Cattail pollen is a fleeting delicacy

A few years back I wrote a column about the survival uses of cattails (Typha latifolia). There are many. This time I want to focus only on cattail pollen. It has been shedding now for over a week and if the high temperatures continue we can only collect it for a few more days. Normal collecting season averages about two weeks.

This fine yellow powder can be substituted for flour on many recipes. It’s also gluten free. My favorite two uses are pancakes and breading for fish, chicken and country fried steak.

Color of the final product is glorious. Just looking at it makes me want to hoe in. Once I do the real treat shows itself. This stuff really tastes great, and it need not be a major component to add character to a dish.

In pancakes I find that substituting about a third of the flour with cattail pollen works best. Judging by color alone you’ll think there was no wheat flour in the mixture at all. It looks like fine ground corn meal. Flavor is nutty, a little like buckwheat. Maybe the color has something to do with it, but there’s also a slight eggy taste and texture. I like that.

I think putting a little in a vanilla cake might be worth trying. I’ve never done it. I don’t seem to collect enough, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

With every positive comes a negative. Unless you’re really lucky, collecting enough for multiple uses requires copious time in the hot sun. Harvesting a pint in an hour is optimistic. I rarely do that well.

Numerous methods appear on the internet. The most traditional is bending the developing heads into a paper bag and shaking them. I quickly shifted from paper to heavy duty plastic. You still lose a lot.

I read about using a clean milk jug in one article. That’s a great idea as less pollen gets lost. That gentleman must be more talented than me though. Either that or he has a great stand of fertile cattails. I’ve never been able to come close to matching his yields of a quart per hour.

Some folks use a different method and harvest the entire male flowers. They place them in a good drying location and shake pollen loose over the course of several days. That may yield more pollen but it’s too tedious for me.

Once the pollen is collected it must be cleaned. Usually a fine strainer removes dust, debris and bugs quite effectively. I refrigerate clean pollen in sealed mason jars.

For those who are concerned about their appearance, there is another consideration. While collecting, you’ll get covered with yellow dust. Clothes, fingernails and skin pores will turn yellow, almost like you’ve been spraying paint. Fingernails and skin clean up easily. I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on different types of clothes.

Collecting cattail pollen is not for everyone. I think it’s fun but finding time at the end of the school year is difficult for me. Maybe someday I’ll have an opportunity to experiment more.

Cattail head full of pollen

Several cattails with pollen ready to be harvested

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Deer like flowers too

Last week I wrote about selecting trees and shrubs to minimize deer damage. This week I’ll concentrate on flowers, both annual and perennial.

Deer will tear up many annual flowers. Some of their favorites are impatiens, sweet potato vine and pansy. From that list one might conclude that succulent growth might be the main indicator. It’s not that simple.

Deer aren’t particularly fond of begonia or coleus and they also have tender foliage. Vinca isn’t a favorite food either and its foliage is not exactly fibrous. Polka dot plants and pentas are other soft textured annuals to try if deer visit your flower gardens wanting a free meal.

In general, deer don’t like plants with fuzzy foliage. Ageratum and dusty miller fit this description and deer don’t like them. Zinnias have a rough, sandpaper-like texture. Deer don’t like them either. Cleome is another with rough textured foliage. As one might suspect, they are one of the last to be grazed.

Most mints aren’t desired deer foods. Their spicy aroma is a turnoff. Plants in the onion family aren’t sought after either. Ornamental peppers could be a good plant to include, because they contain capsaicin. They are colorful and rarely eaten by critters. Flowering tobacco is another annual to try when deer pressure is high.

As far as perennials go, daylilies and Hosta are among the first that are devoured. Deer will graze these to the ground overnight. The same can be said for tulips and crocus. They are poor choices for this area.

Many perennials commonly planted in this locale are rarely damaged, including a wide variety in the mint family. Catmint, bee balm and nearly all the sages will usually send deer looking elsewhere. Rosemary is also rarely touched.

Yarrow, coreopsis, gaillardia and coneflower are good choices for sunny places. Ornamental grasses are also not high on the menu for deer.

In gardens with more shade, coral bells, dianthus and Lenten roses are a good bet. Angel trumpet is poisonous to most animals as is false indigo.

Lantanas have the same type of foliage texture that zinnias do. They also have strong fragrance. Lambs ear are fuzzy. Neither is sought out by these destructive animals. Prickly pear cactus isn’t a favorite food either for obvious reasons. The thorns can be quite irritating.

When food is scarce deer often go where we don’t want them. Sometimes physical barriers are the best defense for flowerbeds. Electric fence may not be practical or even legal in some places, but it’s effective when designed properly. Other types of fence might not be as effective, but they are more aesthetically pleasing.

