Spring Brings It’s Colorful Presence


Spring is here!  Validation of this fact can be seen all through Berks County and beyond with the blooming of crocus, glory of the snow, daffodils and the soon to follow tulips.

Now would be the time to consider what direction you would like your garden or patio to go.  Butterfly and Hummingbird gardens are so colorful while providing a wonderful habitat for pollinators.   You may also consider a vegetable garden, vegetables can be grown in pots as well in the ground, raised beds or beside your flowers.  The area in which you have can be your “oyster”.

Examples of different ways to grow vegetables, which can be as varied as you want them to be. Pollinators will find their way to your garden with a little encouragement.  Plant a few nectar plants for the travel tired butterflies.  Here in North America there are well over 700 different species of butterflies with more then 10 common Pennsylvania butterflies.   Nectar plantings are needed for the adult butterfly just as milkweed is needed for the adult  Monarch butterfly to lay it’s eggs.  When the eggs (larva) are ready to hatch, a very hungry caterpillar will emerge.   Milkweed is what the hungry Monarch caterpillar will eat until it’s ready to form the chrysalis (pupa) where the caterpillar goes through metamorphosis. When that stage of development is complete a butterfly will emerge and rest upon a leaf.   Unfold its wings to allow blood flow to enable the wings to flap and dry.  After a period of time the newly hatched butterfly will fly, hopefully within your garden.  That’s a reason to have nectar type of plantings, also hummingbirds enjoy nectar plants.

A butterfly buffet will be an open invitation for fellow pollinators to come and visit.  So why Spring is still in the early stage of the season you can begin to plan your garden.  Keep in mind “Right plant Right place”.  Until later, El

For more information regarding butterflies: thebutterflysite.com  (great site for children)

The Xerces Society at : http://www.xerces.org   also Penn State Extension at:http://extension.psu.edu/berks  These are great places to begin your information gathering regarding pollinators.  Vegetable garden photos are of Penn State Master Gardeners of Berks County..located at Berks county Agricultural Center 1238 Welfare Road, Leesport, PA 19533-9709


Spring 2016 – Cumru

































Fall is the Season!

Berks fall color 2015

Berks fall color 2015

Fall is here with all its majestic colors we have come to associate with the fall season. There are a few other perks that come with fall. The ability to forge among apple orchards for the perfect apple for apple baking recipes. Let’s not forget the fresh pressed apple cider, which waits for you & yours to sip with added cinnamon and mull spices…yum one can almost smell the wonderful aroma that lingers. Pumpkins fill the fields waiting for anxious hands to pick them for jack lanterns, decorations, scrumptious pies, cookies and soups.

Pick your favorite apple.

Pick your favorite apple.

Weaver's Orchard apples

Weaver’s Orchard apples

Here in Berks County we have Weaver’s Orchard where you can pick your own apples. Weaver’s Orchard hosts a large variety of apples for your distinct taste. Your selection for fall pumpkins, gourds, and mums is only limited to your creative design.  Can’t decide? Enjoy a cup of cider or coffee with apple donuts while you shop among the fresh cool weather vegetables broccoli and cauliflower just to name a few. Weaver’s also presses their own apple cider on site. You can usually watch in the morning. It is amazing – sure to thrill just about everyone!    082


Beyond the mentioned wonderful things, fall is also the time to plan your garden for spring. Yes, fall. Why, because you can still purchase perennial plants for next year’s opening spring. Bulbs of just about every color can be planted daffodils, crocus and tulips. As long as the soil and ground haven’t frozen hard yet. Which reminds me, when planting those new items be sure to plant them deep enough so as the ground does begin to freeze they don’t get pushed up and freeze & die. Deciduous trees can be transplanted when their leaves have dropped from their branches. Trees will be beginning their dormant time.


Roses enjoy the cooler temperatures. To ensure roses good health, now would be the time to clean up any fallen leaves. Roses are also prone to black spot, rust and powdery mildew. Simply by applying a horticultural oil to roses and other plants in the garden can tackle that problem. (In a gallon container add 2 tablespoon baking soda, 2tablespoon of horticultural oil).  Horticultural oil aids in preventing fungal spores, pesky garden insects eggs from overwintering as well on dormant branches by smothering them. Did you know this is one type of garden intervention is called IPM – Integrated Pest Management. Other types of IPM are natural biological ways to control garden pests such as lacewing to control aphids and predatory nematodes that attack below the soil slow moving soft bodied insects. These Beneficial’s can be ordered in garden catalogs / on line. (www.TerritorialSeed.com) Then again there is cultural soil controls, which is something that can be implemented in fall clean up with plant debris. By fluffing mulch while aerating your soil. Which helps to ensure healthy plants, along with timely plant fertilization and irrigation.         069     078

Now you have done your part to ensure a healthy blooming spring season. I know I can’t think of anything better to dream about during the middle of those long gray winter days. (As with all things read your directions prior to using – some plants may not fare well with horticultural oils.) These are just a few ways to maximize pest control while minimizing pest damage to your environment.

