Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Growing, Grinding, Baking & Eating Corn

Late last Spring, Nancy Schaeffer planted a handful of corn kernels in the Morris Arboretum’s community garden. By mid-September, mature cobs were ready for harvest. Nancy and gardeners Diane Wells & Eleanor Peck plucked 15 cobs from their stalks and brought them to the Arboretum’s recently restored 1854 gristmill. There they shucked the cobs and hung them to dry. Diane had brought her own dried buckwheat kernels that she ground into meal on a pedal powered mill.

By mid-November the dried corn was ready to grind. Nancy was shown by mill engineer Craig San Pietro how to use the powered sheller to remove the kernels from the cobs. The mill’s 4 foot diameter, one ton grindstones, elevator and powered sifter system would have lost too much of her small batch during processing so Nancy fed the kernels into a smaller powered mill and then used a hand sifter to separate the fine corn flour from coarser meal.

At that point Nancy worked with mill engineer & baker Ted Bell to mix her corn flour with mill ground wheat flour, eggs, milk, maple syrup, butter, sugar, and baking powder and fill muffin trays. Trays of hot muffins soon emerged from the mill’s oven. A few were eaten but Nancy took most of them home along with enough of her flour to bake two more batches for Thanksgiving.

The Arboretum’s mission is to connect plants, place and people. The creekside mill is the place where plants have been converted to food for people and their livestock for more than 150 years. Mill demonstrations of 10 different restored machines (and muffins!) will begin on Sunday, May 17th from 1 to 4 PM and continue on the 3rd Sunday of each month through October.

Learn more about Morris Arboretum's Grist Mill by visiting our website here.

Picking the corn planted by Nancy Schaeffer in Morris Arboretum’s community garden.

Getting ready to remove the kernels from the cobs.

Using the power mill to grind the kernels.

Making corn muffin mix and prepping the tins.

Homemade corn muffins, yum!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Learning and Sharing at Morris Arboretum: Become a Guide

Become a Guide

Guides have played an active role at the Morris Arboretum for nearly 40 years. However, much has changed during the last four decades in both the landscape and its interpretation. The first guided tours were leisurely walks that highlighted interesting trees and such features as the Swan Pond and Log Cabin.

Today's guides lead a wide variety of tours for both adults and children. The adult tours are primarily general or garden highlight tours, but they can be geared towards specific topics of interest including sculpture in the garden, Japanese elements, or native plants. The children's tours are most often curriculum based, aimed at teaching groups about trees, pollination, and the wetland among other topics. Guides also welcome visitors, help plan their visits, present guests with topics of interest within the garden, and have even taken visitors back in time on costumed tours of the Victorian garden.

Guide instruction has changed quite a bit over the years, too. In the early years, novice guides became familiar with the grounds by taking tours led by experienced guides and Paul Meyer, the Curator of the Living Collections at the time. To hone their skills, these new guides would take field trips to other cultural institutions and gardens. Today's trainees attend a 30 hour course given on 11 days in March. Throughout this time, guides in training learn about plants, the history of the Arboretum, techniques for leading tours, and much more. Each trainee also receives a notebook filled with useful facts and interesting background material. In addition, trainees gain "hands on" experience by leading parts of tours with current guides. During the course, trainees are paired with mentors, who will support and encourage them until they are prepared to give tours on their own.

Guides give their time and energy to the Arboretum for many reasons: to learn exciting new things, to be inspired by the beauty of Morris Arboretum, and also to meet staff and other volunteers who believe trees are vitally important to everyone's life. Our very knowledgeable guides promote the Arboretum's mission to their neighbors and friends by encouraging them to visit, volunteer and become members. Even more importantly, guides encourage environmental stewardship in neighborhoods near and far.

Active guides at Morris Arboretum are rewarded with learning opportunities such as field trips, lectures and classes, receive exciting awards for volunteering, and make lifelong friends. If you would like to be a part of this actively engaged group click here to visit our website for application and instructions.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

De-Icing – Some Winter Strategies



Living in the Northeast, we are all used to snowy winters, especially after last year! And many of us use rock salt to accommodate all the accompanying icy conditions, from hazardous roadways to slippery steps and sidewalks. Salt is effective because it lowers the freezing/melting temperature
of water. As we all know, ice forms when water reaches a temperature of 32° Fahrenheit; when salt is added to the water, that temperature drops. A 10% salt solution freezes at 20° F, and a 20% solution freezes at 2° F. When you sprinkle salt on a sidewalk or roadway, the salt dissolves into the liquid water in the ice and lowers its freezing point, so the ice melts.

