Black Walnut Toxicity; What It Means For Your Garden

I chose the location of my garden based on two factors. The first being that a house was demolished years ago on one end of the property, so I wanted to put it far away from any hidden debris and avoid the clay that was turned up during the demolition and excavation. The second, was that my hose had to reach. In the end I really didn’t have much choice where it went. I had no idea that I had to take into consideration the trees growing near my garden. I found out, however, after a crappy first year of tomatoes and a conversation with the lovely gal who owns the local garden center, that the young black walnut tree right next to my garden was likely the culprit.

Walnuts

 

Its called allelopathy.  Its a trait some plants posses and it means that they produce one or more biochemicals that affect growth, germination, and reproduction of other plants. Known as allelochemicals, they can either support the growth of neighboring plants or kill all the competition.  Think of it as a plants survival instinct, instead of spraying a putrid odor from their anal glands like a skunk these plants emit biochemicals to protect themselves. They can also use these allelochemicals to from keep from being eaten by animals. Black walnut trees produce a biochemical called “juglone” that kills many types of plants (including tomatoes) in an effort to ensure that the tree can get the most nutrients from the surrounding soil with little competition. The biochemical works by inhibiting respiration, and essentially starving out sensitive plants. Juglone exists in all parts of the tree, bark, roots, leaves, and of course the walnut hulls. Underneath the tree’s canopy is where most of the danger lies, however it can be as far-reaching as 50-80 feet from the trunk of the tree. Even if the tree is cut down, it will be years before the toxicity declines, as it is impossible to remove all of the roots from the soil.

Plants suffering from juglone toxicity will show wilting and yellowing of the leaves that doesn’t improve with thorough watering. And eventual death of the plant. There are many lists of juglone-sensitive and -tolerant plants out there and this is a very short one at that. There is also some debate about what plants belong on the list and ones that don’t. It seems that some varieties of tulips, for example, are juglone tolerant, while others still are sensitive and won’t survive near the trees. Most of the studies regarding juglone sensitivity have focused on tomatoes and a few other popular crops. Check out your state extension services for more lists.

Juglone Sensitive Plants:
Tomatoes
Rhubarb
Potatoes
Peppers
Cabbage
Asparagus
Peas

Juglone Tolerant Plants:
Beans
Corn
Garlic
Onions
Melons
Squash
Beets
Carrots

I admit that my juglone sensitive plants have still done quite well despite this toxin being present in the soil, besides peppers, that is, never did have much luck with peppers. I attribute my success to not allowing leaves/twigs nor nuts and hulls to decompose in my garden. Also, my whole garden gets tilled twice a year, and in between rows several times in the season.. The aeration and well drained soil goes a long way in aiding the decomposition of juglone. Making sure your garden is nutrient-rich and has lots of healthy microbes from lots of compost helps a lot, too, but it only delays the inevitable. As the tree grows the toxin will spread and I will be forced to take action. Luckily there are ways to get up and away from juglone. Raised beds lined with weed/root proof liner or even container gardening are possibilities, along with the obvious: Moving the garden.

Since juglone exists in all parts of the tree, be sure to never ever compost any part of the tree and never use it as mulch. Black Walnut trees aren’t the only juglone-producing tree you need to look out for either. Butternut, hickory, and English walnut are also guilty of producing the toxin. So if your garden is a little sad and wilted, look up and take a gander at the trees that surround it.

 

The Best Blueberry Pie & The Secret To Perfect Pie With Frozen Berries

Little O Sneaking Some Blueberry Pie
Little O sneaking some blueberry pie with whole wheat crust.

July is blueberry month. Those tasty blue orbs that they call a super fruit are finally back. I remember when my Grandparents got me and my sister so excited to go blueberry picking in Paw Paw Michigan. We were going to stuff our faces with blueberries then head to Lake Michigan and swim and try to climb the dunes. It sounded like so much fun!! If you have never picked blueberries, well you are in for a treat, let me tell ya. One of my favorite comedians, Jim Gaffigan, put it something like this: “Picking blueberries isn’t like picking pumpkins,” and he’s right. We were out in the blueberry patch on the hottest flippin’ day of the year picking blueberries all afternoon and I swear we never even ended up with a quart of stinkin’ berries. See, they send you out into the part of the patch that has already been picked over by the machine and about 100 other kids being tortured by their lying “this will be so much fun” grandparents. That was the last time we did that. And by God we earned that trip to the lake.

These days my grandparents still make that trip to Paw Paw every year but they buy us a 10lb box of blueberries and we laugh remembering blueberry-picking hell. Even though I could sit down and mow down that whole box of blueberries with the boys I have to preserve some by freezing for the dead of winter when we need a little sunshine.

To Freeze Blueberries:
1. Wash berries thoroughly; you can use a fruit wash, but I just dump them into a sink full of water and white vinegar and swish them around.
2. Line cookie sheets with freezer paper waxy side up
3. Drain blueberries and spread evenly over cookie sheet. Avoid clumping. Nothing is worse than a blueberry brick.
4. Put in freezer for about two-three hours or overnight
5. Put in freezer safe containers in portions of your choosing marked with the date. Store in freezer.

I like to freeze my berries in pie and muffin recipe sizes so I don’t have to mess around measuring.

Frozen Or Fresh Blueberry Pie Recipe

The trick to a great blueberry pie with frozen berries is allowing the berries to thaw and draining the excess liquid from them before beginning. You will want to measure your berries while they are still frozen, then allow them to thaw.  The same applies for muffins and anything else you want to bake with frozen blueberries.

