July 23, 2014

Chandra L. Mattingly

Biography and photo

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Of Bugs, Blooms & Vittles
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 jorem@etczone.com.

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.


Springing toward summer PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Thursday, May 15, 2014 10:02 AM


My woodland wildflowers are about done blooming but the domestic flowers are coming into their own. Pink blossoms dangle from the bleeding heart, the centaurea's bachelor-button-like flowers are a lovely deep blue, and buds are forming on the false indigo.

Between weeding and planting the vegetable garden, I have to remind myself to stop and enjoy the beauty around me. Fortunately, the oriole is back in the huge sycamore by the big garden and entertains me with his singing and flashes of orange as I pick asparagus each evening.

Tomato and bell pepper plants stand upright where I planted them one evening last week when rain was forecast. I got seeds in the ground for sweet corn, carrots and green beans as well, but the rain amounted to only a tenth or two of an inch. More rain Saturday dampened the ground, but we could use a few days' worth of water. I think the total rainfall last week was less than an inch for us.

Of course I also planted flower seeds – you have to balance one with the other, I think. I love the pink variations of cosmos but scattered the orange and yellow flowering cosmos seeds as well. A few volunteer castor beans are up, and at the far end of the garden the yellow sweet clover I planted for the honeybees is up thickly enough to shade out any weeds.

That won't bloom till next year, but in a few weeks I'll plant buckwheat as a combination cover crop/honeybee feeder, timing it to bloom after the white clover scattered in residential yards is done. And I still have to get my sweet potatoes, dry beans and eggplant planted.

Meanwhile I worked the four honeybee hives, dividing three of the four that showed signs of swarming: active queen cells. When the hives get crowded, the bees build special cells called queen cups. After the queen lays a fertile egg in the cells, the bees feed the resulting larva oodles of royal jelly and it matures into a queen.

About the time that queen is ready to hatch from a cell that looks much like a peanut shell, most of the workers from the hive fly off with the old queen to found a new hive. They'll hang in a bush or a tree for a day or two while scouts find a new hive location, then lift off and move into their new home. While they're hanging around, so to speak, local beekeepers will come collect them – go to www.indianahoney.org if you happen to find such a swarm and call the nearest beekeeper listed on the map.

At the original hive, the newly-hatched queen makes a mating flight when she's a week or so old, then starts laying eggs, tended by the remaining bees and those that hatch after the swarm leaves.

In dividing my hives, I'm attempting to ward off a swarm by moving the existing queen cells and a lot of the young and unhatched bees to a new location.

White clover is blooming in lawns and fields now, and soon will provide the main spring nectar flow for most honeybee hives. If we beekeepers – and the bees – are lucky, there also will be a locust tree flower nectar flow. Though the locust flowers don't last as long, their nectar makes a very fragrant light-colored honey – if it doesn't rain much during the blooming period.

Many other flowers and crops provide both nectar and pollen to feed honeybees and other pollinating insects through the summer. In return, these insects pollinate the flowers and crops, ensuring they'll set fruit and grow seeds. Gardeners and farmers can help this process by limiting any pesticide applications to very early morning and late evening, and using pesticides only when absolutely necessary. Soapy water spray and hand picking can control a number of insect pests.

And please check your labels and don't use neonicotinoids, which have been strongly implicated in the losses of honeybee colonies to Colony Collapse Disorder. See http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/study-strengthens-link-between-neonicotinoids-and-collapse-of-honey-bee-colonies/

Pardon the puck, pick the persimmon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Monday, December 23, 2013 4:15 PM

This is the time of year I go around with my head stuck up in the air.

No, I'm not getting more conceited (I hope.) I'm looking for trees with little round balls on the branches – or better yet, soft ripe balls on the ground. Not sugar gums, nor sycamores nor walnuts. What I seek is the 'fruit of the gods,' as the first half of the scientific name Diospyros virginiana can be translated– i.e., persimmons. (And THAT name comes from the Algonquin term for this most-delicious fruit.)

A native tree, persimmons melt in your mouth when ripe. Unripe, however, they will pucker your lips and gums. Telling the difference is not always easy, for unlike the common saying, persimmons are not always ripe after frost. Nor does one specific color signify ripeness, for the color varies from tree to tree.

Of the persimmons I collect locally, one tree in Rising Sun has such dark purple fruit it appears almost black. Similar fruit falls from the trees near the group camp in Versailles State Park. But other persimmon trees near the park's Cedar Grove Shelter (beyond the swimming pool) are quite orange when ripe.

My trees at home in Rising Sun also are orange, with one tree producing quite pretty wedged or slightly-ribbed fruit. Another, on Railroad Avenue near Conwell Street in Aurora, has large, more oval fruit that varies from purple to purple-orange. In size, fruit from all these trees is roughly an inch in diameter, but there's another on private property in Aurora with much smaller orange fruits, as were the fruits on another tree I'd had at home but lost to wind a few years ago.

So how do you tell if the fruit is ripe? Generally, by softness. When ripe, persimmons will fall from the tree, and the calyx can easily be separated from the fruit. On some varieties, the skin – or the whole persimmon – will split and/or wrinkle. Unfortunately, unripe fruit also sometimes falls from the tree, knocked down by wind or critters. If the fruit is firm and the skin sleek, it's not ripe, no matter what the color.

But unripe persimmons will ripen over time, so it's worth collecting them and laying them out in a garage or porch and checking them from time to time. One way to test a persimmon's puckishness is to insert just the tip of your tongue into the fruit. But a word of warning here: even if the persimmon flesh seems ripe, sometimes the coatings over the seeds remain astringent. And there was one tree in Aurora, now gone, which produced persimmons which remained astringent no matter what.

