Lifestyles

No Bake Peanut Butter Bars

Here are some delicious quick desserts when you just have a craving for something sweet.

No Bake Peanut Butter Bars

YIELD: 16 bars

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup salted butter, melted

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8 full sheets)

1 cup powdered sugar

3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (not natural style)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS: Line a 8-by-8 or 9-by-9 square baking pan with aluminum foil. Set aside. In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter, graham cracker crumbs, and powdered sugar together until combined. Stir in 3/4 cup of peanut butter. Spread into prepared baking pan. In a small bowl, microwave 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with the chocolate chips until melted. Stir until smooth. Spread over peanut butter layer. Chill until completely firm, at least 3 hours. Allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before cutting. Bars stay fresh for 5 to 7 days stored in the refrigerator. Serve chilled. (Setting them out for a few hours at room temperature for serving is OK.) Bars can be frozen up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Two Minute Apple Tart
Two Minute Apple Tart

Two-Minute Apple Tart

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

1 refrigerated ready-to-use pie crust

1 pound apples, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons cold butter

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 425 F. Remove pie crust from refrigerator and warm to room temperature, about 15 to 20 minutes. Unroll crust and place it on large baking sheet. Arrange sliced apples on crust, leaving about two inches of space around edge. Chop cold butter into small bits and scatter over apples. Mix sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over apples. Fold two-inch section of open pie crust over apples — this will not cover apples, but contain them inside crust. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until crust is golden brown and apples are just soft.

Easy Plum Tart
Easy Plum Tart

Easy Plum Tart

YIELD: Serves 10

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup canned almond pastry filling

1 refrigerated premade pie crust

4 medium plums, sliced

DIRECTIONS: Spread canned almond pastry filling on pie crust (rolled out to 12 inches on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet), leaving 2-inch border; top with plums, fold in edges, and bake at 400 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is bubbling.

 

By Bob Lipinski

‘Drink wine in winter for cold, and in summer for heat.’

— Henry G. Bohn 1796–1884, British publisher, ‘Handbook of Proverbs,’ 1855

For centuries wines have been bottled in glass containers (bottles) and enjoyed by millions of drinkers, novices and connoisseurs alike.

Over the past few decades, wineries have sought alternative containers for consumers to enjoy their red, white and rosé (blush) wines. Some of the ideas are: aluminum cans similar to a six-pack of beer, aluminum bottles, single servings of wine in a plastic glass, plastic wine bottles, bottles made from cardboard (plastic lined), Tetra Pak cartons (they house tomato sauce), AstraPouch (Capri Sun) ceramic bottles (Lancer’s Rosé) and yes even in a paint can!

By far, the best alternative package for wine is the “bag-in-the-box” or BiB for short. BiB packaging refers to a food-grade, plastic bag hidden inside a cardboard box fitted with a tap for serving and a handle for transport. The BiB was invented by U.S. chemist William R. Scholle in 1955 for the safe transportation and dispensing of battery acid. In 1965, the idea was patented and became the Wine Box thanks to Thomas Angove (1918–2010), a winemaker from Renmark, South Australia.

BiB comes in various sizes, including 1.5-liter (2 bottles), but the 3-, 4-, and 5-liter containers are the most common. It easily fits inside the refrigerator and is ideal for dispensing a single or multiple glasses of wine. BiB is ideal for the outdoor locations where glass may not be appropriate or accepted — swimming pools, outdoor concerts, picnics, barbecues, sporting events, parks and beaches.

Once opened, BiB can easily last several weeks before a replacement is needed. In years past, the quality of some offerings was low-end, appealing to the “jug drinkers.” However, the past few years has seen not only the quality dramatically improve but also the offerings. You can purchase cabernet sauvignon, merlot, Shiraz, Riesling and many others.

Two of my recent favorite brands are Archer Roose and Bota Box:

Archer Roose Sauvignon Blanc (3-liters) Central Valley, Chile: Aroma of stone fruit and kiwi is followed by a crisp, clean flavor of tropical fruit, and lemon, with hints of tartness.

Archer Roose Carmenère (3-liter) Maipo, Chile: Full bouquet and flavor of spicy plums, black raspberries, cherries and black pepper. Medium-bodied with subtle flavors of mint, herbs and dark chocolate.

Archer Roose Cabernet Sauvignon (3-liter) Maipo, Chile: Deeply colored with a bouquet and taste of black currants, blackberries and cherries. Medium-bodied with flavors of chocolate-cherry and spices.

Bota Box Chardonnay (3-liter) California: Bouquet and flavor of baked bread, pineapple and apples. Off-dry with just the right amount of citrus to keep it interesting.

Bota Box 2014 Sauvignon Blanc (3-liter) California: Aroma and flavor of melon, mint and orange blossoms. Light-bodied with plenty of flavor.

Bota Box 2014 Night Hawk Black (3-liter) California: Ruby-colored with a luscious bouquet and off-dry taste of blackberries, cherries and jam.

Bob Lipinski, a local author, has written 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Vodka, Gin, Rum & Tequila” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com or boblipinski2009@hotmail.com.

The types, quantity and quality of dietary fat all matter. Stock photo

Dietary fat is one of the most controversial and complicated topics in medicine. Experts have debated this topic for years, ever since we were told that a low-fat diet was important. There are enumerable questions, such as: Is a high-fat diet good for you? What about low-fat diets? If this is not enough, what type of fats should we be consuming?

There are multiple types of fats and multiple fat sources. For instance, there are saturated fats and unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. There are also trans fats, which are man-made. However, there are several things that we can agree on, like we need fat since the brain is made of at least 60 percent fat (1), and trans fats are downright dangerous. Trans fats are the Frankenstein of fats; anything created in a lab when it comes to fats is not a good thing.

How have we evolved in the fat wars? Originally we were told that a low-fat diet was beneficial for heart disease and weight loss (2). This started in the 1940s but gained traction in the 1960s. By the 1980s, everyone from physicians to the government to food manufacturers was exclaiming about a low-fat diet’s benefits for overall health. But did they go too far trying to make one size fit all? The answer is a resounding YES!!

There are only three macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates and protein. Declaring that one of the three needed to be reduced for everyone did not have the results we wanted or expected. Americans were getting fatter, not thinner, heart disease was not becoming rare, and we were not becoming healthier.

Some fats more equal than others

The biggest debate recently has been over the amount of fats and saturated fats. The most recent 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not limit the amount of fat, but do limit the amount of saturated fat to less than 10 percent of our diet (3). Does this apply to everyone? Not necessarily. Remember, it is very difficult to apply broad rules to the whole population.

However, the most recent research suggests that foods containing pure saturated fats are not useful, may be detrimental, and at best are neutral. Meanwhile, poly- and monounsaturated fats are potentially beneficial. You will want to read about the most recent study below.

Sources of fat

Pure saturated fats generally are found in animal products, specifically dairy and all meats. The exception is fish, which contains high levels of polyunsaturated fats. Interestingly, most foods that contain predominantly unsaturated fats have saturated fat as well, though the reverse is not typically true. There are also saturated plant oils, like coconut and palm. Processed foods also have saturated fats. Potentially beneficial polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish and some nuts, seeds and soybeans, while potentially beneficial monounsaturated fats are olive oil, avocados, peanut butter, some nuts and seeds (4). Let’s look at the research.

Saturated fat

takes a dive In the ongoing battle over saturated fats, the latest research suggests that it is harmful. In recent well-respected combined observational study (The Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professional Follow-up Study), results show that replacing just 5 percent of saturated fat with poly- or monounsaturated fats results in significant reductions in all-cause mortality, 27 and 13 percent, respectively (5). There were also significant reductions in neurodegenerative diseases, which include macular degeneration, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.

However, when reduced saturated fats were replaced with refined grains, there was no difference in mortality. There were over 126,000 participants with an approximate 30-year duration. Also, the highest quintile of poly- and monounsaturated fat intake compared to lowest showed reductions in mortality that were significant, 19 and 11 percent, respectively. Not surprisingly, trans fat increased the risk of mortality by 13 percent.

The polyunsaturated fats in this study included food such as fatty fish and walnuts, while the monounsaturated fats included foods such as avocado and olive oil. Eating fish had the modest reductions in mortality, 4 percent. The authors suggest replacing saturated fats with healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats that are mostly plant-based, but not with refined grains or trans fat.

Previous study showed neutrality

This was a meta-analysis (a group of 72 heterogeneous trials, some observational and others randomized controlled trials), with results showing that saturated fats were neither harmful nor beneficial, but rather neutral (6).

However, there were significant study weaknesses. The researchers may have used foods that include both saturated fats and unsaturated fats. This is not a pure saturated fat comparison. What did those who had less saturated fat eat instead — refined grains, maybe? Also, the results in the study’s abstract partially contradicted the results in the body of the study. Thus, I would pay a lot more attention to the above study than to this one. Again, though, even the best outcomes for saturated fats in this study did not provide a beneficial effect.

What about butter?

In a meta-analysis (group of nine observational studies), results showed that butter was neither beneficial nor harmful, but rather neutral in effect (7). Then is it okay to eat butter? Not so fast! Remember, the above study showed that saturated fat was potentially harmful, and butter is pure saturated animal fat. Also, there are study weaknesses. It is not clear what participants were eating in place of butter, possibly refined grains, which would obfuscate the potential harms. It was also unclear whether there were poly- and monounsaturated fats in the diet and what effect this might have on making butter look neutral.

Unearthing a saturated fat study

In a randomized controlled trial (Minnesota Coronary Experiment), this one from 1968 to 1973 and not fully analyzed until recently, results showed that polyunsaturated fat from corn oil, compared to a diet with higher saturated fat, reduced cholesterol level while increasing the risk of mortality (8).

The researchers expected the opposite result. Is this a paradox? Fortunately, no! Corn oil is used in processed foods and has a high amount of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids that may negate the positive results of reducing cholesterol. Plus, the patients were only consuming the corn oil for a short 15-month period, which is unlikely to be long enough to show beneficial effects on mortality.

The bottom line is this: It’s not about low-fat diets! Saturated fats have not shown any benefits, and could be potentially harmful, but at best, they are neutral. However, foods that contain high amounts of poly- or monounsaturated fats that are mostly plant-based have shown significant benefit in reducing the risk of death and neurodegenerative diseases.

However, there are several caveats. Not all unsaturated fats are beneficial. For instance, some like corn oil may contain too many omega-6 fatty acids, which could contribute to inflammation. Also, replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates, especially refined grains, does not improve health. I told you fats are not easy to understand. It can be helpful to change our perception of fats: They are not “good and bad.” Instead, think of them as “useful and useless.” For our health, we should be focused on the “useful.”

References: (1) Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2009;18(4):231-241. (2) J Hist Med Allied Sci 2008;63(2):139-177. (3) health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015. (4) http://www.heart.org. (5) JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(8):1134-1145. (6) Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(6):398-406. (7) PLoS ONE 11(6):e0158118. (8) BMJ 2016;353:i1246.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

A welcome volunteer, rose of Sharon, produces colorful, cup-shaped flowers in the summer and fall. File photo

By Ellen Barcel

Many times a plant appears in the garden that the gardener didn’t plant. A weed? Perhaps, but it really helps to know what seedlings and young plants look like so that you can see if a “volunteer” is a prize or a pain.

Among the not-really-wanted plants that easily volunteer in the garden include dandelions, onion grass, garlic mustard, wineberries, multiflora roses and oriental bittersweet. While onion grass is a mild nuisance, just mow over it, garlic mustard easily grows to a foot or more in height and is really unsightly.

Wineberries are an invasive plant, related to raspberries, that can be spread by birds. The berries are definitely edible, but not nearly as tasty as raspberries. If you want raspberries, then plant them and pull out the wineberries — carefully because they have thorns.

Multiflora roses are attractive, with many (hence the term multiflora) blooms in early June borne on arching canes. Years ago, they were planted by many Long Island gardeners because of their rapid growth and dense habit. They were even sold as a living fence for cattle. But, and here’s the big but, they are extremely invasive. Like wineberries, be careful pulling them out because of the thorns.

Another volunteer that is extremely invasive is oriental bittersweet. It’s very pretty with its red berries that break open to reveal yellow seeds, but it’s definitely invasive. Lesser celandine has pretty yellow flowers in the spring but, again, is very invasive.

Note that wineberries, multiflora roses and oriental bittersweet as well as lesser celandine are all on Suffolk County’s Do Not Sell List. However, there are so many here already and they are so easily spread, especially by birds, that it’s still a battle getting rid of these invasives.

