Beekeeping classes start soon in #RI

honey bee 1 new cropIt’s time to sign up for beekeeping classes in Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association is offering four course options for convenience.

The classes are scheduled to meet at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. Betty Mencucci will lead classes at Rhode Island College on Friday mornings from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Feb. 7, 14, 21, 28, and Mar. 7. She will offer another set of classes on Saturday mornings Feb 8, 15, 22, March 1, 8.

Beekeeper Evelyn Vose will lead classes at URI’s East Farm on Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27, Mar. 13. She will offer another course at URI on Saturday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m. on Feb 8, 15, 22, March 1, 8.

The course will cover everything the beginning beekeeper needs to know. Subjects will include getting started, the honeybee life cycle, choosing an apiary site, buying bees and equipment, and more. A variety of beekeeping equipment will be displayed and demonstrated each week.

The cost for the five-week course is $65 per person. It includes all course materials, a textbook and membership dues in the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association through April 1, 2015. Additional family members at the same address may attend for $10 each. (The entire family will be a member of the organization but will receive only one textbook and one set of handouts). Advance registration is required. To enroll, print out the 2014 registration form and send with your check payable to: RI Beekeepers Association , PO Box 64, Greenville, RI 02828.

For more information, call Betty Mencucci at 401-568-8449 or email

Beautiful: ‘Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter’

weeds in winter cover croppedThe first snow of the season fell on Massachusetts, eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island this morning. It sent many gold finches, tufted, titmice , nuthatches and other birds to the feeders before dawn.

In the withered perennial garden, there were more birds – mostly finches – feasting on the seeds of cultured plants and weeds left standing. High winds had blown seeds of goldenrod, beebalm, and Queen Anne’s Lace to the ground, and the birds scooped them up.

We encourage native “weeds” to find their way into the garden to feed the critters that depend on them.

We also love to look at the plants after they have withered and stand in contrast to winter’s snow.

We appreciate them even more since receiving a copy of Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter by Lauren Brown, a beautiful and helpful guide for plant lovers.

Her pen-and-ink drawings are lovely, and her text is succinct.

For anyone who lives and walks in the Northeast, Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter would be a perfect holiday gift.

If you’d like to learn how to sketch wildflowers, check out the wonderful blog, Let’s Paint Nature.

NY parents sue summer camp for $41.75 million after tick bite

The parents of a New York girl are suing a Connecticut summer camp for $41.75 million after, they allege, their daughter was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease.


The federal lawsuit names YMCA Camp Mohawk in Litchfield, CT. It was filed filed by attorney Antonio Ponvert III on behalf of Ariana Sierzputowski and her parents, Abby Horowitz and Joseph Sierzputowski.

For the whole story as it appeared in The Courant, click here.

Photo courtesy

Garden alert: The Year of the Cucumber is coming

??????????????????????What a year for cucumbers in southern New England! In southern Rhode Island and western Massachusetts gardens, cukes were abundant in 2013.

Now, the National Garden Bureau has declared 2014 as the Year of the Cucumber. (The petunia will be the annual of the year and the Echinacea will be perennial of the year.)

The cucumber is one of the top five most popular garden vegetables. Cucumbers are very adaptable. They have been grown in space and a mile underground in a nickel mine. They are very easy to grow from seed, and deserve praise and a place in the New England garden.

Boothby BlondThe cucumber is native to India, where it has been grown for almost 3,000 years. Excavation at the Spirit Cave site on the Burma-Thailand frontier in 1970 uncovered seeds of cucumbers, beans, and water chestnuts that, according to radiocarbon dating, had been consumed in 9750 B.C.

Although the first wild cucumbers have never been fully identified, evidence seems to point to C. hardwickii, an unappetizingly small and very bitter native of the Himalayas, according to the Garden Bureau.. Bitterness, a plague to cucumber lovers throughout the ages, seems to be a natural protective device derived from its wild ancestors. That bitterness comes from cucurbitacins, a terpene derivative, that repels certain insects as well as some humans.

