Thursday, October 1, 2015

Have You Seen What Ball® Has in Store This Year? (+ a giveaway)

Gardeners have been busy canning and preserving for the last few months and it's not over yet. Just this week, I pulled my beets for pickling, as I do each summer. It's one of our very favorite goodies from the garden. I've also got some Mexican gherkin cucumbers (they look like miniature watermelons!) that I'll be pickling for the first time this year.
Since 2010, Ball® has been celebrating the bounty of the garden with their annual Can-It-Forward day. Held in August, its intent is to help people with making the most of their garden produce. The Can-It-Forward pages have all kinds of wonderful tips and activities, including downloadable and printable labels for your jars.

Though we've never preserved the majority of what we grow (we eat it and share it with neighbors and family), when we do, Ball jars are what we do it in. We also use Ball® jars for our maple syrup we make in late winter.
This year, Ball® sent me some of their products to use and I was of course delighted to get the latest and final edition of the American Heritage Collection Series of jars, commemorating their 100th anniversary.  1913 saw the launch of the first true “Perfect Mason” jar followed in 1914 by the “PERFECTION,” then finally by “IMPROVED” in 1915. This year's jars are purple and follow the previous years' green and blue.

Photo by Jenna DeCraene
Also new this year are the Sip & Straw lids, which are pure genius. How many of us have used Ball® jars as drinking glasses? The Sip & Straw lids take it to another level and are just plain fun, for both kids and adults.

You just use regular rings (not included) and screw them over the lids, which do include sturdy reusable straws. They come in blue, red, or purple. You can use them on your regular Ball® jars or you can get jars with handles too.

Photo by Jenna DeCraene

I also received a copy of Ball's handy dandy Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It not only tells you how to do it, it also has over 500 recipes. This 37th edition, which is new this year, includes 75 new recipes.

Want some pretty purple jars of your very own?

If you've never used Ball® jars and for those of you who already do, here's a chance to win a set of six of this year's purple American Heritage Collection jars:

Just leave a comment on this blog post, telling me how you'll use the jars if you win (What will you can? Or will you use them for crafts?), as well as filling out the Rafflecopter form. You'll see bonus entry opportunities when you fill out the form, with a possible total of eight entries:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway entry period will run through midnight EDT, Sunday, October 4, 2015. A winner will be randomly chosen by Rafflecopter and notified via email. Good luck!

If you've never checked out all the valuable information on their website, you're in for a treat. Ball® knows canning!

I received products from Ball®/Jarden Brands for the purpose of review. No other compensation has been given to me and all opinions expressed here are my own. I am an Amazon Affiliate and this blog post may contain affiliate links to

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Make Love, Not War

Morning Glory
Ipomoea nil 'Tie Dye'

Why do plants do this (have variegated blooms)? Here's one explanation:

"The Japanese morning glory has an extensive history of genetic studies. Many mutants in the colors and shapes of its flowers and leaves have been isolated since the 17th century, and more than 200 genetic loci have been localized for the 10 linkage groups. They include over 20 mutable loci, several with variegated flower phenotypes. In a line of Japanese morning glory bearing variegated flowers called flecked, a transposable element of 6.4 kb, termed Tpn1, was found within one of the anthocyanin biosynthesis genes encoding dihydroflavonol-4-reductase (DFR). The 6.4-kb element carries 28-bp perfect terminal inverted repeats, the outer 13 bp being identical to those of the maize transposable element Suppressor-mutator/Enhancer. It is flanked by 3-bp direct repeats within the second intron of the DFR gene, 9 bp upstream of the third exon. When somatic and germinal excision occurs, it produces excision sequences characteristic of plant transposable elements. Cosegregation data of the variegated flower phenotype and the DFR gene carrying Tpn1 indicated that the mutable phenotype is due to excision of Tpn1 from the DFR gene. Sequences homologous to Tpn1 are present in multiple copies in the genome of Japanese morning glory." (


Monday, August 24, 2015

Of Starfish and Monarchs

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked, he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, "I'm saving these starfish, sir".
The old man chuckled aloud, "Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?"
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, "I made a difference to that one."
- inspired by Loren Eiseley

One of my readers said that my monarch raising reminded her of this parable. It does describe my thought process about what I'm doing and why I do it. And while it did start out years ago as a way to satisfy my curiosity about the miracle of metamorphosis, once I knew about the monarch's plight, it gave new meaning to the activity for me.

