Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Hairy vine – No friend of mine!

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Nothing takes the fun out of being outdoors faster than an encounter with poison ivy. It regenerates readily, is everywhere, and people loathe it. All are perennials in the cashew family, and all cause a rash, blisters, and itch. “Leaves of three, let them be” is still the best way to identify poison ivy and poison oak. Poison ivy’s leaves are pointed. Poison oak’s leaflets are rounded. Poison Ivy’s “leaves of three” are glossy-green, but are tinged with pink in the spring, and take on a brilliant orange in the autumn. It has small, pearl-colored berries that are a favorite treat of many birds, which spread poison ivy seeds around the countryside.

The poison is an oily resin called urushiol that occupies every part of the plant, including the roots. The leaves, especially young ones, contain the most toxins. The oil can remain on tool handles and clothing for as long as a year. Dogs and cats can carry its potency on their fur. This is why you can come down with a rash without having seen poison ivy in months. Fortunately, the oils don’t always go to work immediately, especially on dirty or work-hardened hands.

Both poison ivy and poison oak grow in sun or shade, in wet or dry places, and turn vivid colors in fall. The berries are white and are a good identifier once the leaves have fallen off in early winter. Poison ivy can grow as a groundcover, a shrub, or a vine. Emerging leaves have a red tint to their edges. It grows as a vine or shrub. Both poison ivy and poison oak climb trees, sending out thick, hairy, aerial roots. Virginia creeper is often mistaken for poison ivy, but Virginia creeper has five leaflets, and blue-black berries.

Protect Yourself – If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash at once and launder your clothes using old yellow laundry soap or borax to cut the oil. (Soaps made with fat are ineffective.) For mild cases use calamine lotion, over-the-counter cortisone creams, and saltwater soaks, but severe cases require prescription cortisone. A barrier cream, IvyBlock, containing quaternium-18 bentonite, which bonds with the urushiol, promises to be effective 68%of the time, if applied before any contact with poison ivy.

Wear long sleeves, pants, closed shoes, thick gloves, and even a mask when removing poison ivy and poison oak. Ivy Block is an FDA-approved lotion that, when applied before exposure, prevents skin that comes in contact with urushiol from developing the rash. It’s available at drugstores.

Wash all clothes, even shoelaces (without touching them with your bare hands), after working near poison ivy and poison oak. Use hot water, detergent, and two wash cycles.

Wipe down any surface that has come in contact with the oil (tool handles, doorknobs, shoes, etc.).

Wash it away. Do not wipe with water. Urushiol is an oil. Rinse the affected skin with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, then with cold water. Don’t wipe. Wiping spreads the oil.

Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy Soap and Res-Q Ointment also remove the oil and relieve itching. Without treatment, the infected area will blister within a few hours to three days. The fluid in the blisters will not spread the rash, but any clothing that has come into contact with the oil will. Oral antihistamines can help, if needed.

Poison ivy and poison oak spread by seed and by their vigorous root systems. Birds eat the berries and deposit the seeds. If you have wooded or neglected areas surrounding your property, you probably have poison ivy as a neighbor, and given time, it will creep into your yard. Plants can be destroyed by covering them with black plastic or spraying them with the appropriate herbicides, but beware—even dead plants are infectious.

Five ways to beat this foe into submission:

1. Keep it out. Prevent poison ivy or poison oak from taking hold in the first place. If you are landscaping or tilling soil for a new bed or garden, don’t leave the ground bare for long.

2. Small infestations are more easily controlled than larger ones, because they have less-developed root systems, fewer stored food reserves in roots and rhizomes, and a smaller seed bank in the soil. Poison ivy can be readily pulled in early spring if only a few plants are involved.

3. Cut it off. As with all perennials, you must completely remove the root or the plant will resprout. Unfortunately, poison ivy roots can run underground for many feet before the plant reappears above ground. If endless digging is not appealing or an option, repeatedly cutting the plant to the ground eventually starves the root system and causes the plant to die. Plants climbing trees should be severed at the base. Don’t bother removing the vines from the tree; they don’t do any harm. The weed is just using the tree for anchorage. It’s not a parasitic relation- ship.