In ancient Egpyt, cucumbers were cultivated as a common food and the populace savored them dipped in brine. They also drank “cucumber water” as a weak liquor. National Garden Bureau research found one Egyptian “recipe” directed the cutting of a hole in the ripe fruit, then the stirring of the insides with a stick. The hole was then plugged and the fruit buried in the earth for several days. When dug up, “the pulp converted to an agreeable liquid.”

On the northern shores of the Mediterranean, the Greeks also cultivated cucumbers, calling them sikous (sikua, in modern Greek). However, the vegetable was not one of their favorite foods. Perhaps they viewed the cucumber as primarily water – 96% of it is. Yet it was the cucumber’s water retentive ability that earned it an undisputed reputation for never losing its cool. Early caravans often carried supplies of cucumbers to quench their thirst on long journeys.

Farther west, the Romans served cucumbers raw or boiled with oil, vinegar and honey. The Emperor Tiberius commanded cukes on his table every day. His gardeners forced hothouse cucumbers in portable containers which they moved from place to place to follow the sunlight to provide out of season for the Royal household.

Later, during the 1st Century, A.D., Roman gardeners fashioned cucumber frames and covered them with glazed, translucent panes of silicates. The mica pans diffused light and the Romans used them as we now use cold frames.

The cucumber appeared in England during the reign of Henry VIII when Catherine of Aragon demanded them for her Spanish salads. By the time Elizabeth I ascended the English throne, five distinct varieties were grown: Common, Turkish, Adder, Pear and Spanish.

Cucumbers arrived in America with Columbus. He grew them in an experimental garden in 1493. In 1539, De Soto found the cucumbers grown in Florida better than those grown in Spain. By 1806 eight varieties of cucumbers would be found growing in America’s colonial gardens.

Physicians of the 17th Century prescribed placing fever patients on a bed of cucumbers so they would become “cool, as a cucumber.” John Gerard wrote in The Herbal that cucumbers eaten three times a day in “otemeal porridge,” would heal red noses and pimples of the face. He cautioned housewives, “those cucumbers must be chosen which are green…for when they be ripe and yellow, they be unfit to be eaten.” Dr. Samuel Johnson was reviled by cucumbers and wrote ”they should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, then thrown out…”

The most famous pickled cucumber of the 19th Century was the one first preserved by H.J. Heinz of Pittsburgh. Heinz began bottling pickles in 1870 as a tasty addition to the monotonous diet of meat and potatoes eaten by most Americans. His idea was not only an instant success, it also spurred interest in cucumber hybridization.

In recent history, cucumbers were grown in space by Russian cosmonauts aboard Salut-7 during a 211 day endurance flight. Cucumbers have been cultivated successfully nearly one mile beneath the earth’s surface in an Ontario nickel mine during a food project sponsored by the Canadian government.

Proving its adaptability to many climates and cultures from native India to space flights, the cucumber grows and produces fruit in many varying conditions. Chosen by the National Garden Bureau for special recognition in 2014, the cucumber is easily grown by beginning and expert gardeners.

In my garden this year, Mexican gherkins and a variety called Boothby’s Blonde were especially productive.

Boston Marathon Daffodils project needs help

Marathon Daffodils is a collaboration of nonprofit organizations, gardeners, cities and towns, organizations, businesses, and citizens interested in preserving the spirit of the Boston Marathon and Boston Strong, while embracing the tradition of celebrating the arrival of spring to Boston.

MarathonDaffodilsLogowithBlueFontSome of Massachusetts’ top horticultural organizations, partnering with communities and volunteers, plan to plant daffodils along the 26.5 mile Boston Marathon route, to create a new event “Marathon Daffodils.”  Tower Hill Botanic Garden, The Massachusetts Horticultural Society, New England Wildflower Society, The Garden Club Federation, The Town of Brookline Parks, The Charles River Conservancy, the Master Gardeners and other groups have agreed to collaborate.