Ripe persimmons may start falling, singly, as early as September. The biggest harvest usually comes in November – we were inundated Sunday, Nov. 17, after the storm blew through, but there are still lots on the trees. Some years, fruit clings to the branches through most of the winter. Those late fruits you might try picking, but otherwise fruit picked from the tree usually won't be ripe.

Once you've eaten your fill of ripe persimmons, you can pulp the remainder to use in recipes. A food mill often is recommended, but we've found using a scraper to press the pulp through a clean piece of hardware cloth works well – especially if you're pulping large quantities with making wine in mind. Frozen, the pulp keeps for a year or more, or you can try drying it for persimmon leather. My one foray into canning persimmon pulp resulted in a puckery mass, so I've not repeated that. (The bears at the Red Wolf Sanctuary outside Rising Sun found it quite tasty, however.)

I start persimmon trees from seeds each year; because they quickly establish long tap roots, they're best planted as seedlings. Anyone interested in getting persimmon trees may call me at 812-438-3182 and leave a name and phone number to be put on the list for potted trees available next summer. (If you want local (or raw) honey for these recipes, use the same number.)

Persimmon facts & folklore

Native Americans not only ate persimmons but used them medicinally. Persimmons contain vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, copper and manganese, as well as glucose and protein.

While they also contain the enzymes papain and bromelaine, used in natural digestive enzyme products, they may not be the best choice for folks with digestive issues. Eating too many persimmons, especially unripe ones, can result in bezoars, a mass of undigested plant and animal matter that usually forms in the stomach. This can happen to both folks and animals, hence the goat's bezoar featured in one of the Harry Potter books.

Because their tannin content makes them astringent, unripe persimmons were used by Native Americans to treat burns. The astringency counteracted the wound's tendency to ooze. And a concoction from the inner bark was used to treat coughs and sore throats.

But perhaps the oddest use of the persimmon comes from early settlers, who split the seeds to predict winter conditions. If the embryo within the seed had a spoon-like appearance, winter would be dominated by frequent, heavy snowfalls; and if it looked like a knife, there would be cutting winds.

Persimmon trees belong to the ebony family, as does the Asiatic persimmon whose much-larger fruit often is sold in grocery stores but hasn't near the complex flavor of our sweet natives. American persimmon trees reach heights of 15 to 100 feet, and have smooth, glossy elliptical leaves with pointed tips. Male and female flowers are produced on separate trees, so both are needed to produce fruit.


Great-Great Grandma's Spoonbread Persimmon Pudding

(from the late Nyla Roeder, Rising Sun)

2 cups persimmon pulp

6 cups milk

3 cups sugar

4 cups flour

3 large eggs, well-beaten

egg-size lump butter

1 teaspoon baking soda in 1 Tablespoon warm water

Add eggs to pulp and softened butter. Beat. Mix flour and sugar, add to pulp alternating with milk. Add water, baking soda and mix well. Pour into 13 x 9 inch floured but not greased baking dish. Bake at 275 degrees for 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring every half hour.

Persimmon Pudding

Chan's favorite recipe

1 cup persimmon pulp

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup sifted all-purpose or whole wheat flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ cup sugar or 2/3 cup honey or 5 ½ tablespoons Truvia (or other stevia product)

Mix persimmon pulp with eggs, milk, butter, and honey if using that as your sweetener. Sift together flour, soda, salt, spices and dry sweetener if using sugar or stevia (stevia is a plant-based, non-calorie sweetener.) Pour wet mix into sifted ingredients and mix to a soft batter. Add more milk if necessary. Pour mix into buttered 8 x 8 x 2 inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Serve with whipped cream topping or sauce (see recipe.)

Persimmon Pudding Sauce

From the late Carolyn McManaman, Greendale

½ cup sugar or 1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup boiling water

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons butter

Cook first five ingredients till thickened, then add last two and mix well. Pour over warm pudding.

Persimmon Cookies

Annette Cutter's recipe from the Fairview United Methodist Church cookbook

1 cup sugar (or substitute ¾ cup honey)

½ cup shortening

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cloves

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup persimmon pulp

½ cup raisins

½ cup chopped nuts

Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg and mix well. Sift dry ingredients and add raisins and nuts. Blend thoroughly, drop spoonfuls on greased cookie sheet, 1 ½ to 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Makes about 6 dozen.

Persimmon cheesecake

for two 9-inch pie pans

Crust: Mix 1 stick butter &

½ package graham crackers

Press into pie pans

Filling: 1 ½ pkgs. Cream cheese

2 cups persimmon pulp

1 cup Cool Whip

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon ginger

1 envelope gelatin

1 cup water

Mix softened cream cheese with pulp, sugar and flavorings. Meanwhile heat water and dissolve gelatin. Cool, then stir into first mixture. When nearly cool, pour into pie pans, top with Cool Whip.

Brown County Persimmon Fudge

1 cup persimmon pulp

6 cups sugar

2 ½ cups milk

½ cup light corn syrup

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped walnuts

Combine pulp, sugar, milk and syrup in large sauce pan. Cook slowly, 1 ½ to 2 hours until mix reaches soft boil (230 degrees on candy thermometer.) Cool to lukewarm, stirring often. Add butter and beat well. When mixture begins to thicken, stir in walnuts and spread in buttered 8 ½ by 13 inch pan.

*Honey can be substituted for sugar in nearly all recipes. Dried stevia, on the other hand, will change the consistency of most baked goods. If you want to cut the sugar by using stevia, substitute it for only a third to a half of the sugar in the recipe. As for honey, use a little less than you would sugar. Baked products remain moister with honey than with sugar.

There are many more persimmon recipes from ice cream to pies online and in various books, some of which are available at local orchards such as Salatin's near Moores Hill and Beiersdorfer's near Yorkville. Experiment and enjoy!