4. Smother it. Cover the infested area with thick black plastic sheeting, and plan to leave it there for at least a year, possibly longer. Make sure the plastic isn’t the type that degrades in the sun, and cover the edges with dirt to exclude all light.

5. Chew it up. Grazing animals, especially goats, are not bothered by urushiol and can clean up an infested area. They won’t take out the root system but will get rid of the top growth, weakening the plant overall.

Dispose of poison ivy and poison oak in plastic bags and put them out with the trash. The easiest way to do this is to put the plastic bags over your gloved hands, pull the plants into the bags, and then pull the bags inside out off your gloved hands, encasing the poison ivy inside the bag. Be nice to your garbage man and put the poison-ivy-filled bags into a larger, uncontaminated bag.

Don’t compost it. Urushiol remains potent for years—even, in dry climates, decades.

Never burn it. Breathing in smoke or soot from the plants may cause serious inflammation of respiratory mucous membranes.

Other Itchy plants are:

Myrtle spurge, or donkey tail has toxic, milky latex that can scar the skin.

Rue contains a photochemical in all parts of the plant that causes a heightened reaction to sunlight.

Spotted knapweed causes hives with repeated exposure.

The sap from the century plant will burn your skin.

Wild parsnip has a juice found in the leaves, stems, and fruits that causes photosensitization.


The Sweet Potato

The Sweet Potato

The soft orange sweet potato is often mislabeled a “yam” in parts of North America. The sweet potato is botanically very distinct from a genuine yam. The genus Ipomoea that contains the sweet potato includes several garden flowers called morning glories. The sweet potato is not a potato or even a distant cousin. Potatoes are tubers; sweet potatoes are roots.
The plant is an herbaceous perennial vine bearing alternate heart-shaped or palmate lobed leaves and medium-sized sympetalous flowers. The edible tuberous root is long and tapered, with a smooth skin whose color ranges between yellow, orange, red, brown, purple, and beige. Its flesh ranges from beige through white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, and purple. Sweet potato varieties with white or pale yellow flesh are less sweet and moist than those with red, pink or orange flesh.
The center of origin and domestication of the sweet potato is thought to be either in Central America or South America. Sweet potatoes were domesticated at least 5,000 years ago. In South America, Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating as far back as 8000 BC have been found. Sweet potatoes are now cultivated throughout tropical and warm temperate regions wherever there is sufficient water to support their growth. The majority comes from China, with a production of 105 million tons. About half of the Chinese crop is used for livestock feed. In the U.S., North Carolina, the leading state in sweet potato production, provided 38.5% of the 2007 U.S. production of sweet potatoes. In 2007, California produced 23%, Louisiana 15.9%, and Mississippi 19% of the U.S. total.
Sweet potatoes provide twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and more than one-third of the daily requirements of vitamin C. They are an important source of beta-carotene, vitamin B6, iron, potassium and fiber. Studies consistently show that a high intake of beta carotene-rich vegetables and fruits can significantly reduce the risks for certain types of cancer. Sweet potatoes contain virtually no fat or sodium.
Sweet potatoes that are a pretty, bright, orange color are richest in beta-carotene.
The orange tuber packs 438% of your daily value of infection-fighting vitamin A. Like carrots, sweet potatoes are a major source of skin-protecting beta-carotene. While bananas are often touted as the go-to source of potassium, a medium sweet potato has 28% more potassium than a banana. Potassium helps your body absorb fluids to replace sweat losses.)
Besides simple starches, sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Pink, yellow and green varieties are high in carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value. According to these criteria, sweet potatoes earned 184 points, 100 points over the next on the list, the common potato. Despite the name “sweet”, it may be a beneficial food for diabetics, as preliminary studies on animals have revealed it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and to lower insulin resistance. While sweet potato provides less edible energy and protein per unit weight than cereals, it is a higher nutrient density source of certain vitamins and minerals than cereals.
Although the leaves and shoots are also edible, the starchy tuberous roots are by far the most important product. Sweet potato leaves and shoots are a good source of vitamins A, C, and B2 (riboflavin).