The goal is to raise $1,000 per mile for a total of $26,500 from Hopkinton to Boston.

 “We want to do something to lift the spirits of the community, in support of Boston Marathon 2014 and Boston Strong,” said Diane Valle, volunteer and organizer.

 “We are excited to participate,” said Kathy Abbott, Executive Director of Tower Hill Botanic Garden, “because we believe Marathon Daffodils represent Spring and rebirth. This is a great community building opportunity.”

Plans include outreach to supporters and volunteers from young to old; and novices to Master Gardeners; to plant daffodils. “Marathon Daffodil” donations are welcome, sent to The Cooperative Bank, 201 Main Street, Charlestown, MA 02129. Or give at Without contributions this project will not be possible.

“With your support, the planting of daffodils is to commence in October we hope you do what you can to rally the private homeowners to follow our lead and plant daffodils,” said Kathy Thomas, former Garden Club Federation president and horticultural activist.

A weekend for wildflowers and Harvestival

beach roses and daisiesIf you love wildflowers, this is the perfect time to saunter along southern New England’s coast. Inland in Massachusetts, Tower Hill Botanic Garden is celebrating Harvestival in its gardens and orchard.

beach rose croppedMontauk daisies, coastal goldenrod, and asters are among autumn’s wildflower display along the beaches of Cape Cod and Rhode Island this week. Some beach roses (pictured here) are still in blossom, and there is a bumper crop of rose hips to pick for vitamin-rich jelly. It may be a little late for beach plums, but Penny, my Brittany, and I are going to try to find some today.

One of the most beautiful displays of wild Montauk daisies is on the western side of the  Quonochontaug Breachway in Charlestown, RI.

Poison ivy, with leaves in every shade of red, is spectacular along the beaches and back roads now.

glasswort croppedIn the salt marshes, delicious glasswort (pictured at left) is changing from chartreuse to brilliant magenta now.

If cultivated gardens and orchards are more appealing to you, visit Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA during the three-day Columbus Day holiday. Harvestival, a family event, features kids activities, tours and more. Our favorite activity is the tour of the apple orchard which has the largest collection of heirloom apples in New England. There are opportunities to taste various varieties, and then purchase them.

Tower Hill will be open Saturday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admitance for non-member adults is $12, $9 for elders, and $7 for children between 6 and 18. Youngsters under 6 are admitted for free.

RI’s Giant Pumpkin Championship Oct. 12

The 20th annual Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Championship returns Saturday, Oct. 12 at Frerichs Farm in Warren, RI. Unloading of the biggest pumpkins grown in the area will begin at 9:30 a.m. The weigh-off will begin at 12 p.m., and the winning pumpkin will be weighed at approximately 3 p.m. In case of rain, the championship will take place on Sunday, Oct.13.

Refreshments will be available, a “pumpkin coach” will shuttle people around, and corn and hay bale mazes will challenge adults and children alike. The ever-popular “pumpkin drop” will highlight the start of the event. There will be pumpkin-painting booths for the kids and numerous tents with seasonal arts and crafts, gifts, and products available for purchase. It is recommended that the public bring lawn chairs or blankets on which to sit during the weigh-off.

The event is sponsored by the Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Association, the Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture, and Frerichs Farm and Greenhouses to determine the largest pumpkin grown in the area each year and to crown an annual local champion. This is the 20th consecutive year that the contest has been held.

At last year’s contest, Ron Wallace of Greene, RI had the largest Rhode Island-grown pumpkin weighing in at 1,872 pounds. Ron also grew the world-record pumpkin in 2012 weighing in at 2,009 pounds; this pumpkin was shown at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts. Wallace’s world-record pumpkin was the first pumpkin every grown in the world that topped one ton.

Frerichs Farm charges a $5 parking fee for the event. Those interested in competing in this year’s event or receiving additional information should contact Barbara Frerichs at (401) 245-8245. In case of rain, please call Frerichs Farm to confirm the date of the event.

