September 21, 2014

Chandra L. Mattingly

Biography and photo

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Of Bugs, Blooms & Vittles
Join the flight to save the monarchs PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Thursday, September 04, 2014 10:06 AM

If the monarch caterpillars in our living room are any indication, monarch butterflies' wintering population should be up this year.

Those who love the tropical insects' orange and black stained glass appearance hope so. In a life cycle that stretches from Mexico to Canada, these delicate creatures are dependent on just a few species of plants. Unfortunately, large-scale farming, pesticide use and human development have wiped out many stands of milkweed upon which monarchs' caterpillars feed.

Last winter (2013-2014) the wintering monarch population was the smallest it's ever been since monitoring began, according to Monarch Watch. Efforts even have begun to classify the species as endangered. In our screened butterfly cage, only three monarchs hatched to be released. This year we've already released over a dozen, mostly females.

Milkweeds used to be present along the fence rows and other waste areas dividing and bordering farmers' fields. Some even grew among the crops, as milkweeds are resistant to some pesticides. But stronger pesticides can be used with genetically modified corn and soybeans, and the milkweed occurrence has dropped as a result.

Drought in Texas and other areas hasn't helped, limiting availability of food for caterpillars and adults. Each spring, the butterflies which survive the winter begin to migrate north. As adults lay their eggs, the resulting monarchs fly farther north, and produce another generation which flies even farther. Eventually, as the days grow shorter and fall approaches, instinct kicks in and the last generation flies south to winter near Angangueo, Mexico.

But the initial butterflies heading north must have milkweeds or honeyvine (Ameplamus albidus) plants upon which to lay their eggs, and nectar-producing plants upon which to feed. The milky sap of milkweeds makes monarchs resistant to predators, for it makes them poisonous to most vertebrates, including birds.

Milkweeds (various asclepius species) are easy to identify, with their upright growth habit, milky sap and hourglass-shaped flowers. Honeyvine is more likely to be confused with other vines, yet in our experience receives far more monarch eggs than ascepius species in our area.

At this time of year, mature honeyvine can be identified by the pods hanging from the vines. The flowers occur in round white clusters, have a strong sweet scent and could be called half-hourglasses in shape. Young vines tend to be upright until they reach 6 inches or so, and are stiffer than other vine species.

When weeding, PLEASE don't pull up any honeyvines without checking for the white dots which are monarch eggs (smaller than the tip of a pencil) or the striped monarch caterpillars. The monarch population needs whatever help we can provide right now.

Monarch Watch sells milkweed plants as plugs, and provides free milkweed plants to schools and non-profits - with plants available now for fall planting. Some states have begun planting highway corridors with milkweeds and other plants attractive to pollinators. (Perhaps we could all suggest this to our state legislators!)

Meanwhile, the Dearborn County Soil and Water Conservation District's Backyard Conservation Program offers butterfly weed, an orange-flowered asclepius, and a few other native plants each spring. The district may begin a pollinator-seed program next spring; many of the same plants feed honeybees as well as native pollinators and butterflies.

Folks (and teachers) who would like to raise monarchs can find instructions for doing so on the Monarch Watch site: It takes about a month for an egg to result in a butterfly, and those eggs laid now will become the butterflies that migrate south. Monarch Watch also sells tags so you can tag your adult butterflies in hopes they will be spotted in Mexico and you'll learn if they made the trip successfully.

Folks who would like honeyvine seeds may email me at with email addresses and/or phone numbers (or call me at 812-438-2011 if you don't have email) and I will contact them when the seeds ripen in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, enjoy the monarchs you see fluttering past; last year the sight here was extremely rare. Let's hope it never becomes nonexistent.

Last Updated on Thursday, September 04, 2014 10:27 AM
Senses shimmer with summertime delights PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Thursday, August 14, 2014 9:48 AM


Which is better, to bite into an ear of sweet corn that went straight from the garden into the boiling water, or to slice and devour a sun-ripened red tomato?

Ah, summertime, when the garden is in full swing and the eating is good.

This week we're eating our first homegrown Silver Queen corn, though a Rising Sun friend had mature corn over a month ago! He managed to plant in just the right early window and got corn up despite the cool spring weather.

We got our first Early Girl tomato July 3, and are absolutely inundated with round red – and a few orange – globes. There's nothing like a plateful of ripe tomatoes with cottage cheese – or slices of an Orange Jubilee with chicken, swiss or mozzarella cheese, salad dressing and homegrown oregano on sandwich bread.