This may be all well and good, but are you aware of how much salt we use annually? According to the EPA, over 11 million tons of salt are thrown on our streets and highways every year. The real problem arises when the ice melts, since its primary destination is, by default, our ground and surface water. Salt also acts as a desiccant – stressing salt-intolerant vegetation, and as a corrosive – effecting both metal and concrete. As salt is extremely soluble, it is easily transported with stormwater along with melted snow and ice runoff into our public water supply, much of which comes from ground and surface water.

Since most of us aren’t that fond of drinking salt water, it would behoove us to start looking for some alternate solutions to salting our roads and sidewalks. There are five chemicals commonly used as de-icers – and the alternatives that claim to be environmentally friendly are usually a combination of these, blended to minimize environmental risk while optimizing performance and remaining cost friendly. Understanding their properties will help you make informed decisions on melting ice in your own backyard. Calcium chloride (CaC12) often outperforms other products at lower temperatures. Producing an exothermic reaction, it gives off heat as it melts and attracts moisture directly from its surroundings, enabling it to dissolve ice faster. Sodium chloride (NaCl), also known as rock salt, has been used as the de-icer of choice since the 1940s, but loses its effectiveness when temperatures drop below 25° F. This is the culprit seeping into our groundwater. Potassium chloride (KCl) is a naturally occurring material also used as a fertilizer and a salt substitute for food. Its high salt index gives it the potential to burn foliage and inhibit rooting, so its use is limited. Urea (NH2CO2 NH2) is synthesized from ammonia and carbon dioxide and is primarily used as a fertilizer. As a de-icer, it has a lower burn potential than potassium chloride. Calcium magnesium acetate is a salt-free melting agent made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid. It does not harm plants or concrete and is effective in environmentally sensitive areas.

Any de-icer can be mixed with equal parts sand to minimize the adverse environmental effects and provide grit for added traction. Check the ingredients on your de-icer of choice to see how environmentally friendly it is, or better yet, let’s hope for a milder winter this year.
KIM FRISBIE, Freelance Writer

Monday, December 8, 2014

Be Kind to your Grass this Winter

At this time of year we are subject to heavy frosts in unusual places.  If the temperature is below freezing, there is a good chance frost will be present somewhere.  Do not drive, walk or work on the grass when temperatures are below freezing!  And here’s why:

Grass blades are exquisitely beautiful when covered with frost.  There is something magical about a hoary frost in the early morning light which conjures picturesque images of Jack Frost and the winter to come.  However, do not be fooled by the fairy tale. Far from benign, frost is essentially miniature frozen daggers arranged randomly all over the turfgrass blades.  When you walk or drive on frosted grass, the pressure of your foot or tire forces these tiny ice daggers into the grass blade.  Nobody wants to get stabbed by millions of tiny ice daggers, least of all turfgrass blades.  When this injury happens, the grass blades first turn black, then brown as they die a tortuous death.  Additionally, turf damage done at this time of year is particularly devastating because the grass blades have stopped growing for the season.  Turfgrass damaged in the fall or winter will not recover until next spring.  Any damage that occurs now will be a constant reminder throughout the entire winter of your senseless disregard for the health and well-being of turfgrasses everywhere.

The tricky thing, however, is that just because there is no frost visible does not mean there is no frost present.  A light frost or a frost at soil level will not necessarily show itself.  Sometimes, even a heavy frost will melt off the outer turfgrass canopy but still be present on the interior canopy long after air temperatures have risen above freezing.

So, in the humble opinion of an expert horticulturalist, your best course of action is as follows:

1) Never drive on the grass in the winter.
2) Never walk on frosted grass.
3) Stay on the paved paths.

For the sake of your turf, it is better to enjoy the frosted beauty of winter from your cozy chair by the window, as you sip your cocoa, pour over garden catalogs and dream of mows to come.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Morris Arboretum’s Executive Director Wins Prestigious National Award

AHS Award (left to right) Jane Diamantis, Chair of AHS Great American Gardeners Awards Committee; Paul Meyer; and Tom Underwood, AHS Executive Director


Paul W. Meyer, the F. Otto Haas Executive Director of the Morris Arboretum, received the prestigious Liberty Hyde Bailey Award from the American Horticultural Society (AHS) at its June 5th Great American Gardeners Awards Ceremony at River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia. AHS presents the Liberty Hyde Bailey Award to an individual who has made significant lifetime contributions to a least three of the following horticultural fields: teaching, research, communications, plant exploration, administration, art, business, and leadership.

“There is little doubt that Liberty Hyde Bailey was the most important proponent of Horticulture in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is more than fitting that this award goes to Paul Meyer for his achievements in administration, communication, institution-building and plant introduction.  His career has epitomized the breadth and magnitude of accomplishment for which this award was created.  Throughout his career Paul has never sought personal acclaim for his accomplishments, but has exerted servant leadership as primus inter pars - first among equals.  By embodying that rare quality of close identification with the institution he has served for almost four decades, Paul has created something more lasting and more positively effective than any personal fame.  I am pleased to have known him over his entire career, and to be able to say that this man is my friend,” said Dick Lighty about Meyer’s award. Lighty himself was a recipient of the award in 1999.