Directions to Frerichs Farm from Providence or Fall River: Take Route 195 to the Route 136, Warren/Newport Exit (this is Exit 2 in Massachusetts). Follow Route 136 South across Route 6 for two miles to Schoolhouse Road on the left. Take Schoolhouse Road for one mile to Kinnicutt Avenue (right at the fork) and proceed to Frerichs Farm on the right.

Directions to Frerichs Farm from the Mount Hope Bridge: Take Route 136 North to Route 103/Child Street on the right. Follow Child Street one mile to Kinnicutt Avenue on the left and follow to Frerichs Farm on the left.

2013 best garden flowers selected

The 2013 American Garden Award, now in its fifth year, featured four new flower varieties chosen by their breeders for their excellent garden performance. Once these varieties were planted and put on display at the thirty-one participating gardens across the U.S. (and in Quebec), the public was invited to vote for their favorite using one of several voting methods. Breeders, brokers, distributors and retailers are encouraged to use the AGA logo when promoting these three winners.

The votes have been tallied and the three winners are:

Grand Prize Winner


Verbena ‘Lanai® Candy Cane’
by Syngenta Flowers

‘Lanai® Candy Cane’ offers a truly unique flower pattern which commands curbside attention! This striking striped beauty offers continuous summer blooms stacked atop a well-balanced plant habit. Candy Cane was selected from a strong and proven family of verbena varieties with superior weather tolerance.


Second Place Winner
Zinnia  ‘Zahara™ Cherry’ 
by PanAmerican Seed

Grow beautiful Zinnia ‘Zahara™ Cherry’ in both containers and landscape beds, or just about any other sunny location where you want loads of bold color. These fast-growing zinnias bloom continuously all season long and are both disease and drought tolerant.

Impatiens_SunPatiensCompactElecOrange_SQ.18294bdThird Place Winner
Impatiens ‘SunPatiens® Compact Electric Orange’
by Sakata Ornamentals
With vibrant, deep orange blooms, Electric Orange is a new color in the SunPatiens® line. SunPatiens fill in quickly providing three seasons of color in the garden and in containers. They can be planted in sun or shade and grow readily in rain or shine. SunPatiens are trouble free and need no care beyond regular watering


Welcome to your new home, honey bees

honey bee 1 new cropHoney bee on a Chinese onion blossom

When all of my bee colonies died over the winter, I decided it was time to take a break from bee keeping for a year. Once, I cared for 15 colonies. As some of them died, I did not replace them. It had become too expensive.

Last summer, I was down to four colonies, three at home and one at some friends’ organic vegetable farm.

Living without bees this summer felt strange. The yard was too quiet, the air above it too empty.

The other day, when I pulled into the driveway, the air was alive with honey bees. A swarm had selected the empty hive near the wood pile as their new home.

What a gift!

Bees leave their homes in a swarm when a colony starts to create a new queen. The existing queen leaves with half of her daughters to establish a new home, leaving her others daughters an opportunity to create a more robust successor to ensure the vitality of the colony.

“Flying away from the safety and security of the hive towaed the unknown, the swarm leaves behind all the material possessions it can’t carry with it,” writes Vermont beekeeper Ross Conrad in Natural Beekeeping, Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture. “The selflessness and generosity exhibited by the honey bees’ act of swarming provides a level of inspiration unmatched in the world of insects.”

The newly arrived swarm arrived in time for the blossoming of our abundant Chinese onions (pictured), one of their favorite nectars, and some remaining sweet pepperbush. It’s going to be a banner year for goldenrod, and then the ever expanding Japanese knotweed will follow. We will start feeding the new bees in October.

What a gift it is to have the bees back.