The plant does not tolerate frost. It grows best at an average temperature of 24 °C (75 °F), abundant sunshine and warm nights. Annual rainfalls of 750–1,000 mm (30–39 in) are most suitable, with a minimum of 500 mm (20 in) in the growing season. The crop is sensitive to drought at the tuber initiation stage 50–60 days after planting, and it is not tolerant to waterlogging, as it may cause tuber rots and reduce growth of storage roots if aeration is poor.
Depending on the cultivar and conditions, tuberous roots mature in two to nine months. Sweet potatoes rarely flower when the daylight is longer than 11 hours. They are mostly propagated by stem or root cuttings or by adventitious roots called “slips” that grow out from the tuberous roots during storage. They grow well in many farming conditions and have few natural enemies; pesticides are rarely needed. Sweet potatoes are grown on a variety of soils, but well-drained, light- and medium-textured soils with a pH range of 4.5-7.0 are more favorable for the plant. They can be grown in poor soils with little fertilizer. Sweet potatoes are very sensitive to aluminum toxicity and will die about six weeks after planting if lime is not applied at planting in this type of soil. They are sown by vine cuttings rather than seeds. The rapidly growing vines shade out weeds and little weeding is needed.
In the Southeastern United States, sweet potatoes are traditionally cured to improve storage, flavor, and nutrition, and to allow wounds on the periderm of the harvested root to heal. Proper curing requires drying the freshly dug roots on the ground for two to three hours, then storage at 85–90 °F (29–32 °C) and 90 to 95% relative humidity from five to fourteen days. Cured sweet potatoes can keep for thirteen months when kept at 55–59 °F (13–15 °C) and >90% relative humidity. Colder temperatures injure the roots.
Cuttings of sweet potato vine, either edible or ornamental varieties, will rapidly form roots in water and will grow in it indefinitely in good lighting with a steady supply of nutrients. Sweet potato vine is ideal for use in home aquariums, trailing out of the water with it’s roots submerged, as it’s rapid growth is fueled by toxic ammonia and nitrates, a waste product of aquatic life, which it removes from the water. This improves the living conditions for fish, which also find refuge in the vast root systems.
Researchers at North Carolina State University are breeding sweet potato varieties that would be grown primarily for biofuel production.

Candied sweet potatoes are a side dish consisting mainly of sweet potatoes prepared with brown sugar, marshmallows, maple syrup, molasses, orange juice, marron glacé, or other sweet ingredients. Often served in America on Thanksgiving, this dish represents traditional American cooking.

In South America, the juice of red sweet potatoes is combined with lime juice to make a dye for cloth. By varying the proportions of the juices, every shade from pink to black can be obtained.



The Soil


I don’t know of a single kid that isn’t crazy over digging in the dirt! Just put a shovel in hand and you will be surprised. Ask kids questions to see what they know about soil. The two groups of living things are plants and animals. The oldest living thing on Earth is a tree. The largest living thing on earth is a tree. A lot of our food comes from trees. Organic means coming from living things. Organic chemistry is the chemistry of living things. Organic gardening is gardening naturally without poisons. The chemistry of living things is based on the element carbon. Carbon under great pressure produces the diamond. I like this element!

Everything in the universe is made of elements. Over 100 different elements have been identified. Elements are made in stars. “You are just a little bit of stardust!” Name some elements: iron, tin, copper, gold, silver, calcium, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorous, mercury, carbon. Your body needs nutrition that has certain elements to grow healthy. Plants get these elements from good rich soil. We get most of these elements from plants, our food.

