is an act of emphasizing nature's beauty and bounty within our landscapes. In the past century, our quality of interactions with the outdoors has diminished.

    Introducing the Contemporary American Landscape

    Packed schedules gave rise to the demand for low-maintenance landscapes where foundation plantings of daylilies, boxwood, and yews surrounded by bark mulch dominate communities from Maine to California.

  14. Published

    As winter approaches, there seems nothing better than to cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie. Watching movies is a favorite hobby of mine. And when movies mix horticulture into a plot, it gets my rapt attention. Toss in a little science fiction and you had me at the opening credits.

    The thing is, there are not very many movies that have horticultural themes or subthemes. My goal is to find those movies and give my very own green thumb up or thumb down. I think taking Film History 101 qualifies me for such an endeavor.

  15. Published

    Sublime- for most of my young life my understanding of this word was misplaced. It wasn't until the pursuit of my graduate work that sublime was made clear. Sublime is a feeling experienced when encountered with unspoken beauty and possibly terror that leaves us in admiration. Think about standing on the beach looking at the ocean. The vastness of the water holds us in a trance of awe and a pang of trepidation.

  16. Published

    Three.

    As of writing this blog on August 9, 2016, I have only seen three monarch butterflies. It seems year after year I encounter fewer and fewer monarchs. But don't take my word alone. According to Monarch Watch with the University of Kansas, the evidence is clear: Monarch overwintering populations have steadily decreased since record keeping began in 1994.

  17. Published

    I love parsnips. Often parsnips (large white carrot-like root vegetable) are substituted for celery in my soups and stews. The cultivated parsnip that we eat heralds from the appropriately named Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa). Wild parsnip has recently been making the rounds on social media, as the plant can leave individuals with burn-like blisters on their skin. Severe cases appear somewhat gruesome, though according to some, it is still not as bad as the itch of poison ivy.

  18. Published

    Today, I caught my first imported cabbage moth in the high tunnel. More importantly, the moth crossed my radar before its larva, the imported cabbage worm, has had a chance to eat all of my turnip leaves.

  19. Published

    When confronted with lawn weeds, typically we think of dandelion, creeping Charlie, and violet. These aforementioned plants and many others are classified as broadleaved weeds (dicots), and are easily distinguished from grasses (monocots). Scientists are able to engineer herbicides that target broadleaved plants, while the chemical remains benign to desirable turfgrass.

  20. Published

    If your HOA covenants, city codes, or neighbors disparage wildlife habitat, make the natural landscape easily recognized as a 'garden' and more intentional. Some tips for success: