Ranger – I Loved him like my children

Today was one of the toughest days I can remember. My dog, Ranger, was hit by a car a little over a month from his second birthday. He was a beautiful big red golden retriever who was mature beyond his years.

Ranger loved everyone and everything. He loved other dogs, cats and all people. He never left the yard, so for the last year or so we never tied him except when we had people around who were nervous around dogs. Ranger was our greeter at our nursery, and everyone knew him. Sometimes, when he was in the house folks asked if I would bring him outside so they could see him.

It’s funny. When we got him, we weren’t even in the market for a dog. In fact, I said repeatedly that this place wasn’t safe for dogs to run free, and I didn’t want to have a dog on a chain. My daughter came to us and asked us if we would take a golden retriever puppy. One of her bridesmaids, Morgan Murray, had his father and she couldn’t keep any more dogs. We agreed to go look at the litter.

I was smitten immediately. This one puppy, the biggest of the litter, climbed out of the kiddie pool and stumbled right over to me. That was my dog! I counted down the days until we picked him up. We were inseparable. I took him to work every day, and he laid by my desk.

He loved the water. Whenever we were near any body of water he had to go for a swim. He loved to play ball, and for a big dog with huge feet he was very quick and athletic. Unlike most dogs, he wouldn’t overeat, and he always left food in his dish for later, even if it was something he really liked, so he was lean. We hadn’t yet neutered him, since several people expressed interest in breeding him.

Early this afternoon while I was fixing lunch, a young lady came to my door and told me she just witnessed two dogs get hit and one ran to my lawn. Ranger was in the house with me or at least I thought he was, but I followed her outside and saw him lying there. I lost it. He was the best dog I ever had. This is going to be one tough grieve. I loved him like a son. Please pray for Roberta and me. We are devastated.

Ranger being tall

Ranger and Charles on the couch.

Ranger relaxed

Ranger gazing over the water

Ranger out fishing

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New book titles available on Amazon in paperback

I’ve decided to format and put some books up on Amazon. I’ve re-released Never Alone and posted the other books in that Series (Strange Courage [#2], Second Chances [#3], and Grandfather’s Way [#5]). I’m still working on Promises Kept, which is book #4. This set began as a stand-alone adventure story and evolved into a family saga, the Forgotten Virtues series. If you like family oriented outdoorsy stuff with a positive spiritual message, you might want to check these out.

                I wrote Virginia to fulfill two objectives. First, I never wrote anything in first person except non-fiction stuff. Second, I wanted to see if I could write a mainstream book like a romance novel but from a different perspective than most. Virginia is a romance written from a man’s perspective for women who often bemoan that they don’t know how men think. Gray Jarvis is a former football star and successful young engineer, but he is not overly experienced with women. He often says the wrong thing without meaning any malice, but he wants nothing more than to win the heart of an impoverished country girl from West Virginia, who has become the surrogate mother of her younger siblings. Because of this, she is accustomed to making decisions, and she is in complete control of the situation. Her reluctance to build a relationship with this man who seemingly has it all frustrates Gray to no end. Virginia feels that helping those in need supersedes any personal wants she might have, and Gray cannot understand that. Still, his passion for her won’t allow him to walk away.

                All these titles are available on Amazon as paperbacks for $7.95 each.

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Spurweed is out there now – don’t delay

I thought I’d post a quick note on a nasty weed.This recent warm weather has made many lawn weeds pop. Among them is spurweed (Soliva sessilis)) otherwise known as lawn burweed, stickerweed and sandbur. It is a low growing fine textured plant that eventually develops sharp spines that stick in anything that contacts them.

As of a week ago I had no spurweed in my lawn, but it has now reared its ugly head. This is a tough one to control.  I have often said that once a person sees spurweed it is too late to stop it. That’s a little harsh, because if plants are treated before they go to seed, they can be hit with a post-emergent herbicide followed by a pre-emergent one in the fall. That can help immensely. Repeat treatments will still be necessary, but the earlier this weed is attacked the better long-term success will be.

Primary treatment with a mixture of 2,4-D, dicamba and MCPP is a good first step. Follow that up with another dose in a few weeks if new plants appear. In the fall, you will probably want to apply a pre-emergent herbicide like isoxaben in October. This will prevent new plants from germinating over the winter.

The biggest problem with spurweed is that seeds can remain dormant in the soil for a long time. That means control is a multi-year process. I’m sorry to be the skunk at the picnic, but this little plant can be a long-term adversary. Stay vigilant!

Newly emerging spurweed

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Spring weeds are now appearing

Spring weeds are now appearing

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted any articles, but this is a time that we need to get outside and check out what is coming up in our lawns and garden beds. We might have weeds we need to address, either from a removal standpoint or possibly a usage consideration.

Driving down the highway and gazing the harvested fields we can’t ignore the beautiful pink to purple carpet of henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and dead nettle (Lamium purpurea). Likely some of those two mints have probably found their way into our lawn and beds, too. If so, they should be addressed before they go to seed.

From a foraging standpoint, both are edible but not among my favorites, especially if they have begun to bloom. If you are interested in removing them, they are easy to control with most broadleaf herbicides. If they don’t really bother you to that extent or you prefer not to use chemicals, these two square stemmed devils will disappear as soon as summer approaches.

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) and hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) are winter annuals that have been showing themselves more lately. Both are excellent foraging greens for both fresh and cooked use if harvested before they begin to flower. They are among my favorites. Once they bloom, they are easier to spot but their flavor suffers. As with most winter annual and early spring weeds, warm weather will hasten their departure from your landscape.

Another spring weed just beginning to emerge is sow thistle (Sonchus sp.). It makes a great salad green when consumed young. It is crunchy and mild tasting. For you potential foragers out there, pay close attention as aphids like it too. Eating aphids certainly won’t hurt you, but the tough is not especially appetizing. This is another weed that is easily vanquished by most broadleaf herbicides. Mowing works well also.

Field garlic (Allium vineale) has probably adorned most lawns for much of the winter. Many folks don’t realize it is edible, but it is. Both the bulbs and the tops can be eaten. I usually don’t mess with the bulbs, as they are tedious to clean. Processing the foliage requires less work. It is easy to dry them for storage too. Once dried they can be cut up and placed in airtight containers in a cool dark place.

If elimination from the landscape is your goal, this one is a little more difficult to control. I’ve found that repeat treatments of a mixture of 2,4-D, dicamba, and MCPP will control most Alliums in your lawn. For landscape beds it is safer to dig them out.

Another weed showing its head right now is buttercup (Ranunculus sp.). This one has no foraging value. It contains antimicrobial compounds; hence some herbalists use it medicinally, but this is one weed that is pretty but should be eliminated if possible. Buttercups are toxic to livestock, pets, and children.

These are just a few I noticed in my yard this morning. I’ll discuss a few more later.

purple deadnettle
purple dead nettle
Florida Betony above and common chickweed below
bittercress - just the right size
Bittercress – just the right size
young sow thistle plants
Field garlic in dormant turf
Buttercups starting to bloom
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Books now available on Kindle

Strange Courage

By Ted Manzer

Most of the Forgotten Virtues series is now available on Kindle. Never Alone was released in 2017 and is in the process of being re-released. Three more books in the series are now out there. Strange Courage (second book of the series takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife’s death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. In the fifth book, Grandfather’s Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. The fourth book, Promises Kept is still undergoing editing. It depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to Carl’s death.

Ultimately, all these will be available on the paperback version also.

Also, a stand-alone romance entitled Virginia is now out on Kindle. Virginia is a romance written from a man’s perspective for women who often bemoan that they don’t know how men think. Gray Jarvis is a former football star and successful young engineer, but he is not overly experienced with women. He often says the wrong thing without meaning any malice, but he wants nothing more than to win the heart of an impoverished country girl from West Virginia, who has become the surrogate mother of her younger siblings. Because she has been burdened with so much responsibility, she is accustomed to making decisions, and she is in complete control of the relationship. Her reluctance to build a serious friendship with this man who seemingly has it all frustrates Gray to no end. Virginia feels that helping those in need supersedes any personal wants she might have, and Gray cannot understand that. Still, his passion for her won’t allow him to walk away. This is definitely not your typical romance.

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Waiting for the kids and thinking of my mother

Christmastime is a great time for reflection. I’m waiting for my kids to come, and I remember when each arrived for the first time. When Daniel was born, we were new to the whole thing. We got in a hurry. At the hospital, one of the nurses broke Roberta’s water, so they kept her. Otherwise, they likely would have sent us home. More than twenty-four hours later the doctor made the decision to take him by C-section. It was probably a good thing as he had the cord wrapped around his neck twice.