There are many deer repellants on the market, but they need to be used regularly. A single dose won’t do the trick. These repellants contain mixtures of smells deer hate. To be honest, most people hate them too, so they are not always a desired treatment.

Pets will sometimes roll in these repellants too. That also destroys plants and can foul the air inside your home if pets then come back inside. Nothing is foolproof.

Deer usually won’t touch lantana

But they’ll tear up daylily


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Selecting deer resistant trees and shrubs

People ask me about this all the time. I wish I had a fool proof answer. The problem is that many factors can influence whether deer will eat shrubbery or not. White tailed deer, (Odocoileus virginianus), are beautiful and graceful, but they are a nuisance.

Some plant species have chemicals in them that deer don’t like. Daffodils, are highly poisonous to deer. Tulips are another spring flowering bulb. However, deer will tear them up and devour everything.

Plants containing bitter white latex sap are a general turnoff. Thorny plants aren’t usually appetizing either. Deer seldom like plants that have fuzzy leaves or strong smells.

The most common factor that makes plants attractive to deer is the general availability of food. Deer will eat almost anything if they are starving. During periods of drought, deer will eat many plants they otherwise wouldn’t. Harsh winters cause deer to eat outside their comfort zone.

Some plants go through periods of succulent growth. This can be made worse by overwatering or overfertilization. Succulent growth usually increases palatability. Some species might be consumed in spring and avoided the rest of the year.

Among the native trees deer avoid are pines, magnolias, American holly, live oak and bald cypress. They aren’t particularly crazy over red cedar, river birch, buckeye or devil’s walking stick. Other trees deer don’t like that are commonly sold in nurseries are honey locust, Vitex, crape myrtle and ginkgo.

By contrast, deer love redbud, crabapple, dogwood and most fruit trees. Barriers are often needed to protect these. The same goes for blueberries. Electric fence can be effective. Invisible fence and a good dog can also deter them.

Several common evergreen shrubs are favorite foods of deer. Arborvitae, euonymus, azalea, pittosporum, Indian hawthorn and Japanese aucuba are evergreen shrubs to avoid near high deer populations. The critters don’t particularly like abelia, gardenia, wax myrtle, nandina and oleander. Spicy shrubs like wax myrtle, anise shrub and rosemary aren’t prized by deer either.

Deer aren’t crazy about most of the holly shrubs. An exception is that they occasionally damage Japanese hollies, like ‘Helleri’, ‘compacta’ and ‘soft touch’ cultivars.

Among popular deciduous shrubs, perhaps one of the biggest surprises is that deer like to eat thorny roses. They especially love them during periods of new growth when the prickles are still soft.

Deer even eat the popular knock-out roses. However, their pruning usually doesn’t damage the plants that much. Depending on the season, the pruning can even be beneficial if the deer population isn’t prolific.

Deciduous shrubs deer don’t like are Japanese barberry, beautyberry, butterfly bush and bridal veil spiraea. Fragrant deciduous shrubs like sweet shrub and fothergilla aren’t favorites of deer either.

This is obviously a partial list, even of the trees and shrubs. I decided to profile woody plants first, as they form the foundation of most landscaping.

The main thing to remember is that no plants are deer proof or rabbit proof either. Other strategies should be employed in addition to planting landscaping that generally deters them. Within city limits it’s not possible, but out in the country acquiring a taste for venison can be part of the solution.

Deer love Rhododendrons and azaleas

They also will devour arborvitae

They’re not crazy over Abelia

Magnolia is not on the menu of Odocoileus virginianus either

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Clary Sage is an important crop in northeast North Carolina

Most folks have seen it from their vehicles.  Few likely know what it is or why it’s grown. Some might say that the flowers look like those of salvia. They’d be right.

The plant in question is clary sage (Salvia sclarea). Take a drive down Route 17 into Bertie County and you’ll see a lot of it. You might even be tempted to cut a bunch for a flower arrangement. I strongly advise against that.

Not only is that stealing, but you’ll regret being a plant thief. Plants are beautiful in the field. However, their aroma will likely force you to heave your bouquet out the window within a few miles.

The big surprise is that the major use of that crop resides in its ability to make pleasant aromas linger. It might not smell very sweet, but it contains a chemical called sclareol that is used in soaps, perfumes, deodorants and the like. It enhances their fragrance and duration.

Clary sage is a biennial plant. That means it produces only foliage in its first year. Plants flower and complete their life cycle during the second season.

Farmers trick the plant and can make fields flower every year. They do this by planting seeds in late summer or fall and letting plants go through a winter. The following year clary sage flowers and is harvested.