On the other hand, there are a number of volunteers that are welcome in the garden. Reseeding plants that you’ve put in the garden are wonderful. They may not be perennials but they’re almost as good. In this category includes the money plant (Lunaria) with its purple flowers and silvery seed pods.

Many years ago, a small tree planted itself in my back yard. Curious as to what it was, I left it alone and it matured into a gorgeous tree covered in pink flowers in the spring. I never did figure out what it was — there were a number of possibilities. It could have been some variety of cherry, but it never bore fruit, so I never did find out. It was a welcome volunteer and sadly missed when one spring, it became obvious that it didn’t make it through the previous harsh winter.

Another volunteer that is most welcome in my garden was also filled with pink flowers. Again, I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was until it started to produce peaches. Unfortunately, the variety were small and bitter, so I don’t use them instead allowing the local critters to dine. But, I don’t take the trees out either, because they produce nice shade and those beautiful flowers.

I’ve had rose of Sharon and holly also seed themselves in the garden, both welcome plants. On the other hand, the thistle that seeded itself by my front door, while interesting, was a danger. Tiny maple trees (Norway maple, Acer platanoides) try to take over my garden — they’re everywhere. Simply cutting them off at ground level with a pruning shears usually works, and small ones can be easily pulled out especially after a rain.

Another beneficial volunteer is clover in the lawn. It’s a nitrogen fixing plant that takes nitrogen from the air and stores it in its roots. It attracts pollinators and is low maintenance. However, many broad- spectrum weed killers will kill it, so read the label carefully of any products you consider using.

When you find any of these volunteers, remove the nasty ones, but allow some of the questionable ones to grow a while and mature so that you can figure out whether you have a bonus in the garden or not. They may provide you with a beautiful tomorrow in your garden.

An excellent book to help you identify some unknown plants and decide whether or not they’re keepers is “Weeds of the North East,” by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. DiTomaso. The volume is published by Comstock Publishing, a division of Cornell University Press. It has color photos of the plant, closeups of the leaves, flowers and seeds. It’s a great resource.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Fungus on dead tree stumps helps to break down the dead wood, returning the nutrients to the soil. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

One of the things that a gardener needs to do is to identify fungi on plants and take appropriate steps to control the fungi (if possible) if it is detrimental to the plant. But not all fungi will kill plants. Some just make the plant look bad. And some actually are beneficial.

In the past, I’ve had several trees which didn’t survive because of fungus. My beautiful mimosa trees died due to a fungus (mimosa wilt) which could not be stopped at the time. Leaves turned yellow in midsummer and dropped. The tree never sprouted the following growing season. The trees literally died within a few weeks.

A rust killed a mountain ash I had. I was really disappointed, and missed the beautiful orange berries the tree bore and which persisted on the tree well into winter. Mountain ash is a native of North America and has white flowers in spring.

Cedar apple rust can also be found on trees on Long Island. It particularly attacks cedar, apple and crabapple trees. The fruiting body develops as a brownish growth on the tree. Then orange tentacles emerge from the growth. The rust is not fatal to the tree but definitely unsightly, almost looking like something out of a sci-fi movie. Remove the growth making sure to sterilize gardening tools afterwards, so as not to spread the pathogen to other trees.

Orange ‘tentacles’ emerge from the cedar apple rust fungus. Photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Orange ‘tentacles’ emerge from the cedar apple rust fungus. Photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden

Now for some generalities on fungal diseases and their prevention:

First of all, weak plants are more prone to getting a fungal disease than strong ones. So, make sure you feed and water your plants appropriately.

Plants that are crowded with no air circulation are also more prone to fungal diseases.

It’s better to water plants at ground level, especially in the evening, so leaves don’t stay wet overnight. A drip irrigation system works well sending water to the roots and not the leaves.

Look for fungus-resistant plants such as rust resistant apple and crabapple trees, tomatoes which are resistant to tomato blight, roses resistant to black spot, etc. The tomato blight, for example, will prevent you from getting a decent crop of tomatoes. So this one definitely falls in the bad category.