Oliver was a little simpler in a way. The hardest part was convincing the doctor to let Bert try to have the baby normally. Labor took much less time, but the delivery wasn’t without its uniqueness either. Shortly after midnight, it became obvious Oliver was coming into this world normally, but it was less clear that he was going to be born without hitting the floor. The doctor juggled him twice before finally catching him. My hands were right below his and just above floor level, in case Dr. Kerr juggled Oliver again.

By the time we were ready for Grace to come, we thought we had this whole baby thing figured out. However, every time we thought it was time, the labor would slow down. I bet we walked close to ten miles that early April day. Finally, at about five in the afternoon, we headed for the hospital. She was born before six.

Since then, we have realized that all our children are different. Daniel never shut up, Oliver never talked, and Grace was somewhere in between. They’re still a lot like that.

It makes me think back to my youth. My siblings and I are all unique. I’m sure you can also recount stories from the arrival of each of us like it just happened. I often struggle remembering things that just happened, but things about the coming of your children are memories that are retained forever with such vividness that makes one wonder why we can’t remember everything like that.

I remember back in 2015, when Roberta, Grace, and I took a surprise trip up to Maine for Christmas. There was no snow, and the lakes weren’t even frozen. After considerable scouring of the local woods, we cut a fir tree and set it in the front yard of the cabin. Shortly afterward, the three of us began decorating. We strung popcorn, and I collected lichens, cones, and other natural items for decoration until we had a beautiful Christmas tree.  

After that, we drove back to Old Town to surprise Mom and Dad on Christmas eve. Of all the gifts I have given in my life, I think that one was the biggest surprise. In an age of the internet, gift cards and the like, that was an experience I won’t soon forget. I hope you don’t either. Merry Christmas Mom. Maybe in the future, Roberta and I might be able to equal that one.

I’ll always remember scrounging the woods or out by the airport in search of the perfect Christmas tree. I also remember how they were always ‘the prettiest tree we ever had’. Dad would put the lights on, and I’ll never forget those big multicolored bulbs. Some of them blinked and others did not. Once the lights and tree topper were on, Dad would hang that deer ornament. After that, his duties were concluded and the rest of us finished up. In the afternoon, we would head to Gray to do Christmas again at the farm.

During Christmas break, if there was enough snow, Jim and I would take turns on our bobsled run behind the house. One year when there was plenty of ice but not much snow, we even built an iceboat with a cedar mast and a piece of thick plastic for a sail. That thing would fly.

Every family has unique memories of Christmas. I’m sure my children and grandchildren will cherish different things than I do be they foods or activities. That’s what makes it so special.

My only Christmas swimming experience in Maine (2015)

Grace’s polar plunge (Christmas 2015)

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Dill Pickles can be made from those big orange cucumbers too

Back in 2014 I posted a column about making sweet pickles from big overripe cucumbers. I included a recipe my mother used and still makes for her church. She’s now almost 88. 

The recipe was called Ruth’s pickles and I found out after I posted the column that it was named for the story in the Old Testament of Ruth and Boaz. Ruth gleaned the field after the harvest, salvaging what she could. In this case the big orange cucumbers were left after the marketable ones were picked.  

Therefore, the final product was called “Ruth’s pickles” after her. One of my readers, Deb Smith, supplied me with that information. That recipe has been a part of our family since I was a teenager. 

I’m a fan of them, but I also love dill pickles. My middle son is a type 1 diabetic and has been for 19 years. He doesn’t eat sweet pickles. He’s been on his own for some time now, but I thought it might be cool to experiment with overripe cucumbers to produce dills. 

My concern was maintaining the crunch without a flinty skin. Peeling them was an easy fix for part of that problem. I thought removing the gelatinous mature seeds might solve The other dilemma, so I played around with several recipes until I found a brine that gave me the flavor I wanted. 

I thought that the flavor of apple cider vinegar overpowered the garlic and dill, so I settled on white vinegar. In order to preserve crispness, I added some sugar and a touch of calcium chloride. My recipe is probably not totally accurate as I’m a taster. I keep adjusting until the taste feels right to me. 

Another thing I did was let the brine simmer for a while before adding it to the jars. That way the garlic and dill taste might be stronger sooner.  

I did not cook the dill sprigs or whole garlic cloves. They went straight to the jars. Only minced garlic and dill seed were cooked with the brine. I didn’t process them. Instead I stored them in a relatively cool spot though not in the refrigerator. After six weeks all the jars remain sealed. 