Though a true biennial, many folks consider clary sage to be a short-lived perennial. When planted in flower gardens it often persists for several years. It’s also hardy to zone five. I have not spoken to any farmers to see if they have had much success carrying fields over from year to year, but I understand it can be done.

This plant grows best on sandy soils with good drainage. We have plenty of those in eastern North Carolina. Clary sage tolerates drought but not wet soil, especially in winter. Full sun is necessary for optimal growth.

Pollinators love the stuff. When in bloom I’ve noticed gobs of bees and other insects working the flowers.

From a distance fields appear lavender when in bloom. However, individual flowers run from off-white to pink to purple.

Clary sage is a large plant, sometimes reaching heights of more than five feet. Typical size is probably more like two thirds of that.

Due to its aggressive nature, some environmentalists are concerned that clary sage might become invasive. It’s classified as a noxious weed in some states. So far, North Carolina is not one of them and planted acres continue to increase.

In recent years this salvia has exploded in popularity. It has long been used as a medicinal herb. Uses and claims are numerous and varied. The most common uses are for stomach and kidney problems and to cleanse and soothe the eyes.

Clary sage has contributed greatly to the whole science of aromatherapy. Sometimes it’s used by itself. Generally, it enhances other fragrances.

The greatest importance of clary sage is how it affects other things. It might not smell or taste appetizing in and of itself, but it makes other products smell and taste better.

Clary sage flower cluster up close

Clary sage plant

Field of Clary sage


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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How hot is that pepper?

My wife can’t tolerate any heat in her peppers at all. Even mildly hot peppers have too much fire. I’m sure she’s not alone.

There are hundreds of pepper cultivars on the market and we often can’t decipher too much from the name alone. Obviously, there are some. Carolina reaper and ghost pepper are two names I will avoid, but dozens of names are unclear until I check the all-important Scoville chart.

The Scoville chart is an indicator of the degree of heat in a pepper. Pure capsaicin, the chemical that makes hot peppers hot, is 15 to 16 million units. Pepper spray used by law enforcement usually runs about 2.5 to 5 million units.

Some folks can’t get enough Scoville units and hotter peppers are being developed all the time. The hottest one currently on the market is the Carolina reaper at a little over two million units. Bhut jolokia, commonly called ghost pepper, is about half that.

The heat units are grouped in ranges as hotness can vary tremendously even within a cultivar. In other words, not all jalapenos are the same. Time of year, fertilization, water stress, and preparation influence how hot a pepper is. Hot dry climates produce the hottest peppers.

As hot peppers go, jalapenos are not particularly hot. They usually run from about 2500 to 10,000 Scoville units. Poblanos are popular for chili rellenos, a favorite of mine. They usually run slightly less hot. Hungarian wax and Serrano are in this range as well.

Paprika, pepperoncini and cherry peppers are a bit milder than that. They seldom top 1000 on the Scoville chart.

Marzano peppers run about twice as hot as jalapenos. Cayenne and tobasco peppers are about double that at 30 to 50 thousand units. Habaneros are simply too hot for me. They can be as high as 350 thousand Scoville units.

For those who love the taste of peppers but like to limit the heat, being careful to remove all seeds will help. Much of the fire resides in the seeds. Removing the veins helps too.

Soaking peppers in lemon juice can take some of the fire out of them. Someone once told me sprite soda worked even better. After rinsing, the peppers have no tainted taste. They are less hot, however.

Whenever working with hot peppers, it is important to wear gloves. I learned this the hard way a little over 35 years ago. I was canning peppers and had to sleep with my hands wrapped in ice. My bed was soaked but I was finally able to sleep.

A few years ago, we grew some habanero peppers at school. The students were curious, and I told them that anyone who touched the fruits should go to the bathroom and thoroughly wash their hands.

One student decided to go ‘number one’ first. That was a mistake and the whole class was treated to screaming. The student wound up calling home for new jeans as his were now soaked with water.

The simple lesson is this. When it comes to peppers, people need to be smart and not macho. Trust that Scoville scale and beware.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Flowers have critical temperature requirements, too

Last week I discussed temperature requirements for different vegetable crops. Flowers are not all the same either.

Some hardy annuals like pansies are usually planted in the fall around here. They tolerate cold soils and temperatures below freezing. Snapdragons aren’t as cold hardy as pansies, but they’re close. Both tend to melt out in summer in eastern North Carolina.

Calendula and dusty miller withstand significant frost. Dusty miller are biennials. They live through winter and bloom the following spring. Torenia is another one that can be planted early in cold soils.