I started more varieties of tomatoes this year than usual, though Early Girls are my husband's favorite. The Tigerellas are a smaller, slightly striped variety, which cracked consistently while we were getting frequent rains. Now that the rains are more spaced out, they're staying whole – and they do have a good flavor. I'm still weighing in on my favorites, but the Big Boy and Abe Lincoln are way ahead of the Super Tasty and Supersteak – though the latter has decent flavor in its huge tomatoes should you want to grow them for bragging rights. They're great for jumbo hamburgers, but a little large for eating out of hand.

Sungold and my own saved-seed red cherry tomatoes are probably what I eat most, simply because they're so productive. And a cherry tomato is easy to pop into my mouth as a quick snack!

With all the rains, the green beans have produced like gangbusters, finally slowing for this last picking. A second planting is up and almost ready to bloom, but this first planting suddenly has loads of buds and blooms coming so may not get pulled up after all. And for once, the bean beetles have not overloaded the older plants.

We did lift onions and shallots this week, and I pondered how appropriate is that verb as I gently tugged the round and elongated globes from the ground. They'll lay out under the carport roof for about a month to cure, though some will be sauteed and eaten much sooner. I've taken to growing Utah Spanish and Red Long of Tropea onions, the latter growing into tall red ovals. I start both those and the Ambition red shallots from seed in early February.

In the emptied area we planted two varieties of broccoli seedlings, Windsor and Nutribud, plus Snow Crown cauliflower and savoy cabbage. And lettuce seeds. The brassica were started indoors July 8 and should have time to mature, depending, always, on weather.

As usual, by the time I got done I was grubby and slick with sweat. That's part of summertime, too, I guess, and as sensual in its way as all the gustatory sensations!

Soon I'll plant beet, spinach, kale, collard and carrot seeds for fall and overwintering crops, as well as garlic cloves for next summer's harvest. This year's garlic, on trays in the garage, has dried about long enough to be stored for winter. Maybe I'll get some braided this year!

Meanwhile, the spring broccoli continues to send out side shoots, the most recent of which got blanched for broccoli, bacon, and raisin salad. We got our first large head of Gypsy broccoli June 29 from seeds planted in late March, and our first cabbage head a few days earlier from the same planting date.

This year and last I got a cabbage mix from Pineseed which provides a variety of red and green cabbages, including early and larger, later maturing plants. One of the heads that's ready now is absolutely HUGE, though it doesn't look quite as big wearing the cowboy hat my daughter suggested. I'd guess it weighs about 10 lb., though.

Sunflowers line three sides of our big garden, and the chatter of goldfinches is constant now. The seeds have no chance to mature for winter birdseed! But the birds and the flowers are a delight, and I take some of the heavy stalks indoors to enjoy. I make sure I grow the kind that DO have pollen so they also are good for honeybees and other pollinators.

Other flower varieties make a walk through the backyard a scentsational trip. The oriental lilies are done for the year, but the moonflowers have started with their overwhelming fragrance, the tea roses provide a lovely scent from time to time, and the slightly-dusty scented phlox and sweet pink resurrection lilies are blooming as well.

Black-eyed Susan, gaillardia and purple coneflowers vibrate with color, and salvia, balloon flower and dragonhead provide shades of blue and purple. And at the very back of the yard, the apiary is abuzz as honeybees wing their way in and out of their hives with loads of nectar and pollen.

Ah, summertime. A sensual experience in so many ways.

Sow summer seeds soon for fall food PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Tuesday, July 08, 2014 4:10 PM

Is it too late to plant a garden?

Not at all! While it might be harder to get cool-weather crops such as lettuce, spinach and beets to germinate, there are other vegetables that will pop right out of the ground and get to work.

And even the cool-temperature crops may germinate if covered with a shade cloth and kept moist, or started inside under lights for transplanting.

So, what should you plant first? Sweet corn. I usually am able to get a late crop of sweet corn, even full-season varieties such as Silver Queen, if I plant it by July 15. You can soak the seeds overnight and water them in well to get a quicker start.

Bush green beans planted now also have enough time to mature, as do cucumbers. Even summer squash are likely to produce some edibles, though it's probably too late for winter squash and watermelon.