There are many different kinds of soil: Clay, sand, silt, loam. What makes soil? Discussion. The richest soil is made from things that were once alive: leaves, fruits, fallen trees and limbs, dead animals, bone, eggshells. There are many colors of soil. Sand may be shades of orange, white, gray, black or pink. Clay may be red, orange, gray, or white, but the best soil for growing plants is rich dark black loam, which comes mostly from living things. People call it “Black Gold”. It stays soft enough for young roots to grow, holds water, and is rich with nutrients that plants need to grow healthy. Let kids examine and feel soil samples.

Pour water through 3 bottles of different kinds of soil that have holes in the bottom and measure the uptake of water from each. Discuss composting and feeding the soil with raw food scraps and eggshells from kitchen.

Examine worms. Worms are important to composting soil. Worms have 5 hearts, a brain with two tiny lobes and a long spinal chord. It is divided into segments, has no bones but moves using muscles and very tiny hairs that are on each segment. They breath through their skin and it needs to stay moist for them stay alive.

Materials: Chart of the elements, samples of different colors and types of soil, bowls of different soil types, water bottles for making sedimentators, container of worms, 3 plastic bottles with holes punched in the bottom for drainage.

Activities: Examine and feel soil samples. Observe worms. Make sedimentators. Go for a walk and collect different types of soil in a bottle about 1/2 full( you may want to have some soil with you in case there is no sand or clay) Have kids fill bottle the rest of the way with water, shake up, and then set aside to see how it settles out. Fill a plastic bottle with sand, one with clay and one loam. Bottles should have a few holes in bottom close together. Pour 1 cup of water in each bottle; collect from the bottom and measure to see which one absorbs the most water.

Children love the song “Dirt Made My Lunch”!

Soil mixed with straw and water will, with the sun’s help, harden into bricks. You can also mix mud with spanish moss. Try turning mudpies into houses! Besides the fun of mud play, children learn about evaporation, building construction and the creative use of natural resources!


Monsanto Free Seed Suppliers

Monsanto Free Seed Suppliers

Seed Pictures

Coco de Mer

The World’s Largest Seed

The secret behind the world’s largest seed is leaves that channel rainwater and nutrients right to the plant’s thirsty roots. The Coco-de-Mer palm produces monster nuts. The biggest weighs 40 pounds. These plants grow wild on nutrient-starved, rocky soil on just two islands in the Seychelles (part of an arc of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, off East Coast of Africa.)
Coco-de-Mer palms scavenge a lot of the nutrients shed in their own dying leaves. These trees can reuse 90 percent of that prized phosphorus from the fronds it’s about to drop. That’s a record for the plant world. The plants are frugal. They sprout fronds using about one-third the nutrients needed by leaves of 56 neighboring species of trees and shrubs. Creating its monster seeds uses up about 85 percent of this plant’s supplies of phosphorus and the palms manage this thanks to drainage. The palm’s curving leaves can span 2 meters or 6.6 feet. The leaves resemble folded paper fans and any rains falling on them funnel down the stems. The water washes animal droppings, stray pollen etc. – a nutrient windfall — off of the palm and onto its hungry roots.

Each giant seed takes about six years to grow once the palm reaches plant maturity that may take 80 to 100 years. Then the palms can yield its first seed. Throughout the palm’s life of several hundred years, it may bear only about 100 seeds.

Few of those monster coconuts will get a chance to replenish the dwindling Coco-de-Mer forests, however. It is calculated that 20 to 30 percent of the endangered species’ seeds must sprout to keep the forests growing and healthy. That has not been happening. Nut poachers have been illegally kidnapping the seeds and grinding them into a powder they sell.



Brazil Nut

Devil’s Claw

Texas Mountain Laurel


     Argentina Screw Bean

Earleaf Acacia                               Sacred Lotus

Sea Mango                                  Australian Pine


African mahogany


Java cotton                 


tipu                                             woody Pear                        


Travelers Palm


West Indian Mahogany



Saving Seeds

Saving Seeds


Saving seeds

I collect seeds all the time. Seeds are as distinctive from one another as grains of pollen or people. It is the beautiful flowers that make incredible seeds that can stick to you, fly or float.