Know that some trees are prone to the fungal disease anthracnose, but generally it is more unsightly, than dangerous. Maples and catalpas in particular develop it in humid weather. The leaves look like they are covered with a white power. Unless the tree is very old and weak it will usually survive with no treatment at all. So, this is a case of ugly, but not really dangerous. When anthracnose develops on the native dogwood (Cornus florida), however, it is much more serious. This is why some recommend planting other varieties of dogwood.

Replace plants that are prone to fungal diseases with those with similar attributes but which don’t contract certain diseases. For example, impatiens in recent years have been attacked by a fungus. They are annuals that do well and bring color to shady areas. Instead, plant coleus which are also annuals that do well and bring color to shady areas but are not prone to fungal diseases.

If you see a fungus growing on a live tree, check out that tree carefully. Usually large fungi only grow on dead or dying trees. I missed this important sign a number of years ago. An enormous section of one of my maple trees broke off the tree and landed across the street. An arborist gave me the bad news that my tree was dying and needed to be removed. I now check periodically to see if any large fungi are growing on my trees.

Now for the good: Some edible fungi, such as chicken fungi (Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus), grow on dead or dying trees or tree stumps. Be very careful here, as most fungi are not safe to eat. Make sure you check this out with an expert. Also, fungi with large, visible fruiting bodies help to break down dead wood, i.e., the cycle of nature, returning nutrients to the soil. Toad stools growing in the grass help to break down organic matter as well.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Raccoons are naturally occurring hosts for the Leptospira bacteria. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

May and June always kick off the annual checkup season and with all our exams, we discuss vaccines. When I talk about vaccines like distemper, rabies, kennel cough and Lyme, I always see a nod of understanding. However, when I bring up the leptospirosis vaccine, the quizzical look on people’s faces always reveals a lack of knowledge on this disease.

I think the reason is that as little as 10 years ago, leptospirosis was limited to very rural areas primarily where dogs had more of a risk of coming in contact with wildlife. The more “suburban sprawl” we see brings us (and our pets) in closer contact with the natural reservoirs of this disease. 

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by various strains of the Leptospira bacteria.  This bacteria is carried by many wild animals. Naturally occurring hosts are raccoons, opossums, foxes, skunks and various rodents. Raccoons and skunks are scavengers as much as hunters, so they will commonly venture into our yards to knock over garbage pails etc., in search of food.

It has also been estimated that approximately 90 percent of rats in major cities carry leptospirosis, so it has become more of an urban threat than previously realized. These hosts shed, or pass, the bacteria in their urine, contaminating both the environment and water sources. Not only can these hosts carry the bacteria without showing symptoms of disease, they also can shed the bacteria for extended periods of time.

Once in the soil or water, the Leptospira bacteria is very hearty and can survive for weeks to months waiting for another host. The bacteria can gain access to a new host through the membranes of the mouth (drinking contaminated water) or through abrasions and cuts on the skin (from the soil). Once in the bloodstream the bacteria travels to the kidneys and starts to divide.  When the bacterial numbers are high enough, the new host will start shedding bacteria via the urine. 

No specific breed of dog appears to be more susceptible or resistant to the infection. However, middle-aged dogs (as compared to young or old) and male dogs (compared to female) appear to be at higher risk. It is theorized that middle-aged male dogs are more likely to wander and get into more trouble (so far as coming in contact with a natural host). 

The most common organ system affected is the kidneys, but the Leptospira bacteria can also affect the liver, lungs and central nervous system.  Once the bacteria reaches the kidneys replication, as well as inflammation, damages kidney cells.

The symptoms of leptospirosis can be quite general in the beginning. Anything from a drop in appetite and an increase in thirst to vomiting, severe lethargy and in some cases death.

The good news is that leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics and other supportive care (IV fluids, IV medications etc.). The bad news is many times the initial infection is cleared but there is permanent damage to the kidneys. 

An effective vaccine is now available to prevent this disease. So, check with your veterinarian if your dog is at risk (dogs that get out of the yard, are in contact with many other dogs, have wildlife nearby and standing water) and should be vaccinated.  Let’s keep our dogs safe this summer.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

Members of Port Jefferson School District’s Green Team take a break after planting a native garden with help from Port Jefferson’s Village Gardener, Caran Markson, far left, parents, teachers and back row, Lauren Hubbard, fourth from right, and Sue Avery, fifth from right. Photo by Heidi Sutton

A dedicated team of volunteers took to the hills of Port Jefferson last Saturday morning to help the environment by planting a Long Island native plant garden. 