Carrots will mature in what's left of the summer but can be tricky to get up, especially in clay soils. Try planting the seeds in broad rows, water, then cover the area with a wide board. Check the area daily, keeping it moist, and remove the board as soon as seeds germinate. Keep watering regularly until the little carrots are well established.

Or you can try covering your carrot seeds with a mixture of sand and soil to keep the ground from crusting. Again, keep the area watered.

The same treatment works with beets, but only if the soil is cool enough. Beet seeds won't germinate well at higher temperatures. Yet if you can get them up, they make a great late summer/fall crop.

Peas planted now may produce come fall, and you can choose standard or snap peas. I've always had better luck with the latter, especially as fall crops. Plan on some sort of support; even so-called non-staking varieties do better with light fence or string to keep the delicate vines off the ground.

Even potatoes can still be planted and will produce taters, though perhaps not large ones. The difficulty with late potatoes is the hungry insects; they never seem to go after the early potatoes as voraciously. There are organic products that work on potato beetles, with limitations.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterium which is effective with early larval stages. Beauveria bassiana is effective against all larval and adult stages, but doesn't work well in temperatures above 80 degrees F. Both are organisms which occur naturally.

Cabbage and broccoli seeds also can be planted directly in the garden for fall crops, but should be watched for pests and nibbling bunnies. In our garden, which essentially has been organic for decades, wasps and other predators carry off the cabbage worms for the first half of the summer to feed their young. Once those young are raised, we begin seeing cabbage worms on the brassica.

At that point, you can squash the caterpillars, pick them off and feed them to your chickens, or spray Bt or rotenone. If you use rotenone or other pesticides, be sure to dust or spray early in the morning or in the late evening, when honeybees and other pollinators are less active.

Speaking of honeybees, my home hives are thriving, as frequent rains are keeping the white yard clover blooming.

We took honey off in late June, a sweaty job I wrote about in advance in an earlier blog, and ended up with about 360 lb. of honey from four overwintered beehives (up to six hives at the moment with divisions.)

While I did the heavy, clothes-drenching work of removing honey supers from the hives, volunteers at Jim Orem's Spring Sling in Milan did most of work involved in extracting: decapping the combs, loading and running the extractor, unloading the extractor, and cleaning up cappings, etc.

So here's thanks to Jim Orem, Brianna Johnson, Allison and Matt Knue, Chris and Darrell Hosmer, and Donnie Flannery and his son Seth Flannery. Others there when we were included Randy Salatin and daughters Mary and Emma Salatin, Ted Cooley, Virginia Tidman, Jim Rector and Bert Fischesser.

Chandra L. Mattingly is a staff reporter for The Journal-Press and The Dearborn County Register. In her spare time she cultivates a large garden, and tends bees, chickens and horses.

How sweet it is! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Friday, June 20, 2014 11:24 AM

Beelieve it or not, the sweetest part of beekeeping for most backyard beekeepers isn't the honey harvest.

It's seeing that their honeybees have survived another winter – especially when the winter was like this last one!

But folks who are interested in beekeeping as well as beginning beekeepers can get a good idea of what honey harvesting is like come Saturday, June 28. Jim Orem, a member of the Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association, is offering his Milan area honey house and his help that day for his Spring Sling.

Newbees and SIBA members who have honey to extract may use his facilities that day, but must call or email him to set up a time: 812-571-0118 or

Even better, prospective beekeepers may come and discuss beekeeping and learn how to extract honey by helping. Even folks who just are interested in honeybees and honey are welcome to show up and learn through experience how it's done.

The process will begin at 10 a.m. with honey off my hives, but folks should call Jim ahead of time for directions and the best time to show up.

Once again, this strain of honeybees I care for has produced a heck of a lot of honey. In 2013, all three hives I had wintered over, and I took off about 300 lb. of honey that June. This last winter, thanks to divisions, I had four hives, all of which wintered well. At this point, it looks as if they've produced just as much and probably more than last spring.

So, for those wondering about how one “robs” the bees, here's the process. Two days ahead of time, Thursday, I'll go through the hives, set the honey supers to be taken above the hives' inner covers, and place a bee escape in the inner cover hole. By the following day most if not all the bees should have gone down into the brood boxes of the hive, where they have additional honey stored as well as pollen, and raise their young.

Because I'm not a weight lifter and value my back, I'll remove about half the frames from each full super, keeping them covered, and carry that much at a time to a shady spot in the yard. When I have all the honey supers off the hives and in the shade, I'll use a shop vacuum in reverse to blow any remaining honeybees off the honeycombs.