Seeds feed the world! Seeds that feed most people: Corn, Rice, Bread, Cereal, Pasta, Beans, and Nuts.

I love seeds as much as I love dirt!
You can use a big basket and clippers to collect seeds, snipping mature flowers, seedpods or stems. Hang the stems for seeds to drop onto paper. You may spread seeds on paper or put in a basket to air dry for about a week. For zinnias, just clip the flowers, let them dry and pull the petals off. The seeds are attached to the flower petals. If you hang catnip, the tiny seeds fall onto the paper. Remember the food you buy may also contain mature seeds for you to sprout!
Store seeds in envelopes labeled, or plastic snack bags, film canisters or glass jars. They must be dry before you seal I don’t store seeds in my refrigerator unless I eat them. Some seeds must be frozen though before they will sprout. I seal seeds in envelopes and keep in a big basket in a cool dry spot. Bugs like to eat seeds, so make sure seeds are sealed. Humidity and warmth grows mold and rot.
Most seeds last about 3 years Plant open-pollinated varieties of plants and they’ll come back true; Seeds from hybrid varieties won’t come back true.

Harvesting seeds is sustainability in one of its purest forms.

Collect seeds from healthiest plants. Leave some flowers on stems after the flower dies off. The plant will put energy into seed instead of new flowers. A seedpod will replace the flower. Leave the seed to ripen within the pod until the pod turns brown, dries out or cracks open. Harvest before rain to prevent mold

Cut the stem at the base and shake the seed head inside a paper bag. If the seed heads are not fully dry or ripe hang the stems with seed cases intact or lay them flat to dry on a paper or tray away from direct light. If seeds are not dry they will mold in storage. Break open the seedpods. Separate crushed debris from seeds by sifting.

Seeds from fruits and vegetables should be collected before they’re over-ripe. Vegetables such as beans should be harvested when pods are dry. Vegetables with wet pulp such as tomatoes, pumpkins and squash can be separated from the pulp and laid out to dry on newspaper. The seeds of harder pulp fruits and vegetables are simply opened by crushing and removed manually.

The best way to store seeds is to package them in paper envelopes or bags. The temperature should be cool for longer storage. Write the name and date on the envelope.

To start making seed packets; below is a simple tutorial to create your own miniature origami envelopes. Enjoy!

1. Cut a piece of paper into a 4″x4″ square. Place the square facedown.

2. Fold the paper in half diagonally to make a triangle.

3. Fold one corner down to meet bottom edge.

4. Fold right corner over 1/3 of the way across the bottom edge.

5. Fold the left corner over 1/3 of the way across the bottom edge.

6. Fold corner back over to the left 1/2 of the way across the bottom edge.

7. Stick your finger into the small pocket triangle and press it open to make a square.

8. Fold top corner down to create a crease.

9. Fill your envelope with your collected seeds.

10. Fold and seal to keep any critters who love seeds out!

Store your decorative envelopes in a cool, dark place to give as a gift or plant when the time is right!

Our Dwindling Food Variety

As we’ve come to depend on a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables, thousands of heirloom varieties have disappeared. It’s hard to know exactly how many have been lost over the past century, but a study conducted in 1983 by the Rural Advancement Foundation International gave a clue to the scope of the problem. It compared USDA listings of seed varieties sold by commercial U.S. seed houses in 1903 with those in the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983. The survey, which included 66 crops, found that about 93 percent of the varieties had gone extinct.

A Seed Revolution
Ninety-four percent of vintage open-pollinated fruit and vegetable varieties have vanished. Many farmers stopped saving seeds and embraced hybridization, genetic modification, and seed patents for money and now multinational corporations control our food supply. They are known to take little-known varieties of seeds, patent them, and demand royalties from farmers whose ancestors grew them for centuries. Seeds are disappearing, crops are stripped of the ability to adapt, and the food supply is at risk.
Yanna Fishman, the sweet-potato queen, has a wild garden in the highlands of western North Carolina, and grows 40 varieties of sweet potatoes. Dave Cavagnaro, an Iowan photographer, teaches people to hand-pollinate squash with masking tape to keep vintage varieties pure.