Three years in the making, the idea originated at a Go Green Fair by co-chairs Naomi Solo and John Lutterbie. The garden, located on village property at the corner of High Street and Spring Street, is a collaboration among Port Jefferson School District’s environmental club, the Green Team, Port Jefferson Village, Stony Brook University’s Humanities Institute and the village’s annual Go Green event.

“Between the university, the Go Green Team and the village, we are [finally] doing it,” said Village Gardener Caran Markson. “Luckily Margot [Garant] our mayor, is so pro beautification so she matched what the Go Green team fundraised for and here we are.”

Designer Sue Avery, from the Long Island Native Plant Initiative (LINPI), used the funds to purchase the plants at the group’s annual plant sale in Riverhead last week.

The garden sits on a triangle piece of property in full sun and includes Joe Pye weed, New York ironweed, bee balm, common milkweed and butterfly weed and native grasses, anchored by bayberry plants on each corner. Because the garden is on a slope, Avery also created a rain garden with wet loving plants at the bottom that will catch all the water runoff.

“These are all native plants, native to Long Island, so once they get established they are very low maintenance,” said Avery. “Also they are habitat plants for our native pollinators, for monarch butterflies, so it is really a pollinator garden as well, and a lot of these will self-seed and fill in so it will turn out to be a low maintenance garden.” The group also planted goldenrod, which, according to Avery, is “very valuable for the monarchs for their fall migration.”

The garden, which will require periodic watering, mulching and weeding, will be maintained by Markson, Lauren Hubbard of the Maritime Explorium, Solo and Avery.

In the spring, the volunteers will come back and “cut the grasses down, see what is coming up and what has self-seeded,” said Avery. “It will be an example of how to sustainably manage a traffic island, a municipal place,” she added.

Inspired by this event, Markson has expressed interest in planting native plants throughout the village “because they are self-sustaining and they are wonderful for the environment.”

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By Elof Axel Carlson

Most scientists consider themselves reductionists. The term suggests that complex things can be analyzed to simpler components. A molecule of water can be “reduced” to two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Sunlight, when using a prism, can be reduced to a spectrum of rainbow colors. Our body can be reduced to organs, tissues and organelles. A star is a ball of mostly hydrogen atoms whose mass generates such heat and pressure that some of its innermost atoms are fused, producing immense heat, ultraviolet radiation, gamma radiation, light and the formation of new elements. A galaxy is a rotating pinwheel of billions of stars.

At the same time, many scientists recognize that there are ever-changing systems. We think of ourselves changing from a fertilized egg, a ball of cells leaving the oviduct and entering the uterus, a differentiating implanted embryo forming tissues and organs, a fetus making its presence known by its movements in an amniotic sac, a newborn baby, a dependent infant, a toddler, a child actively learning, an adolescent in high school or college, a young adult, a middle-aged adult, an old person and eventually a corpse to be buried or cremated.

Along with a changing physical state in our life cycle, we are aware of how our personalities changed (or stayed constant) and the hundreds of influences from our parents, siblings, neighbors, schoolmates, teachers and hosts of encounters from whom we meet, what we read and what we observe. We recognize ourselves as being rational, emotional, spiritual, idealistic, competent, insecure, inspired, depressed, self-serving, altruistic, generous, greedy and a variety of other (often contradictory) ways. Analyzing who we are, as functioning persons or societies, is harder than identifying our physical components. That is also true for ecosystems or the associations that participate in a community whether it is a forest, grassland, tide-pool, lake or river.

Analyzing who we are, as functioning persons or societies, is harder than identifying our physical components.

Alexander Humboldt was the first to see the universe (he called it the cosmos) as a connected system. Everything is connected to everything and it constantly changes. Philosophers call this outlook “holism.”

Humboldt’s holism was systematic, and as he climbed up mountains he took notes on the plants and animals (preserving samples for later study) and chipped off minerals as he noted the changing rock formations during his ascent. He noted how temperature dropped as he climbed upward. He used instruments to measure the air pressure. The field he founded was ecology, although it would be more than 50 years later that it got its name.