Then I'll put the bee-less honeycombs in a clean super, always keeping the boxes covered. When I have a full box, I'll load it into the back of our pickup truck.

When all the honey is on the truck, I'll drive a few blocks away, then open the lids to release any honeybees that might have slipped back inside the supers. At that point, those bees are glad to get out of the hot boxes and simply fly away, heading home.

After a couple of stops to repeat the process, if needed, I'll park the truck in a closed warehouse to await our Saturday morning trip to Jim's. There, we'll use a heated de-capping knife to remove the caps from the honeycombs, which are built within wooden frames. Then the frames will be put in an extractor and whirled to sling out the honey – hence the event's name – and drained into food-grade buckets.

(And this year I'll remember the lids for the honey containers so I don't have to send the spouse back home to get them!)

Finally, all the empty supers will be returned to the hives for the bees to clean out, or, if a nectar flow continues, to refill.

Last Updated on Monday, June 23, 2014 2:08 PM
Bunches of berries, blessings of bees PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Tuesday, May 27, 2014 3:39 PM

Is anything better than a ripe strawberry, warm from the sun?

Ours started ripening in bunches just before Memorial Day weekend and already my fingers bear red stains. Yum!

We're still getting asparagus, too, and enjoying it steamed, roasted and in cream sauce. I've started letting the skinnier stalks go, and the plants are slowing down, partly due to a lack of rain here in Rising Sun. But my first planting of lettuce is ready to pick, as is the volunteer kale, and the raspberries and gooseberries won't be far behind the strawberries.

Anyone who loves fresh fruit and has a little space should pop a few berry plants in the ground; they're so easy and so rewarding! Both strawberries and black raspberries will multiply, giving you a larger patch each year if you let them. And if you like asparagus, a good bed will produce for years and years.

Otherwise, our vegetable garden remains a work in progress. The most recent plantings were herbs, parsley, oregano, sage and sweet basil; tonight I hope to plant sweet marjoram and the other basils: lemon, lime and Spicy Globe. We love those in various dishes!

A few days earlier I transplanted more of the volunteer sunflowers and we planted Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Shell beans are next, and a second planting of sweet corn. The green beans and carrots are up and the tomatoes and sweet bell pepper plants look great – all they need is a little rain. Several of the tomatoes have small fruits starting.

Our last rain here was the 21st, with some different but beautiful lightning displays – long horizontal extensions, as well as vertical bolts coming down in fan-like sprays. But the rain here amounted to only a tenth, whereas some folks got a couple inches.

We still need to set out the eggplants I started from seed and get my gourds and cucumbers in the ground, hopefully to be followed by a midweek rain.

And I want to resurrect my perennial herb garden where I will plant more sage, thyme, rue, lemon thyme, French tarragon, southernwood, costmary, lavender – and so much more! Only the comfrey and lemon balm remain of the herbs that grew there some years back.

There's always more to do!

Meanwhile, the honeybee hives are going gangbusters! In the past three weeks, my four hives went from having two supers mostly full of honey to over eight supers full! Some of the honey isn't ready yet, but as heavy as the supers are, it's not far off.

Bees make honey by gathering flower nectar, which mixes with enzymes as they carry it home in their stomachs. As the bees put the liquid into honeycomb cells, it's about 80 percent water. The bees inside the hive circulate air by fanning their wings, and the moisture level gradually drops until the honey is about 14 to 18 percent water. At that point, the bees cap the full cells and the honey can be harvested.

But the beekeeper's job also includes ensuring the bees have enough honey to feed them through the summer, when nectar sources may be scarce, and through the winter. Once the clover bloom finishes, usually in late June or by July, the bees may not have another major nectar source until the fall flowers bloom, the asters and goldenrod and boneset. Much depends on weather, with summer drought always a possibility, as is chilly, rainy weather in the fall.

And of course honeybees located near field crops, especially corn, likely will be exposed to neonicitinoid herbicides, which have been implicated in colony collapse disorder. Throw in two varieties of mites, and it's understandable why honeybees are struggling.

All in all, I feel blessed that my hives are doing so well, the four original ones, four divisions from those, and one hive originating from a captured swarm. All I have to do is keep up with adding more supers for them to fill with honey – with some help, bless him, from the spouse.



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