I tried a jar within three days, and I was encouraged. At six weeks the quality was even better. I’m not saying they are as good as they would be had I used young pickling cucumbers, but I’m satisfied with the results.  

I thought about pickling some of the orange cukes without peeling and removing the seeds, but I knew what the result would be, and it wasn’t worth wasting ingredients. 

Thus far, I think the experiment was a success. Time will tell. My desire was to find another edible use for those overripe cucumbers. I love the sweet pickles, but I also love dills. Most of all, I love to experiment. 

My recipe is as follows: 

Approximately 10 pounds of prepared cucumber pieces 

10 cups white vinegar and 10 cups water 

1 cup pickling salt 

½ cup sugar 

6 Tablespoons dill seed 

10 teaspoons fresh minced garlic 

20 fresh dill sprigs 

20 cloves of garlic 

All ingredients except the cucumbers, dill sprigs and garlic cloves are simmered in a brine for about ten minutes. I packed the cucumbers tightly in sterilized jars and added two sprigs of dill and two cloves of garlic. Then I added the boiling brine mixture over the cucumbers until all were covered. After placing lids and rings on the jars I let them cool for a few hours until the jars sealed. Had any not sealed I would have placed them in a water bath for a few minutes and given them another chance to seal. Fortunately, this wasn’t necessary.  

Next time I’m making dill relish. I might add a few red peppers for color. 


Jar of ripe dills

 Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Coronavirus constraints make me appreciate self-sufficiency

I’ve always had an independent streak. The pioneer lifestyle has always fascinated me. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century, except if I had then I never would have taken up writing.

Modern editing capability makes writing fun. I have so much respect for anyone who did this before the 80s. The typewriter was the standard tool then, and I’m a lousy typist. I’m even worse at asking someone else to do it for me.

I’m just into self-reliance. I like to fix things and get by with fewer resources. This virus and our response to it has shown me that as a country we have allowed ourselves to be less self-sufficient. Back in the 80s and 90s, CEOs were praised for outsourcing and making their companies and stockholders large sums of money. I thought it was short-sighted then and I feel vindicated now.

We need to be able to make certain essential products here in this country. It’s even better if we can produce many of these goods locally. We can’t afford to be hamstrung by other people who might hate us.

Like most folks, I’ve been to the grocery store recently. Many people are nervous. They must be because certain shelves are bare. For awhile milk, bread, meat and toilet paper were basically nonexistent. Toilet paper and paper towels still are.

I overheard people in the store complaining about the toilet paper shortage, and I wanted to tell them to go to a hardware store or online and order a bidet attachment for their toilet. It would likely cost them less than $50. I haven’t installed one, but I’ve done my research.

As far as food goes, my freezer is full of meat, but most of it didn’t come from the store. My pantry is loaded with home-canned stuff and it’s better than any similar items you can buy in the store. I love homemade bread too. That’s probably part of the reason I’m carrying more weight than I should, that and arthritis.

Social distancing is a buzzword now. Government mandates have forced us to curtail certain activities. Restaurants are now only for take-out orders. Schools are virtual and all assignments and correspondence are completed via computer. It’s certainly not my style but I’m adapting. We all are.

I have a cabin in northeastern Maine. As the crow flies, it’s less than ten miles from the Canadian border. We have no electricity and no running water. Only a hand-dug well and a spout pump keep us from the drudgery of carrying buckets of water.

I love that place. When I’m there I see more eagles than people. In the summer we live on fish chowder and blueberries. When it’s cold, the old wood stove keeps the place warm. I love it, but I think the biggest reason I do is because when I’m there, living without modern conveniences is my choice.

I’m not too keen on government mandates, but I realize we all must comply for the welfare of all during this crisis. I’ll be glad when it’s over, and I can be more in charge of my life.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Some plants control the growth of other plants

Some plant species inhibit the growth of others. We’ve all heard people say that certain plants stop others from growing, but is there a scientific basis for it? There is and it’s called allelopathy.

Allelopathy is when plants release chemicals into the environment that are toxic to other plants. It’s a common way for plants to reduce competition near them. Sometimes chemicals reduce feeding by animals and insects. Allelopathic plants discharge chemicals through their leaves, bark, and roots. Most of the time this has a negative connotation.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) is a tree famous for its allelopathic properties. Many plants simply will not grow near these trees. This has been known for centuries. Most plants in the potato, rose (except for cherries) and cabbage families are sensitive to black walnut allelopathy. Numerous others are too. However, many vegetables like beets, carrots, melons, squash, onions and beans show no effect from the chemical juglone, produced by the black walnut tree.

