Mar 042014
 
Ollie the labrador loves snow, but the novelty has worn off for his humans.

Here in the Midwest, it feels like we’ve been stuck in the polar vortex all winter. Ice melt has been in high demand — the big box home improvement store near our house said they sold nearly 5,000 bags of the stuff over the weekend. Ice melt has the immediate effect of making concrete driveways and pathways less slippery, but it also has long-term effects on nearby plants. Here are a few tips on how to recognize the signs of ice melt damage to trees and shrubs, as well as how to mitigate the effects of these chemicals.

Many ice melt products contain sodium chloride (rock salt) and ammonium nitrate. Both of these chemicals can harm trees and shrubs. Large amounts can even kill plants. Evergreens are quick to show damage from ice melt. You may notice that the lower needles are turning. The damage will be most evident on the side facing the exposure.

If you have to use an ice melt product, don't overdo it. Too much can damage your plants -- and your concrete!

If you have to use an ice melt product, don’t overdo it. Too much can damage your plants — and your concrete!

Deciduous trees may not show any evidence until the following growing season, but then  yellowed or dwarfed foliage may become apparent. Branches and leaves often die back. These chemicals can stunt future growth and make your landscape plants more susceptible to disease.

Once you notice the damage, it’s best to just prune away the affected branches. You may also apply gypsum to the soil to neutralize the chemicals. Gypsum is a naturally-occuring mineral that doesn’t harm the environment — you can even apply it as a preventative measure. Horticultural gypsum is available from lawn and garden centers.

If you’re buying ice melt for your own property, look for calcium chloride instead of sodium choloride — it causes less damage. Try to remove ice through mechanical means if possible. Avoid applying ice melt chemicals in late winter or early spring as plants are exiting dormancy, because they are the most vulnerable at this time. Rinse off any visible salt residue from your trees and shrubs.

Here’s hoping that winter is on its way out — I can’t wait for spring!

Ollie the labrador loves snow, but the novelty has worn off for his humans.

Ollie the labrador loves snow, but the novelty has worn off for his humans.

Feb 242014
 
Various forms of plum jam

Various forms of plum jamI have fond childhood memories the root cellar in my grandma’s house. I’d  open the well-worn door and pull the string on the single-bulb fixture, and suddenly all of my grandma’s hard work was illuminated — colorful mason jars lined up on homemade shelves. She’d label the tops of the jars with a strip of masking tape on which she’d write the contents and the year in her neat cursive script.

“Tomatoes.”

“Dill Pickles.”

“Chili Sauce.” (She’d use this in her legendary meatloaf)

Sometimes I’d venture in there and there’d be a Redwing crock filled with cucumbers. I was wary of the crock and the submerged cukes. I much preferred to examine the jars filled with the bounty of produce grown in northeast Nebraska’s rich soil.

About 10 – 12 years ago I decided that I, too, wanted to try canning. But canning supplies were hard to find. I even called the high-end stores that sold the latest in kitchen gadgets. “There’s not a demand for canning supplies; we don’t carry them,” they said. I was disappointed.

In the end, I ordered a basic canning kit and it’s served me well over the last decade or so. These days, though, canning has experienced a resurgence in popularity. The lowly mason jar has become a cool thing in the crafting world as well. Those high-end kitchen stores now sell a wide variety of canning equipment.

It’s sort of fun to see an old skill come back to life. I think my grandma would be pleased.