Thursday, December 31, 2009

Playing with Blocks

Hello again,

KCB returns! KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

What is this? My fingers are tapping which is resulting in my thoughts appearing before me. Wow! It feels, oh, so foreign; uncomfortably exciting. I have thoughts and I am expressing them. Well, not exactly. This machine is expressing them. I’ve missed this. Writing for you. Will you still welcome me? Writing for me. Will I be able to produce?

So exactly where did I go? Why didn’t I write?

Initially I was too busy with my gardening business, then I began experiencing pain of wrist, shoulder then whole arm. Turns out it was my elbow, minor surgery and wha la! Arm better. Still no writing. Nothing.

This forever thinking, imagining, dreaming and creating stories in my head person was totally blocked. No blockage of thoughts, imagination, dreams and creation they just wouldn’t pass from head to fingers to page. Writer’s Block? More like motivation block. Expression block. Blocks of blocks.

Some of you may relate to this phenomenon. Perhaps you’re hungry, ravenous, actually. Nevertheless, you do not want to prepare a meal, order take out or even leave the task at hand to forage the fridge or comb your cupboards. Alternatively, what about the time you were bored, wanted to go for a walk, check e-mail, play solitaire. Something, anything yet the most challenging event is surfing the hundreds of TV channels and realizing there is nothing on. Or horrors upon horrors, your garden needs serious tending and you just can’t get out of your own way to dead one head, weed a blade of grass. Now can you relate?

Let’s see if I am able to unlock the block. What to talk about? First, I want to relay a belated Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas Season. If this makes it to print, I hope that I will not be too late to wish all a happy, healthy, loving year to come. I often include ‘successful’ in my good year wishes, which I equate to the financial kind. Yet, in an effort not to sound too syrupy, the gifts of good health, happiness, being loved and offering love can be more rewarding than a bountiful bank account. Another ‘WOW!’. Did I just say that? Guess my heart willed my fingers to say what I rarely ever voice. This material girl is feeling a little less so. Perhaps there is a story in this.

I’ll go for it…

Many of us had to be a little less materialistic this year. Some received the financial blow personally, others prepared based on media meanderings. I wish I could say it felt good, that it was easy. What does feel good is the rising to the challenge. Clipping coupons, comparative shopping, off-price, bargain, surplus, salvage stores abound! Recently I was asked my favorite clothing store(s) without even a hint of hesitation I exclaimed, ‘Goodwill & Salvation Army’. Try it. A true win win situation. Purchasing at these ‘chains’ indeed does feel good.

Still, my favorite shopping of all is just around the corner; yesterday 4 seed catalogs found their way through my mail slot. I’m feeling inspired already.

Always leave them wanting more, some do say…

So long for now, to return soon. I feel the blocks have tumbled…

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
December 31, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Strangers in the Hospital

Kind friend Dale Lincoln returns to the Skillin's Garden Log with a true story about family that will give us advice about our own lives:

Members of “The Greatest Generation,” as described by Tom Brokaw, were those American men and women who came of age in the Great Depression, served at home and abroad during World War II, and then built the nation we have today. Edgar Ward , of Pembroke, Maine, born in 1919, was a member of that group. Before and during the Great Depression he worked on the family farm and was known as one of the smart kids in the Pembroke schools.

To my wife (and children) he was always “Uncle Edgar.” For me it took a few years for him to become family. I first met Edgar as a customer in my parents store a few years after World War II ended. In my pre-teen years I didn’t understand his condition any more than I recognized the condition of the customer that said very few words and stared as he leaned on the candy showcase. Both men were seriously injured during the war. Their health would make improvements but they would never return to the good health they enjoyed before the war.

After the war Edgar Ward helped build America by cutting pulp wood. During the years my family lived in Perry he lived four miles from our home. “Uncle” Edgar and I shared many memories. Edgar loved to tell sea stories and they centered around happy experiences when he served aboard the battleship USS WYOMING. It was after his death, four years ago, when I learned he served aboard other Navy vessels during World War II. While he was a crew member, those ships engaged in battles. Edgar and his shipmates encountered bad experiences, but he could not, or did not mention them.

The following story helps describe Edgar’s condition near the time the war ended, and may encourage us to visit people that are hospitalized:
Parents and siblings lost communications with Edgar for a long period of time. They thought they would never see him again, but one day a man from Pembroke, Maine was in the Washington, D. C. area. He went to a nearby Veterans Hospital to see a friend. At the hospital a nurse was escorting the visitor to his friend’s room. As they passed an open door a young man was sitting on the bed. The nurse said: “Nobody knows who that man is.” The visitor quickly replied; I know him. That’s Edgar Ward. I went to school with him in Pembroke, Maine.” Edgar and family members were soon reunited.

In all wars, there have been deaths and at the end of each war many people find their health is not as good as it was before the war began. Many of those people spend the rest of their lives in hospitals and seldom have visitors. Our routines are too busy and those people are forgotten. We have to make special arrangements just to see our closest friends.