Plants are naturally competitive, allelopathic or not. The idea that plants work together is not true. Many home gardeners constantly search for a way to make their tomatoes grow better. They read articles that tell them which plants to plant near tomatoes and which ones to keep away.

Allelopathy could enter the equation some, but much of the reason their plants are successful or not depends on the direct competition for water and nutrients. Attracting or repelling certain pests could be reasons, too.

Many folks struggle with growing tomatoes near cabbages. This could be allelopathic or it could be an example of cabbages drawing insect pests, then outcompeting the tomatoes once the pests were present. It’s not clear whether tomatoes not thriving is because of true allelopathy or another environmental factor.

Plants recommended to plant near tomatoes are basil, garlic and parsley. Garlic supposedly helps repel red spider mites and it also inhibits the growth of the late blight fungus. Basil acts as a general insect repellant. Parsley attracts predatory insects that eat tomato hornworms.

An old-time favorite to plant near tomatoes is the marigold (Tagetes sp.). Marigolds supposedly produce a chemical in their roots that suppresses the root-knot nematode. Marigolds also repel several insects and often it’s insects that transmit viruses and other diseases that destroy tomatoes.

Sometimes plants lose vigor because they have no mycorrhizal fungi on their roots. Mycorrhizae are fungal roots (hyphae)that attach to plant roots and siphon off sugars in exchange for providing plants better mineral nutrient uptake. Some allelopathic chemicals destroy these mycorrhizal fungi. Without this root association, many plants struggle.

In 1928, Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming was researching a possible cure for the influenza virus. What he found instead was that a bread mold produced chemicals that killed bacteria that grew next to it.

Penicillin was the first and even now one of the most widespread antibiotics in use. It’s a classic example of allelopathy, and it has turned out to be a pretty good thing for nearly a hundred years. Therefore, allelopathy is not always bad.

This black walnut tree suppresses many plants but not all

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Planning your home garden can be complicated

Designing a productive and aesthetically pleasing garden can be complicated. Doing it correctly involves more than placing a seed in the ground, watering it and watching a corn plant come up. We must determine what our goals are.

If you want a vegetable garden and you live in town, aesthetics is key. Traditional vegetable gardens aren’t exactly designed to be ornamental. However, we can choose plants that are dual-purpose and don’t sprawl out of control. Even plants that do can be contained effectively and look pretty at the same time.

Take cucumbers for example. Growing them on a fence keeps the vines confined and out of our yard. It also makes fruits easier to harvest.

Some crops like corn and peas take up huge amounts of space. They might not be the best choice for folks possessing small yards. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and many herbs might be the best choice for those situations.

If having a pretty garden is essential, incorporating flowers along with the vegetables can be effective. There are also plants that can help control garden pests. I’ll leave that for another time.

Some of our garden plants are perennials. Strawberries and asparagus are good examples. This can pose a problem unless we plant them separately from our annual vegetables. Perennials should be in an area that is not intended to be tilled up every year.

Light is another consideration. It’s helpful if tall plants are planted toward the north side of the garden. That way they don’t shade shorter crops.

All garden plants can’t be planted at the same time either. Soil temperature is very critical. Okra and melons shouldn’t be planted until soil temperatures are well into the 60s. This won’t happen until the ground dries up and all danger of frost has passed. Cabbage, broccoli, celery, carrots and most greens can be planted now if the ground is dry enough to work. May peas should probably have been planted by now.

It’s also helpful to plan the garden so that it can be sequentially planted. In other words, it’s nice if all the warm-season crops are planted together so that we’re not constantly tromping around and risking damaging plants that are already growing.

Some plants in the garden can be directly seeded and some must be grown from transplants for maximum efficiency. Generally, tomatoes, peppers and okra should be started from transplants. Corn, beans, beets, spinach, carrots and radishes are grown from seed.

Another important factor to consider is how pests and diseases will affect our garden over a long time. We need to rotate our crops and not plant them in the same spot year after year. Insects and diseases are often species-specific and will build up in the soil. I realize that this might violate our tall and short plant rule, but sometimes sacrifices must be made.

Gardening is fun, and most of the rules aren’t hard fast. However, it’s helpful to plan. I think it’s always important to think ahead and manage the space effectively.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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