Seeds don’t just grow plants; they build stories, heritage, and history shared every time seeds pass hand-to-hand. Our relationship to the land is very powerful.

“A seed makes itself. A seed doesn’t need a geneticist or hybridist or publicist or matchmaker. But it needs help,” she writes. “Sometimes it needs a moth or a wasp or a gust of wind. Sometimes it needs a farm and it needs a farmer. It needs a garden and a gardener. It needs you.” Janisse Ray The Seed Underground

Pharmaceutical or chemical companies sell 91% of seeds.
1.4 billion pounds of Roundup are used a year.
Eighty percent of food produced is genetically modified.
Dow took over agriculture and Monsanto and DuPont are the most toxic and unregulated. They want to patent and own seeds, takeover the seed and food supply, and the plant world. Natural selection is evolving to a controlled environment, limiting the diversity of life and interrupting the natural process of evolution and natural selection.. You cannot save seeds from hybrids they develop. A seed dictatorship is being established. Our next famine could be a seed famine. If you haven’t seen this documentary, you should!


Safe Seed Companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and tested their stock to be free of GMOs. These ten companies foster greater sustainability for people and the planet. They specialize in rare seed preservation and are not affiliated with Monsanto or GMOs in any way.

Renee’s Garden Seeds is run by gardeners for gardeners. Renee handpicks and sells varieties that are very special for home gardeners, based on flavor, easy culture and garden performance. Seeds are time-tested heirlooms, the best international hybrids or fine open-pollinated varieties tested and guaranteed for every major U.S. climate zone. Individually written seed packets offer beautiful watercolor portraits, with personally written descriptions, growing instructions, a quick-view planting chart, growing tips, harvesting information and cooking ideas.

A non-profit working to save heirloom garden seed from extinction by preserving varieties of seed gardeners and farmers brought to North America when their families immigrated, and traditional varieties grown by American Indians, Mennonites and the Amish.

Baker Creek is a family-owned business offering the largest selections of heirloom varieties in the U.S. and one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including Asian and European varieties. They specialize in rare and hard-to-find heirloom seeds from over 75 different countries.

Clear Creek is a small, family-owned business specializing in open-pollinated heirloom seed varieties. They offer several variety packs and have a smaller selection.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers varieties that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, and many unusual Southern heirlooms.

Consumer members own 60 percent, and employee own 40 percent. Because the cooperative doesn’t have an individual owner, profit isn’t its primary goal. Their seeds and other products are quite affordable. Fedco evaluates hundreds of varieties of hybrid, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds identifying the ones that are most productive, flavorful and suited to the northeastern U.S. climate.

Peaceful Valley offers a large variety of organic seeds and a great selection of gardening tools, pest control, season-extending products, composting supplies, growing, propagating and irrigation equipment, and books. They offer special pricing programs for farmers, school gardens and landscaping businesses.

This is a large, well-known employee-owned seed company with more than 1,200 varieties of hybrid, open pollinated, and heirloom vegetables, flowers, and medicinal and culinary herbs. They offer large quantities of seed and cover crops, high quality gardening tools, equipment and accessories, soil amendments and organic pest control products. Their site and catalog is full of detailed growing instructions and tips.

Territorial Seed is a large, family-owned company offering hybrid, open-pollinated and heirloom seed varieties. Territorial’s germination standards are higher than prescribed by the Federal Seed Act. Their farm is certified USDA Organic.

Seeds of Change was acquired by the Mars company, a supporter of GMOs in their food products. Demand for healthy, organic products is high and many organic brands have been bought out by industrial food corporations. Seeds of Change offers 100% certified organic open-pollinated, hybrid and heirloom seeds. They grow their own seeds on their research farm or within their network of organic farmers. They have the marketing power of a large corporation now and you can get their seeds at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and other retail chains. Seeds of Change is the only organic, open-pollinated seed company available at mainstream stores nationwide.