In contrast to Humboldt, other scientists saw holism as a way to merge science and religion. Thus Goethe saw a spirituality in the study of the cosmos, and German scientists embraced his “nature philosophy” approach. In the United States Emerson extended holism to the universe, which he described as an “oversoul.” It launched his Transcendental movement. Still others invoked “vital spirits” or a life force that animated all living things and that disappeared when they died.

I much prefer Humboldt’s approach to those holists who invoke a supernatural aspect to complexity. If processes and things are claimed to be beyond the reach of science, then our understanding of complex things is limited. At the same time, it is naive to claim that everything is possible, such as perpetual motion, living forever, or willing oneself (unassisted) to run as fast as the speed of sound. Scientist cannot ignore the complexity of the things they study but neither should they be paralyzed into inaction because of it. Humboldt’s approach is both reductionist and holistic, and it served him and society well by enriching our understanding of how the universe works.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

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A healthy crape myrtle in full bloom. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There’s an old saying, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” When the weather turned cold last autumn, I believed in tomorrow, that is, next spring, and believed that my plants going dormant would grow again as the weather warmed.

Well, going outside this spring, and looking at my plants with their new little green buds, I was particularly concerned that my beautiful crape myrtle showed no signs of life. As time went by, it became obvious that the plant didn’t survive. Although associated with the southern part of the country, the variety I planted was supposed to be cold hardy on Long Island, as it was rated for U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 6 and Long Island is zone 7. In addition, it had survived the previous two extremely cold winters — remember the polar vortex? So, why did it die?

The most likely answer is cold damage. I had noticed last summer that the plant didn’t look as healthy as it had in previous years. When temperatures drop below 10 degrees for any length of time, crape myrtle tends to die back down to the ground. By mid-May the plant should have begun sprouting, at least from the ground, but, it’s been a cool spring, so it’s possible that the recovery was just slow. As the warm weather really arrived, however, it still showed no signs of growth. That means that the roots died and the plant needed to be replaced.

To replace crape myrtle with more cold-tolerant varieties, there are some which are cold tolerant to zone 5. Consider:

— Pure white: ‘Natchez,’ which reaches 18 feet, or ‘Kiowa,’ which is considerably smaller at six to eight feet

— Deep red: ‘Okmulgee’ at eight feet; ‘Cherokee’ also at eight feet; ‘Tonto’ at just six to eight feet

— Lavender: ‘Zuni’ at 10 feet tall; ‘Blue Lavender’ at 16 feet; ‘Catawba,’ darkest violet purple; and ‘Apalachee, 20 feet, a pale lavender

— Watermelon or coral: ‘Tuskegee’ reaches 25 feet; ‘Miami’ also at 25 feet; ‘Comanche’ at 16 feet

— Pink: ‘Choctaw at 20 feet; ‘Hopi’ at just 8 feet tall

A close up of crape myrtle flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel
A close up of crape myrtle flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Note that the maximum heights indicated above refer to plants that have not died back to the ground over the winter. A crape myrtle that has the potential to reach 20 feet, will only do so if the top part of the tree doesn’t suffer from winter-kill.

Crape myrtle bloom in mid to late summer with a stunning array of flowers. Some varieties are bushier and some more tree-like. Once established they can tolerate some drought, but prefer a warm, humid climate. You’ll get the most flowers if planted in full sun. They do well in most soil types but prefer slightly acidic soil. Prune your crape myrtle in spring, removing any dead branches. Also remove succors during the growing season if they develop on tree-like plants. Some develop fungal diseases (powdery mildew or leaf spot). If yours develops any of these diseases, use an appropriate fungicide. The problem of root rot is usually not anything to be concerned about with our sandy soil, which easily drains.

Winter-kill affects many other plants, particularly Hydrangea macrophylla, which frequently die back to the ground in a very cold winter. The older varieties produce flowers on old wood; so if yours has died back to the ground, you’ll have lots of green leaves in summer but no flowers. When replacing old H. macrophylla, look for reblooming hydrangeas like ‘Endless Summer,’ which blooms on both old and new wood.

In a future column, we’ll take a look at other reasons why plants die unexpectedly. So, where am I off to now? A local nursery to replace my crape myrtle.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Plant a row of beans every week or two to prolong bearing time. Photo from All-America Selections

By Ellen Barcel

Well, Mother’s Day has come and gone, a heads up that it’s time to start planting your more tender veggies. Plants that fall under this category include corn, tomatoes, certain herbs, beans, squash and melons.