The Crust:
1-1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons Crisco (or lard/fat of choice)
1/3 cup cold butter
1/4 cup cold water

Place dry ingredients in food processor and slowly add water while pulsing the mixture. Pulse until dough looks crumbly, you may need to add a teeny bit more water. Dump contents of bowl onto plastic wrap or into a bowl and form into a ball. Allow to chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. (I let mine chill for as long as it takes for my berries to thaw. Also I always double this crust recipe so I have extra for making pretty pie tops)

The Filling:
4 cups blueberries (if using frozen berries, thaw before use)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons milk
4 tablespoons tapioca powder (I use pearls, they work just fine)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg beaten for brushing crust.

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix all wet ingredients in a large bowl, add cinnamon and tapioca whisk thoroughly. Fold in thawed or fresh berries until they are coated, let rest for 10 min. Pour filling into prepared pie crust. Add top crust if you wish. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 min. Reduce heat to 375F and continue baking for 30-45 min or until filling is bubbling. Allow it to cool before digging in. It’s always a good idea to put a pan under your pie as it’s baking to catch any spill overs.

Enjoy!

Making Christmas About Memories Not Stuff

 

Dog

This is the first Christmas for our twin boys. They will be a few days short of a year old when the big day rolls around. It is hard to believe that we have survived a year. There have been a lot of changes in our lives since our little nuggets arrived, but the biggest one is me staying at home with them. It is not something I regret at all, in fact I know many mommas out there would love to be able to do it and I am lucky that we can make it work. Its a blessing. I also started with the delusion that I would be able to do all kinds of things that I have been wanting to do in my “spare time.” Veteran moms, feel free to laugh now.

We have also noticed a large influx of “Stuff.” The bouncy things, the walkers, stuffed toys, balls, clothes, accessories, that spooky camera toy that talks when no one is near it … and any number of other things. Our once tidy home looks like a ball pit at Chucky Cheese. And it’s not just baby stuff; it seems like every time we go out we get another pile of things that we somehow have to make our home absorb. Bottom line — we have too much STUFF.

 

Our first new family tradition started the day after Thanksgiving. We loaded up the four wheel drive sleigh and headed to Frankenmuth, Michigan. In hindsight we didn’t really pick the best day to go, the place was swarming with people, but it was so much fun. Bronners was our first stop; if you have never been it is worth checking out. It is the world’s largest Christmas store. The boys loved the shiny things on the ceiling, no one cried, and nothing got broken. A+ Yoders! We then proceeded to Zehnders, a family style restaurant featuring fried chicken, mashed potatoes and homemade bread. The boys ate all the squash and loved the butter noodles. A side note: not all the restrooms have changing tables. Matt was gone so long searching and waiting for a bathroom with a changing table that I almost thought me and O got abandoned.
We checked out all the cool shops on the main drag while we waited for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony to begin. There is a really neat toy shop downtown and I really liked my German chocolate latte from the little coffee shop a few doors away. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony was really neat! They had a German band that sang carols in German and a candlelight walk that we didn’t get to participate in like we had hoped, it started snowing and the boys had had enough so we packed up and went home.

The next day we focused on putting up our tree and decorating it. A much slower process now, since every ornament must be inspected and approved by two tiny boys. We cannot put up the tree without watching “Christmas Vacation.” It’s something that me and my family did for years and it feels funny without it.

I also made a point to get down to see my grandmother. My mom and I got the boys around and spent the evening making two batches of molasses cookies while she visited with her great grandchildren. That’s magic right there.

Homemade Gifting And Skill Building Gifts
A few years ago we started frowning upon purchased gifts in favor of homemade ones. Homemade gifts mean more than anything bought from a store. My sister knits a mean scarf, my husband can whip out gorgeous picture frames, and I make birdseed wreaths. We are a crafty family and we all have our talents. My dad loves to cook and always makes an amazing restaurant quality feast. Every. Single. Holiday. And my mom might as well be a Christmas interior decorator, the house is always stunning. Sharing your talents with your family and friends is a great way to keep costs down and spirits up. Also gifts that encourage interests or ones that make a memory are amazing. Does your kid need the latest (annoying) Tickle Me Elmo? Maybe that birdhouse kit that she can put together with her dad would mean more in the end. Go to a ball game, show them how to change a tire, take them to a museum, or the zoo. Skills and interests last a lifetime. Do I remember what I got Christmas morning when I was 9? Heck no! I DO, however, remember helping my dad and grandpa build the sugar shack and learning about making maple syrup. I remember picking out one new ornament every year at Christmas Manor with my mom and sister after our school’s Halloween parade. I remember drawing dinosaurs on the floor with my uncle while we waited for the turkey to get carved. I remember sleeping with my sister in her room Christmas Eve and swearing we could hear bells and tiny hooves on our roof. Little things that hardly cost much are the things that stuck with me all these years.

I have so many fond memories of Christmas. My parents really made it a magical time of the year. I just hope we can continue that for our children. It was never about “getting” so much as the feeling surrounding the whole month of December. We baked, made gingerbread houses, made ornaments and read stories,wrote letters to Santa, strung popcorn and cranberries, played games … and all the love, it was amazing. I wish for our children to be content with a few gifts and happy to spend time with their family and play games, drink cocoa and build snowmen. That’s what Christmas is all about for me.