“This recognition would not be possible without the help of a dedicated Board, hardworking staff and volunteers, and all of the Arboretum’s generous supporters. “Meyer was quick to add when congratulated for this prestigious award. “This is an affirmation of the national and international impact of the Morris Arboretum”, he continued.

Paul W. Meyer has been the F. Otto Haas Executive Director of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania since 1991. Meyer came to the Arboretum as curator of the living collection in 1976, and has played a significant role in its transformation from a dilapidated lesser-known former private estate into a world-class public garden that welcomes approximately 130,000 visitors each year.

The Morris Arboretum is also a research and educational institution that maintains a database of Flora of Pennsylvania and participates in international plant exploration expeditions. Meyer helped found the NACPEC (North America-China Plant Exploration Consortium) in 1991 and has traveled extensively to China and other parts of the world in search of new plants to evaluate for introduction to American gardens. Through the NACPEC, the Morris Arboretum and other prominent participating North American public gardens have developed a strong relationship with Chinese botanical gardens to share information aimed at improving plant conservation efforts and widening the generic pool of species commonly used in horticultural breeding programs.

Just as the Morris Arboretum has become more widely recognized in recent years, Paul Meyer is not just Philadelphia’s secret. With this award and many others from horticultural organizations, he is clearly recognized for his achievements, and well respected among his peers nationally.

Katy Moss Warner, President Emeritus of the American Horticultural Society and currently Vice President and City Judge, America in Bloom commented that, “ Paul speaks often about "standing on the shoulders of giants" in order to have experienced and achieved what he has in this world. He is certainly passing it on. His tall shoulders have inspired many in America and around the world.

The American Horticultural Society couldn't be prouder as we recognize Paul Meyer as the 2014 Liberty Hyde Bailey award winner and add him to the list of those we consider the finest and most influential horticulturists in America.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Weeding: Hairy Bittercress

Cardamine hirsuta
Hairy Bittercress
By Emma Erler, The Alice and J. Liddon Pennock, Jr. Endowed Horticulture Intern

This time of year there isn’t too much happening in the garden. Most plants have gone dormant for the winter. However, as the snow melts you may notice a low growing plant with a basal rosette of leaves. This is a common weed in the mustard family called hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta).  Hairy bittercress is a winter annual, which means its seeds usually germinate in cool, moist weather. Seedlings emerge mainly in late summer or fall. They are frost hardy and will remain dormant through the winter until temperatures warm up. In early to mid-spring, hairy bittercress will resume growth, produce flowers, and go to seed. Plants die back as soon as hot weather arrives in late spring and summer.
As a seedling, hairy bittercress has simple kidney-shaped leaves. Mature plants have prominent basal rosettes of hairy, compound leaves with shallowly lobed kidney-shaped leaflets. Flowering stems emerge from the rosette and have only a few small leaves. Hairy bittercress flowers are very small (2-3 mm) in diameter with four white petals. The subsequent fruits are 1-2 cm long capsules that explosively disperse their seeds up to 3 meters from the plant.

The best way to control hairy bittercress in the garden is to remove it before it sets seed. Each plant is capable of producing many thousands of seeds, hence removing the plants before seeds are set will greatly control the population. Small populations can be easily hand pulled from the garden. In large areas, regular hoeing will prevent plants from flowering and going to seed.
 For the adventurous gardener, hairy bittercress is an edible green. Tender leaves collected in early spring or late fall can add a peppery taste to salads.

As the winter progresses, keep an eye out for hairy bittercress and get ready to weed as the weather warms up!


Photos: Emma Erler

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Counting the Birds: A Christmas Tradition

From December through January tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an annual mission: The Christmas Bird Count. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated families and students, birders and scientists to brave the winter weather, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists , to count the birds!
Each of these citizen scientists make an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action.
On December 21, 2013 several Morris Arboretum staff members participated in this annual tradition. Of the birds sighted, some of the most notable were:  
  • A flock of 220 Snow Geese
  • Cormorants, Mallards, and Wood Ducks
  • Wood Thrush
  • Brown Creepers
  • Carolina wren
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

And perhaps the most exciting sighting: A pair of Bald Eagles spotted at Bloomfield Farm!


Pictured left to right: Carolina Wren, Red-tailed Hawk, White-throated Sparrow (Photos by Susan Marshall).

Visit the National Audubon website for more information about the census and how you can participate in 2014.