Get lawn and garden answers at Green Market Festival

festival aerial

Homeowners with questions about the yard, garden, trees or patio are likely to find answers from more than 100 exhibitors and demonstrators – members of the Rhode Island Nursery & Landscape Association (RINLA) – at the second annual Green Market Festival Sunday, Aug. 11.

festival tractor“It’s going to celebrate Rhode Island’s green economy and the environment,” said RINLA executive director Shannon Brawley, “and it’s going to look like a farmers market on steroids.”

The event will cover two sides of the road at the Farmer’s Daughter and Landscape Creations at 715 and 716 Mooresfield Road (Route 138), 1.3 miles west of Route 1, in South Kingstown RI.

Rhode Island’s “green industry” generates nearly $1.8 billion a year for Rhode Island’s economy, according to a study of 1,100 businesses in agriculture, landscape, retail, and golf. The study’s results, issued in April, said 2,500 “green” companies support 12,370 jobs.

festival demonstration gardenMany of those professionals will be available at the event to answer homeowners’ questions, said landscape designer Catherine Weaver, a member of RINLA’s board.

The festival is scheduled to open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Brawley said the festival will include “everything from display gardens and native plants to freshly cut flowers, fruits and vegetables, even the freshest of local fish, and much more.”

Horticulturists, arborists, turf specialists and other experts will offer advice, and other members of the trade association are planning special activities including:

What it feels like to be an arborist being hoisted up a tree or in a bucket truck.

How to install a backyard native plant habitat and how to clean and plant native seeds.

Play golf on a putting green like one you would find on a certified “green”

Throughout the day, there will be music, and food will be available, Brawley said.

Admittance costs $10 for an adult, $5 for a child 12 to 18 or $25 for a family. Kids younger than 12 will be admitted for free.

Outdoor notes: Wade and find lovely aquatic wildflowers

Marsh rose-gentian

Wading in Worden Pond, RI late yesterday afternoon  was a rewarding experience. Fish weren’t biting, but white waterlilies were everywhere and marsh rose-gentian plants were in blossom in about six inches of water along the shore.

What a stunning flower! With eight to 12 pink petals, the delicate looking flowers usually grow in brackish water, according to some online sources. The US Department of Agriculture and a couple other sources also say that Sebatia dodecandra grows as far north as Connecticut.

If you’re on the water this weekend, stop to notice the flowers.

Fishing report

On Long Island Sound, it’s a typical August, says Pat Abate of Rivers End Tackle. There is still a “fair number of bass and some good sized ones on the local reefs, mostly on live bait,” he reports. “Bunker days, eels at night. Long Sand Shoal isn’t on every day, but it’s a worthwhile shot most days. Fresh bunker chunks are the most effective way to fish if you don’t have live ones. There have been some schoolies to medium sized bass along the Old Lyme shore for eel casters. The Race has had some bass also if you can get through the blues and the winds.”

RICKA picnic

The Rhode Island Canoe/Kayak Association (RICKA) This year’s  RICKA Family Picnic will be held on Saturday, August 24, at Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick, RI.  There will be paddle trips in the morning, and a southern barbecue lunch (veggie burgers will be available) will be served around 12:30.

RICKA is a terrific group. For more information about the picnic, click here.

Enjoy the scent of sweet pepperbush

clethra crop

Sweet pepperbush is beginning to blossom along the back roads of Rhode Island’s “South County.”

Also known as Clethra anifolia, pepperbush’s flowers are among the most fragrant of summer. Beekeepers treasure honey from pepperbush nectar because it is so unusual and delicious.

Pepperbush is especially abundant near Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in South Kingstown, RI, a perfect place for a walk now.

Dig this: New potatoes are ready

potatoes crop

It’s time to dig up new potatoes here in southern New England. Of three varieties we planted, Adirondack Red was the most productive and flavorful. It’s a pretty potato, too, with bright red skin and a bit of pink inside.

We made warm potato salad withabout two pounds of boiled potatoes, chives, tarragon, parsley and thyme from the garden, tossed with a little wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Here’s a recipe for roasted new-potato salad that appeared in Southern Living magazine.