During our path of life we seldom acknowledge that we are constantly affecting the lives of other people. During the Christmas season we have to watch Jimmy Stewart in the movie: ”It’s a Wonderful Life,” to remind us of those important facts.

As this article is written, veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus countless other people, are continuously entering hospitals and nursing homes. Although we seldom make a trip to visit a stranger in a hospital, visiting family members and other friends is the right thing to do. It is not unusual for us to arrive at the hospital, as a visitor, feeling tired, sad, and weary. To our surprise we have found that the patient, or the “stranger “ sharing the same room, cheers us up.

More than six decades ago the man from Pembroke that went to the Veterans Hospital to see his friend was doing something good. At that time he may have been feeling tired, weary and sad. If “the stranger in the hospital” didn’t cheer him up, he certainly brightened the day for Edgar Ward and his family. It all happened with one caring person’s visit to a hospital. Today is the day to visit our friend in the hospital. If we’re “too busy,” we can at least send a card.

Dale C. Lincoln of Perry ME
currently in Zephyrhills FL
for the Skillin's Garden Log
December 6, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wet bird seed in the feeder!

Hello again,

Just a quick note to remind you fellow birders that with the soaking and wind driven rain we received the other day that it is likely the bird seed in the open areas of your bird feeder could be quite wet. My feeders sure had some wet food.

Take a few moments out of your busy day and scoop as much of the wet seed out as you can. Our feathered friends do not prefer wet food and they will let it lie and go to other feeding areas.

After awhile the wet food can even get a little mildewy but again all this can be averted by simply scooping out the wet food. The birds will be back in business and feeding happily!

Also with the weather taking a turn for the colder, it is more important than ever to give the birds some suet. We sell good quality suet here at Skillin's along with suet pellets that can be used in any regular feeder. I use the pellets in my Squirrel Buster feeders and the birds really appreciate that.

If you need more food we have plenty on sale here at Skillin's for 20% off! Great quality food for our feathered friends!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 5, 2009

Norfolk Island Pine

Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website ( to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

Here is some of what Paul had to say this past week:

One of the most beautiful evergreen trees for the South is the Norfolk Island Pine. For those of us that live in the North this plant is a wonderful indoor plant. It was discovered by the early explorers who were searching the South Pacific Ocean for new lands. Yes, the one and only Captain Cook made it possible for us to enjoy this plant in our homes today. In the wild, it grows to almost 200 feet, but in our home, just to the ceiling.

As a potted tree, it will grow in a room with a lot of light and if you put it in a corner it will grow slanting towards the light, so keep it near a window and turn it periodically. House temperatures 60 to 70 degrees are best; it also needs good air circulation. It will tolerate 50 degrees during the winter as long as there is no draft from the door or windows.

Water as needed and keep soil moist but not wet. Be sure there are drainage holes in the pot to help drain excess water. If you see lower branches turning brown and falling from the plant, cut back on the water. Feed monthly with Neptune Harvest or Miracle Grow fertilizer. If you often forget to feed, use Osmocote spring and fall. This plant loves humidity. During the winter, when the heat is on, mist the foliage daily. If you can, fill the saucer the pot is on with stones and add water daily; it will help greatly.

Repot every 2 to 3 years or when you notice that the roots are beginning to fill the pot. Use a light-weight potting soil--never soil from the garden. Drainage is the key to success.

If the plant droops and needles drop off it could be that the room is too hot and has poor air circulation. Do not place other plants around this plant--it likes room to grow and no competition for air and light.

If the plant loses lower branches, they will not be replaced by the plant, as it's a tree.

The Norfolk Island Pine will make a great tree at Christmas for apartments, or for people who do not like the mess that cut trees make. Decorate with LED lights, as they create NO heat on the branches, and add a few red bows.

When spring arrives and it is safe to put out your flowers, place the tree in a shady area on your porch or deck for the summer. They have few bugs and disease problems. Enjoy!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 5, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Story of the Cut Christmas Tree

Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website ( to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

Here is some of what Paul had to say this past week:

It is the time to visit your local nursery to select your fresh-cut Christmas tree. Most of us take the Christmas tree for granted each year, buying it and decorating it without much thought. This year I want you to know the story of the Christmas tree; it will change how you see your tree.

This is a once-upon-a-time story. It starts far away in the mountains of Germany, where the tradition of bringing a evergreen tree into house for Christmas began. The evergreen tree was brought into the house to ensure health and happiness through the season and the spring greening of Mother Earth. As people emigrated to other parts of the world they took the tradition with them and the popularity grew.

In America the tree grew from a table tree to a full-size floor-to-ceiling tree. As its popularity increased each year, problems rose due to unrestricted cutting of the tree in the forested areas. Conservationists warned then-President Theodore Roosevelt that if he did not act fast, the nation's forests would be depleted in just a few years. By 1900, roughly half of our timber had been cut--not, of course, all for Christmas trees. The topsoil was washing away and many birds were approaching extinction.