Corn does well on Long Island, if you have enough room. You need enough plants so that they can pollinate the ears. For the home gardener, plant the corn in a square format. Ears grown on the edge of the square may not fully pollinate.

Tomatoes

Just about every gardener puts in a few tomato plants. When selecting plants put in several that are very early bearers, like Early Girl and Early Cascade (at approximately 55 days or so, you should have tomatoes by July) some that come in at a later time and some that bear fruit in late summer. Better Boy and Big Girl produce fruit in about 70 days — by the end of July. Beefstake tomatoes come in even later but are definitely worth the wait.

How soon you get tomatoes depends on how big the plants are that you select. If you buy plants that already have tiny green tomatoes on them, you’ve got a head start.

Remember that tomatoes are tender plants. They will not set fruit unless the night temperature is above 50 degrees, which is why the gardener is told not to put out tomato plants until after Mother’s Day (or better yet, Memorial Day). Night temperature above 75 degrees and day temperature above 85 to 90 tend to keep fruit from setting as well since high temperatures render the pollen no longer viable. Tomatoes are self-fertile so you can even grow one of each variety and not worry about having a second plant to pollinate the first.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders so apply fertilizer. Photo from All-America Selections
Tomatoes are heavy feeders so apply fertilizer. Photo from All-America Selections

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so make sure you either use sufficient compost or compost tea or a chemical fertilizer. Always follow manufacturer’s directions when using a chemical fertilizer. If a little is good, a lot is not necessarily better. You could burn the plants doing that.

Also remember to provide enough water for your tomato plants as well — not soggy, but evenly moist and well-drained soil is ideal. Don’t let the plants dry out.

Squash

Squash should also be planted now. There are many varieties, so consider what you and your family enjoy eating. There are two main groupings of squash, summer squash and winter squash. Summer squash are squash that are harvested in summer, when the rind is immature, soft. Summer squash include zucchini, yellow summer squash, pattypan squash and crookneck squash among others. Squash are low in calories and are great served with a tomato sauce. I steam them (sliced) in the microwave.

Squash can be grown in large containers. Since they are vining plants, they can grow up trellises or fences. They’re easy to grow in a variety of soil types and climates. They have both male and female flowers on the plant, so don’t be surprised if all of the flowers you see don’t produce fruit — the male ones just provide the pollen.

Winter squash are basically squash that are more mature than summer squash and have a hard rind that is not edible. Winter squash include butternut squash, acorn squash, hubbard squash, spaghetti squash (great served as a low-carb spaghetti replacement) and, of course, pumpkins. As with the summer squash, they are low in calories. My favorite way of preparing butternut squash is to cube it, simmer in chicken or beef broth with onions, thyme, salt and pepper and add in cooked sausage.

Green beans

It’s also time to begin planting your green beans. Don’t start beans inside as they don’t transplant well. Don’t plant them all at once, but row upon row every week or two until midsummer. This last planting should provide you with beans well into the fall. Plant them one-inch deep in full sun. Keep them evenly moist but in a well-drained area. A soil pH of 6 to 6.8 is ideal. Since this is only slightly acidic, you may need to add lime to your soil. Test your soil first.

There are basically two types of Phaseolus vulgaris, bush beans and pole beans. Pole beans need some sort of support, such as a trellis, while bush beans don’t. There are many varieties of each. In general, bush beans mature in 50 to 60 days while pole beans take 60 to 80 days. Like corn and squash, they are native to the Americas — particularly Mesoamerica and the Andes region. P. vulgaris comes in a variety of colors besides green, including purple and yellow. The yellow ones are commonly called wax beans or butter beans.

Tender herbs, like basil and cilantro as well as melons should be planted now as well.

All of these are ideal plants if you are gardening with children or grandchildren. They can check day by day to see how their plants are coming along. You may also be able to get them to eat more veggies — fresh and right out of their garden.

It is my personal preference to grow veggies and fruits organically and definitely without pesticides. If, however, you must use chemicals, read the package directions and follow them carefully. They will indicate how long before harvest you can still apply the chemicals and be safe eating the produce.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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