Monarch on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) blooms

The monarch butterfly is currently being considered for the Threatened Species List under the Endangered Species Act and for several years now, the growing of milkweed has been encouraged and promoted as a way to help this iconic summer beauty.

With the advent of Roundup®-ready crops in the mid-'90s, the monarch's habitat took a sharp nosedive. Because milkweed is the only plant that provides food for their caterpillars, the monarch has become collateral damage. No milkweed, no monarchs.
Monarch on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

I grow plenty of milkweed in my garden: common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), all of which are perennial and native here in Ohio.

Fifth instar monarch caterpillar on whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

I also plant seeds for tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is an annual here and not native.

Second instar monarch caterpillars on tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

I've found monarch caterpillars on all five types, with the preferred being (in order of what they like best) swamp milkweed, whorled milkweed, and tropical milkweed. I have found the least number of them on the common milkweed.

Currently, there are 20 chrysalides awaiting eclosure, five caterpillars hanging in the "J" position that will be chrysalides by tomorrow, and 31 other caterpillars of various sizes munching away on the fresh milkweed that I provide for them each day in the four enclosures I'm maintaining.

This year I've brought them inside in the egg stage too, knowing that even at this stage, I'm increasing their chances of survival. Mostly due to predators, the mortality rate of the monarchs from egg to butterfly is 90-95%, meaning out of the 100 eggs that an adult female will lay, only 5-10 of them will survive to become adult butterflies.

A monarch egg is about the size of a pinhead and takes a concentrated effort
to spot them, usually on the underneath side of young milkweed leaves.

If you've never grown milkweed, I urge you to do so. It doesn't have to be the common milkweed  that many are familiar with and turn their nose up at. Butterfly weed is a beautiful orange-flowered plant with smaller, narrower leaves. There's a yellow variety of it called 'Hello Yellow' if you aren't a fan of orange.

Swamp milkweed does very well in the Great Lakes region and the monarchs have shown a preference for it in many gardeners' gardens. The blooms are a deep rose color, but there is also a white-flowering one called 'Ice Ballet'.

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) has the telltale
blooms typical of most milkweed varieties, in white and
are smaller in size.
For the last couple of years, I've grown whorled milkweed and when visitors to the garden see it, their first reaction is, "That's a milkweed?" Its extremely narrow leaves on 18-24-inch stems gives it a look similar to Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii), but with the typical milkweed flowers in white.

The annual (Zones 9-11) tropical milkweed has gorgeous bi-colored red and yellow flowers and is easily grown from seed.

This one has created some controversy among the monarch enthusiasts, with some indication that it may not be in the best interest of the monarchs to grow it in the far southern states, where it is perennial. (You can read more about this here.) This is pretty much a non-issue for those of us in the north, where tropical milkweed dies at first frost.

Growing more milkweed is one way that you can help the monarchs and yet another is by bringing in eggs and/or caterpillars you find, to raise to adulthood in your home. Raise a few or raise many, you will be greatly increasing their chances of survival by doing it.

Raising monarchs inside isn't difficult, but it does take some dedication to their well-being by making sure they have a clean environment and plenty of fresh milkweed to eat. That means you'll have to clean up caterpillar poop, but don't worry, it doesn't smell like most poop. It has a mild, green, woodsy odor to it because a monarch caterpillar's diet is simply leaves.

As I said, from egg to adult, the monarch has only about a 5-10% chance of survival to adulthood, due to predators and other dangers, when left in the wild. Bringing them inside increases their chances, with rates often as high as 90%.

Watching the process from egg to adult is fascinating, at the very least, and even our almost-three-year-old granddaughter, Hannah, loves checking on the "catta-piwerz." If asked what those caterpillars turn into, she'll tell you, "Butterfwies!"

Don't think you can't possibly make a difference because you're just one person. Don't think you can't make a difference because you can't do as much as someone else. Don't think you can't make a difference, because you can. It's not that hard, it doesn't take that long, and imagine how good you'll feel knowing that you helped save the monarchs.

Every monarch counts.


For more information on raising monarch caterpillars in your house, visit Monarch Watch. There you will find oodles of information on monarchs. Another wonderful site for tracking the migration of monarchs and other wildlife in both spring and fall is Journey North.

There are several Facebook groups devoted to monarchs, where fellow monarch enthusiasts share their experiences. It's another great way to learn more and get advice.

The Beautiful Monarch
Monarchs and Milkweed
Monarch Maniacs of Ohio

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