Fearing that our great forests would be destroyed, the President banned the Christmas tree from his home and urged everyone to do the same. Unfortunately for theP resident, his two children did not listen to their father and smuggled a tree into the closet of their room. As punishment for their deeds, the children were sent to the office of the National Forest and Parks Service to hear the explanation of the problem. To the President's surprise they came back with a plan that would help thin the forest selectively and save the tradition of Christmas trees. New conservation practices helped to relieve the strain of the tree shortages, and the forests were saved from unnecessary destruction.

Some years later, his cousin President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a farm in Hyde Park N.Y., and in an effort to encourage soil conservation he experimented with growing Christmas trees commercially. He chose land that was too stony to farm, too steep to plow or otherwise unsuitable for cultivation crops. The project was a success and he encouraged others to do the same.

The Christmas tree farmer became a American hero. Tree farming helped relieve the pressure on our forest, preventing erosion of our soils, helped prevent the extinction of some wildlife and created thousands of new jobs on land unsuitable for farming. The Christmas tree of today is possible because of two children, Archie and Quentin Roosevelt, who wanted something badly enough to work for it and their father, who helped make it possible. So you see, there is more to our president than the teddy bear and the Rough Riders.

By the way, the state of Maine was the home of the Christmas tree for America. The first Christmas trees sold in Boston came from Maine--and many still do. Maine had the best growing conditions, soil and climate for the balsam fir tree. Then and today the balsam fir is the number one selling Christmas tree in America from Maine to Florida and west to California. The tree has everything we want for the house--fragrance, color, hardiness, shape and affordability.

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 4, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Blooming bulbs don't have to be a spring thing!

Hello again,

Following is a great article written by Susan Reimer in the Baltimore Sun dated December 3, 2009. I think the timing of the article is great and we have these forcing bulbs in plentiful supply here at Skillin's!

"I am not sure whether it's gardeners anxious to extend the growing season - or those who market to gardeners - but paperwhite and amaryllis bulb kits are stacked for sale like fruitcakes at this time of year.

These are the bulbs that can be "forced" to bloom out of season without the months-long hibernation required by tulips, hyacinths and their kin, and they provide a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous poinsettia. According to the National Garden Association, 4.9 million households purchased bulbs for forcing last year - up from 4.1 million in 2007.

The kits sell for a few dollars and come with bulbs, a pot, soil of some kind and instructions a child could follow. As a matter of fact, the speed with which these bulbs grow and bloom make them a good project for children, especially when grown in glass, where the roots can be seen.

I received my first amaryllis from a neighbor last year for Christmas, and I was so encouraged by the easy results that I am forcing paperwhites this year, staggering their start so I will have new blooms every couple of weeks. It is cheaper than a bouquet of fresh flowers and lasts longer.

According to Scott Kunst, owner of Old House Gardens in Michigan, which specializes in heirloom bulbs and their history, paperwhites are descendants of the Chinese Sacred Lily, which was not actually a lily and blooms as part of the Asian New Year celebration.

Brought to this country by Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s, they soon found their way into the parlors of Americans, who were fascinated at the time with anything Chinese.

Kunst says hyacinths were among the first bulbs to be forced because they responded well to the process. Forcing was easy in the 1800s, too, because houses were so cold that the hibernation period was easy to reproduce.

"You read in diaries from that time that the glass vases broke because it was so cold in the bedroom. Or all the bulbs froze because they left them on the windowsill overnight," said Kunst.

It takes a little more resourcefulness to force bulbs today - or a spare refrigerator where temperatures can be kept under 48 degrees but above freezing for eight to 12 weeks. There are varieties of tulip, daffodils, crocus and hyacinth that are particularly good for forcing - Kunst recommends Lady Derby and Linnocence hyacinths - but if you are trying it for the first time, you can use any of the bargain-basement bulbs available at this time of year.

Here are some things to remember:

•Plant bulbs close together but not touching, and with the tips pointing up and exposed. Plant in regular potting soil with plenty of drainage pebbles. Water thoroughly and then again perhaps once a month. Mark the pot with the date and the contents and place it in a cool place between 35 and 50 degrees. (A kitchen refrigerator is not a good choice. Fresh fruits and vegetables emit a gas that inhibits blooming.)

•Hyacinths can be planted in the traditional hyacinth vase, with the bulb cradle, narrow neck, and water or water and pebbles below. Water should just touch the base of the bulb.

•Depending on the recommended hibernation time (10 to 16 weeks), remove the pot and place it in a cool spot in the house, allowing it to warm slowly. Blooms should appear in two to eight weeks. Keep it out of direct sunlight so blooms will last longer. Do not overwater!

•Though most bulbs can not be forced a second year because forcing requires so much energy, you can transplant the bulbs in the garden in March, with some fertilizer, and they should bloom the next year. "

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 3, 2009