Geranium and petunia resist some frost if they are well established. Their growth is slowed dramatically by cold soils though. In fall when soils are warmer they continue to grow after several freezes.

Some flowers simply need warmer temperatures and pushing the limit is seldom successful. Marigolds and zinnias don’t adapt well to cool soils or strong spring winds. They’re heat lovers. Many full sun plants are like that.

Flowers need not be sun-loving to be cold sensitive though. Wax begonia and impatiens prefer shady conditions. They even grow prolifically in cool temperatures, but they don’t handle frost well at all.

Celosia, ageratum, salvia, cosmos and vinca are fine planted in pots early in the season. Avoid putting them in the ground until things have warmed up a little.

Portulaca likes things hot and sunny. It should never be planted in cold soil. It holds well into fall when soils are warm, but wet soils in spring are a problem. Phosphorus fertilization is also important as plants don’t extract phosphorus efficiently on cold soils.

In spring, wet soils mean cold soils. Plants need to be watered, but it’s dancing a fine line when gardeners try to push the spring. In summer it can be hard to keep some plants wet enough. When soil temperatures are in the 40s, like most are now, routine watering without checking first can mean root rot among other things.

One consideration for planting bedding plants is whether we’re talking about seeding or setting plants. If we sow seed, soil temperatures are more important than air temperatures. Air temperatures are more critical when setting out seedlings.

In this area another important consideration is wind. The Wright Brothers didn’t come to this region for nothing. Wind can dry plants out. It also can whip tender seedlings around, breaking them off and shredding their leaves.

For this reason, hardening plants off before planting is critical. Generally, bedding plants should not go directly from the greenhouse to the field this early in the season.

I like to find a protected spot where plants can be in a milder environment than their final planting spot. It must be out of the wind. During the hardening off period plants should receive less water than they otherwise would in the greenhouse.

By this I mean they should be slightly water stressed. This will promote a stronger root system and that will make a difference when they are transferred to the bed.

The greatest asset a gardener can have is patience. A few days of patience in the spring will continue to pay dividends all the way to fall.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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So, when do we plant?

I hear that question so often. The obvious answer is another question; what do you want to plant? Things can get complicated.

Shrubs and trees can be planted pretty much any time the ground isn’t frozen. Dormant perennials can usually be put in that category too. Flowers and vegetables are a little more complicated.

In general, the calendar is a bad guide for figuring planting time. This year certainly bears that out. Soil temperature is a much better indicator. Soil moisture to a large extent influences soil temperature. Therefore, in spring when soils are wet, they will be cold.

The reason for this is simple. Water has a high specific heat. That means it takes a lot of energy to change its temperature. Dry soils heat up rapidly, so usually sandy soils can be planted earlier.

Raised beds should drain well because of gravity alone. Amending them with coarse sand or porous materials like those found in potting soil helps too. These beds will be ready to plant earlier.

In general, soil moisture should be measured at a two to three-inch depth. This will encompass the seeding zone and the bulk of the feeder roots for young plants. If the soil temperature is too cold you should delay planting.

So, what is too cold? That’s a loaded question. Peas can tolerate very cold soils. Onion sets can too. Forty degrees is warm enough.

That’s fine for potatoes, too. However, potato foliage can be more sensitive to hard spring frosts and wet soils, since they’re planted deeper.

Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and other crucifers perform better at slightly higher soil temperatures. I like to shoot for 45 degrees. Carrots and lettuce can tolerate 45-degree soils.

Beets, spinach, Swiss chard and seeded onions should have slightly warmer soil temperatures before planting. I suggest somewhere in between 45 and 50 degrees. Warmer is better.

I like to see soil temperatures up above 50 degrees for sweet corn and beans, and maybe a little warmer for most beans. For example, lima beans are more susceptible to cold temperatures. Field corn is a little tougher and can usually withstand slightly cooler soils. As with all crops, cultivar is an important consideration, too.

Soil temperatures should be near 60 degrees before planting tomatoes. We’re not there yet. Soils should be even warmer before setting out peppers.

Vine crops, like all the cucurbits, are even more warm-natured. Watermelons and cantaloupes shouldn’t be set out until soils have warmed well into the 60s.

In Maine we rarely could grow these. Summer temperatures were adequate, but soils would never warm sufficiently unless we used plastic mulches or cloched the area. Sandy soils on south-facing slopes were slight exceptions.

Eggplant, okra, southern peas and sweet potatoes were a waste of time up there too. Soils weren’t warm enough and the season was too short. Surprisingly, we always could grow the heck out of pumpkins and winter squash.

This is just my opinion on garden vegetables. I wish I had column space to profile all the flowers we like to plant in our beds. That’s a story for next week.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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