easy to be green

I have a feeling that many of you moaned and groaned on Thanksgiving Day saying “I don’t believe I ate the whole thing and then went back for seconds”! Plus, you forced down several pieces of pie, right? One of the main staple for dinner that day is corn, smothered in butter with a hint of salt and maybe black pepper.

Corn has been around for over 10,000 years when it was domesticated as a food crop by the inhabitants of what is now known as Mexico. Eventually over time the crop spread throughout North America. After their discovery of the North American continent, the Europeans discovered corn, an unknown plant to them. Upon their return to Europe, corn was introduced to Old World Continent, where it eventually spread worldwide.

It is almost hard to comprehend that over ten thousand years ago our ancestors were in the business of improving the quality of corn through breeding research. Sweet corn, field corn, popcorn, multi colored “Indian” corn are some of the varieties that we are now familiar with. Today, in addition to being a popular food for humans and livestock, corn’s uses are numerous. Corn syrup, used as a sweetener, fuel supplement, cooking starch and oil are some of the uses.

With all the hype about saving the bees, butterflies and other pollinators, we have forgotten about another very valuable pollinator and insect predator. Once again, mankind is responsible for the problems facing this forgotten mammal, the bat. Loss of habitat is one major factor and also the fungal white nose syndrome, which is not caused by man, has decimated the population drastically. As a child I remember seeing hundreds sweeping through the sky in the evening, devouring in an hour over 600 insects per hour. Now I am lucky to see a hundred during an entire summer season.

Consider this concept, create a bat garden. Habitat should be considered. Buy or build a bat house and place them on poles about fifteen feet or higher or on side of out buildings. I would draw the line on attaching a bat house on side of a house. Last thing I want to have is bat poop on my siding. But bat poop or better known as bat guano is an excellent fertilizer.

Create a garden that will attract insects. Certain plants will bloom late in the evening or during the night to attract insects to pollinate. Try planting evening primrose, phlox, Silene catch fly, fleabane, four o’clocks, nicotiana or moonflowers. These are just some of the many plants that attract night flying insects. Bats are also known as valuable predators for vegetable pests such as cutworm moths, potato and cucumber beetles. Bats are not a serious and important as are bees when it comes to pollination, but in their hunting of insects, they do brush up against pollen.

Small garden ponds make a wonderful attraction to the landscape. With my small pond I’ve tried to make it appear as it has been there for years, making it look like a small pond that would be found in the wilds. Using native grasses and perennials, allowing decaying logs and carefully placed stones, help create this illusion. The addition of fish, koi and goldfish, really makes it look more natural, except for one small detail. Koi and goldfish are not found in the wild nor should they ever be released to ponds, lakes, streams or rivers.

If this is your first winter or if you are a seasoned “ponder”, here are some tips to keep the fish alive during the cold winter months. Hopefully you have stopped feeding your fish. Their appetite slows down and what food is eaten is slowly digested and not being active, food is not a concern.

What you do need to do is to provide a safe haven for the fish in which to hide. During the summer months, the fish could hide from predators under floating plants. I use a terra cotta flue pipe year round for my fish. In addition to needing a safe haven, you will need to prevent death through suffocation or poisoning due to buildup of gases. The fish continue to breathe and also give off waste material and gases. Once the temperature hits thirty-two or lower, the pond will freeze over. If you do not maintain an open hole for gases to escape, the fish will die. There are several ways to prevent winter kill. A pond heater will maintain a hole in the ice or should be the type to keep the water warm enough to prevent freezing. An aeration system will keep the water moving and also provide oxygen. Since my small pond has plants that provide year round oxygen, I rely on the pond heater to keep a hole in the ice. Keep in mind this information is for small ponds, not ponds that could hold ice skaters.

If you have spent any time in the woods or have dead tree trunk or debris around, changes are the fairies or witches were in the vicinity. The evidence being the butter left behind. Fairy butter is a fungus similar in color of butter, yellow and gelatinous. Fungi have many common names, the toad stool, dog’s vomit, devil’s fingers, bird’s nest and funeral bell to name a few. Many name’s point to the fact that the fungi are poisonous.

As many of you are aware the Master Gardeners lost their gardens at the Penn State Extension Office. With plans in place to completely renovate the existing garden, an unsurmountable obstacle occurred forcing the Master Gardeners to abandon the gardens which were subsequently removed. A new location has been found and with the blessings of the Clinton County Fair, a new pollinator friendly garden is in the works.

Also the popular Garden Sense program will be held by the Master Gardeners January the 21st and 28th. Watch this article, this newspaper and our Facebook page at Penn State Master Gardeners of Clinton County for more information.

Although the gardening season has ended, your questions and problems can still be answered. Feel free to contact the Master Gardener phone line at 570-726-0022 ext. 3826 and leave a message.

Remember, it is easy to be green. Happy Gardening!


Quentin Stocum, is former Clinton County Master Gardener Coordinator.