Enjoy the fall season your favorite way…

until later, El.                                            086


M/G vegetable demo garden.. Earth boxes growing peppers , eggplant and tomatoes. 2015

It’s mid-summer and early morning. The sun is spreading across the lawn.  The long  shadows, combined with the still, dewy grass just made fall seem a little closer. That’s ok, it helps with preparing the soil for those wonderful fall vegetables, while the soil is still warm. What typically gets planted for fall harvesting? Cold weather vegetables, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, chives, kale, peas, lettuce just to name a few. At this point you could purchase seed, sprout seeds or use purchased transplants.

Preparing for the fall planting can begin.  The soil will be much warmer then  in spring. When planting, make sure you allow your plantings to get 4-6 hours of sun.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Prepare your soil –soil is the backbone of your garden. Amend if possible with compost and /or organic matter. Some vegetables are heavy feeders, while some are listed as medium feeds and light feeders. They will require fertilizing. It’s always beneficial to plant crops together by their fertilizing requirements.
  2. Plan your planting area – 4 ft. X 4 ft. – then subdivide in 1 ft. squares. ( see photos M/G demo vegetable garden)


    M/G vegetable demo garden. Row planting with one ft. square spacing 2015

  3. Plant transplants (transplants allow for a long growing period – unless you sprouted your seeding.)
  4. Pack the soil gently but firmly up against the plants to keep out air pockets.
  5. Keep tender roots moist, not drenched.
  6. Lightly mulch to help keep moist and protected.

Be creative. Try planting flowers and herbs among your garden. Lavender and Rosemary are used by many along with nasturtium.  Pictured are various garden growing ideas.

M/G vegetable garden. row with spring planting with new fall season crops 2015.

M/G vegetable garden. row with spring planting with new fall season crops 2015.

Did you know that there is a bean variety that will grow as a shrub?  Yup! See the  photo they look great.


M/G vegetable demo garden. Bush beans planted in one ft square. 2015

M/G vegetable demo garden. Bush beans planted in one ft square. 2015




Take a good look at your plants within your garden. If any damage is present remove those pieces. Weeding can be done, decide if plants need to be moved for more space and which ones would be better in another place. I encourage you to take photos of your gardens. A garden picture can do two things: let you see how nice it looks while allowing you to judge if you like it or changes are needed. Perhaps more color is wanted. Take notes to use to get to know your garden.  Well now you have plenty to do – enjoy!  Until later, El

Praying Mantis - 2015 Cumru

Praying Mantis – 2015 Cumru

Ever have the kind of day in the garden that makes you step back in amazement? Let me share with you a glimpse into my garden adventure ….


Slope garden in front of tool shed...work in progress.

Slope garden in front of tool shed…work in progress.                                                                                                

It began mid-morning while weeding on a rather large slope that I have been trying to create a garden backdrop. Like a painter painting but using plants with warm colors and different textures are my paint brush. Among the plantings, I spy a praying mantis traveling on the mulch. Praying mantis are called “Beneficial – Insects” -aka good garden insects that will help keep your gardens’ pest at bay,  and consume just about any other moving insect. The praying mantis has a humongous appetite that grows larger as they grow. At full size adult mantis will eat crickets, grasshoppers and beetles just to name a few. Praying mantis are named for the way their front legs appear to be clasp together as if praying. But don’t be fooled those clasping front legs are strong and move very quickly to capture its prey. A praying mantis can actually turn its head and look over its shoulder, so far it’s the only insect known to do so. The mother mantis to be looks for a bush, twig or branch to make her Styrofoam looking egg case.

praying mantis egg case found in Spiraea bush

praying mantis egg case found in Spiraea bush


Praying mantis egg case 2015

Praying mantis egg case

This egg case is thick enough to protect the growing eggs over winter. Eggs, hundreds of them, are laid in the egg case. I found one tucked inside a bush that was being trimmed back. If you or your children should find one, don’t bring it into your home. Why? The warmth from inside your home will encourage hatching. The eggs will hatch and you’ll have hundreds of hungry praying mantis hunting in your home after they emerge from the case. Praying mantis, greet the world hungry & ready to hunt, even siblings – they are not picky eaters. While in the garden they are quiet and constantly on the prowl. They use their large eyes to watch and follow a potential meal. They also use their one ear to alert them to any movement. That one good ear is on its underside just in front of the hind legs. So if a praying mantis is spotted in your garden let it be. But do watch it. I still find it rather cool to get a peek at nature’s wonderful beneficial insects. Other beneficial insects for your garden are the green lacewing, assassin bug and lady bugs just to name a few. Also, not to be left out are the soil nematodes who’s only purpose is to feast upon bad soil insects. But that’s a conversation for another day.


Cicada skeleton case from an emerged cicada

Cicada skeleton case from an emerged cicada

While the air is beginning to fill with the sounds of cicadas, crickets and distant sounds, the heat of day is subsiding. It is with joyful anticipation I look forward for the sun to set to watch the flickering lights of the lighting bugs aka fireflies in the evening air. Until later, El




“Summer Garden Experince” – Trial Gardens

Trail Gardens - Summer Garden Experience 2015

Trial Gardens -” Summer Garden Experience” 2015

Summer Experience - Trial Garden 2015

Summer Experience – Trial Garden 2015

Saturday began with myself and a bus load of Penn State Master Gardeners off to “Summer Garden Experience”. An event that takes place at the PSU Southeast Research Farm, Landisville Variety Trials in Manheim, PA.

Trial Gardens -2015

Trial Gardens -2015

The anticipation of what lay ahead for the day was enhanced by the opportunity to socialize with fellow Master Gardeners. The bus was filled with chatter about what we may find and what we hoped to see.

Upon arrival you are greeted by the rows and rows of wonderful plants and information some of the newest and improved plants that are being introduced to commercial growers and gardeners. There are flowers, vegetables, and garden ideas. Tours are provided to see fields of produce trials as well. There are working Gardens to satisfy just about every gardeners fancy. From butterfly attraction to rain gardens and how to create your own. Green Roof construction was offered along with Green Roof plant Selection & Care.

There were speakers on hand to talk about everything regarding gardening for flowers, vegetables, bees and there were cute fairy gardens tucked throughout the vegetable garden…very nice.

Speaker Lee Reich, PhD, spoke about how to “Grow Good Fruit Naturally & Easily” along with “Fruits for Small Gardens”.  George Weigel, PA Certified Horticulturist provide “Beneficial’s & Biologicals in the Garden” and “Eat Your Yard”. Both were very easy to understand and both shared great tips.

Trial Gardens -2015 Wheel Bug

Trial Gardens -2015
Wheel Bug

All in all this was a great day – so full of information, ideas and wonderful people. In the “Pollinator Garden” I was able to get a picture of a wheel bug actually consuming a Japanese beetle. He would be considered a “beneficial” bug. Mountain mint was another plant I found to be a butterfly magnet. I could go on and on. Gardening is something everyone can do in so many different ways. Until later, El

"Summer Garden Experience" - Trail Gardens 2015

“Summer Garden Experience” – Trial Gardens 2015

Afternoon Delight……


Butterfly bush: Buddleia - davidii "Dubonnet"

Butterfly bush: Buddleia – davidii “Dubonnet”

As with all things “waiting is the hardest part”. My “Little Shangri-La” aka “She shed”, “Backyard Getaway” is progressing nicely. My wonderful husband David along with our two terrific sons worked on this surprise for me while I was out of town visiting our beautiful daughter and family. This will be my new writing space and a place others can go and enjoy the beauty of being tucked in with nature. So it is with great anticipation I look forward to moving my books and writing materials in.  I took another peek this afternoon and it is amazing.

Early afternoon in the garden is perhaps one of my favorite times of the day. Today especially, there is no humidity it’s a warm 82 degrees and its Friday. The air is a buzz with the sound of pollinators and the gentle tingle of the glass wind chimes. Songs of the neighborhood birds in the surrounding trees hidden from view fill the air. My constant companion Espen our cat is busy dreaming her own sweet dreams.



Cumru 2015 Buddleia: davidii - "Dubonnet"

Cumru 2015 Buddleia: davidii – “Dubonnet”

A yellow swallow tail has just flittered by on its way up to the butterfly bush.   My Butterfly bush – Buddleia: davidii “Dubonnet”, is a great pollinator. This particular variety is one that blooms early in June on old & new wood.  The beautiful soft fragrant flower is purple/violet with a small deep orange throat. This plant is an easy one to please, likes loamy soil, full sun and drought tolerant. The leaves are light green/gray. The branches can grow long and require a lot of space in ones’ garden or you can trim and keep it as a shrub. The branches are light enough so that as the blooms bloom and cascade they are able to gentle sway with the lightest breeze. Which adds to the beauty of this plant. Yes, it has been labeled invasive in some states, PA is one.  With regular garden maintenance it does just fine in the garden. There are varieties – hybrids that will perform as designed. Buddleia: davidii “Dubonnet” is one of my favorites for the garden. It can even be a container planting. No matter where you plant one it is sure to be a butterfly / pollinator magnet.

Buddleia - davidii: "Dubonnet"

Buddleia – davidii: “Dubonnet”

Hummingbirds enjoy visiting as well as butterflies, bees and flies who look like a bee. Bees will have two sets of wings while the bee fly will have only one set. Then of course there is the moth who forages for food before dusk and aren’t quite sure if they are butterflies or moths. Today there were black swallow tail, yellow swallow tail and monarch butterflies visiting and it was such an afternoon delight! Until later, El