Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Thank You to the Richland County Master Gardener Association

A few months ago I was contacted by a customer of mine about speaking to and presenting for the Richland County Master Gardener Association (RCMGA). I was flattered, very flattered. I have spoken to garden clubs, but not to Master Gardeners.

She referred me to the person who coordinates and hosts such events and I learned she was also a customer...good company to keep, all the way around.

Approaching the event I realized I confused the date with another event and I had about ten days less to prepare. Most of this occurred during the decline of my father's health and his passing. However, I told the host I would do my best.

Yesterday is when I spoke to the Richland County Master Gardener Association. I hope I did well and everyone received some benefit. I have taught, presented, spoken publicly before and even emceed a few events, but I was not as prepared as I would have preferred and it was also done over Zoom. I have a technology background, but presenting remotely is much different than in-person, which I prefer. There are spacial and lighting issues which are difficult to address in one's home with just a cell phone.

Nonetheless, I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to speak to the RCMGA and I hope to have some relationship with their members and its cause for many more years.

Thank you, Gail, Kate and all the members.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Bands of the 70's - Collaboration and Harmony

There was, still is, something wonderful about the music back in the 70s.

We had bands.

Bands, for which many, wrote and created most of their own songs.

I'm not being naive, many were purely commercial - nothing wrong with that, but we had so many which were commercially successful without that as forethought.

You just wanted to listen and many sounded live better than recorded, engineered.

We had collaboration and we had harmony, particularly vocal harmonizing between the lead musicians, which we rarely hear today.

Some of the longest lasting bands came from the 70s and they are still out there performing and touring today.

They are musical families and they all dealt and deal with what comes with such commitment and closeness, as most families do, but they keep doing it. And, we continue to enjoy it.

I was once a musician and I come from a family of two parents who were choral singers and my brother is an accomplished jazz guitarist. The passion has been passed onto a very talented and studious musician, my nephew - trumpet, guitar, vocals...piano, soon.

What I do today is mainly a solo journey and I do miss the days of the collaboration with my fellow sailors in the U.S. Navy and some other companies I had worked with since, but it is wonderful when I get a sense of collaboration with my customers regarding a project or routine maintenance on their property. This becomes harmony.

Regardless, you may find me pruning or caring for your plants with a Bluetooth headset wrapped around my neck, listening to the best decade of music, the 70s.

Life goes on, through remembrance.

I don't talk to plants (well, occasionally, just for fun), but they often talk to me. Harmony.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Black Sooty Mold on Plants, Revisited...A Solution

Black Sooty Mold on Camellia Leaves
I addressed black sooty mold not so long ago in another article; however, a few instances in the last months of last year caused me to revisit this issue.

I can do my best to recall all I've learned and then study more, yet the plant world is ever-changing in its given region.

Not that this be the case in hand, but most black sooty mold I have experienced had been on large-leaf shrubs, typically understory plants surrounded by larger shrubs or trees in areas with little airflow.

Last fall I had several customers with plants in open, airy, well-sunlit areas which were inundated with black sooty mold. All were crepe myrtles. Don't be alarmed if you have one or more on you property. Crepe myrtles are hardy and deciduous plants, which is a plus in this case.

Black sooty mold is usually found on the tops of leaves, the cuticle. It has a sooty, almost fuzzy, crusty or even slimy texture and is the result of fungus which feeds on the honeydew (excrement) left behind by aphids, whiteflies or scale. (Assholes, literally) There are other suspects as well which you or someone else may not notice unless you or they are in the right place at the right time. It is amazing how much excrement such tiny creatures can produce as they enjoy the liquids of your plants they suck from them. Then again, this is testament to how much plants transpire and respire all they need and what they don't use.

The good news is:
  • The problem is only foliar, not systemic.
  • The suspects don't usually suck enough of those nutrients from your plant to cause its demise, although it may kill leaves, cause much ugliness and leaf drop.
  • If the plant is deciduous, the problem (not necessarily the residue left behind on the bark) will go away when the plant naturally drop leaves.
  • You can remove the black sooty mold, but it may take more work than you wish to do on a Sunday afternoon...more in a moment.
  • There is a (systemic, yes) least my customers say so. And, from what I know, it should work...more in a moment.
Black Sooty Mold on Crepe Myrtle
The image you see is an infected crepe myrtle on one of my customer's properties.

This is nowhere near the coverage I experienced on another customer's property, whereas it covered nearly ten feet of the tree. The surrounding jasmine, pittosporums, ivy and other plants were not grateful one bit for the gift they had received. All were severely blackened, unattractive, but still living. I just worked on them all last week.

You can easily identify black sooty mold by being able to scrape it away from the foliage and it can be removed by using a mild soap (not a detergent or degreaser), letting the soap solution remain until it loosens/breaks up the mold and then rinsing with water. A little pressure behind the water (not your pressure washer) and perhaps a little hand-to-leaf combat may be needed.

This is quite arduous, but the best approach, if you notice the culprits before such occurs, is to apply a natural oil, such as neem oil, to the leaves, but it most likely won't prevent them from returning. (This does work well on white mildew...more in a moment.)

Sometimes, we need to go with man-made prevention.

I have two customers who use BioAdvanced Tree and Shrub Protect & Feed and they are pleased with the results. It was established in the U.S. by Bayer. The active ingredient is Imidacloprid, which is a neurotoxin and is safe for most applications (Read label instructions.) when used properly and is actually used for pest (mainly fleas) treatment on animals. Be mindful around bodies of water with invertebrate fish. And if you are a honey bee keeper, don't spray it in your hive. Seriously, please read the label instructions. I don't want to write another article on the so-called global bee decline.

Mold versus Mildew 

No one wants either, mold or mildew, in their home, on their plants or in their lives. Either one, typically spawns, grows and enjoys moist conditions. 

Without much detail; mold is typically black or green, growing upward and downward, often corrupting or infecting its host while mildew is usually white and remains aligned with the surface of its host.

Mildew is a type of mold, often called, "Pre-stage mold". To learn more, please go to

On plants, I usually find white mildew on the underside of large leaf shrubs, such as sasanquas, in areas with poor airflow and limited sunlight. For these situations, I usually apply neem oil, perhaps twice and then remove with high pressure water and perhaps by some hand cleaning.

A common error is to confuse white mildew with scale. White mildew will usually spread white residue and not feel course if rubbed with your thumb, while scale will feel more course and not show any residue. If you have good eyesight or have a magnifying glass, you can look at the leaf in-line with its edge (margin) and will notice some elevation above the leaf surface.

This would be scale, a pest, which may produce black sooty mold over time, perhaps not much time. I don't know. I have seen plants without black sooty mold look completed covered in several weeks.

Hey, this is not an exciting topic, but it may help you have a healthier and prettier landscape.

If you need help with this or any other aspect of your plants, please contact me.

Doug Ingbretsen

Friday, January 22, 2021

Sting...He Wrote, He played, Sang and Pulled it all Together...So Well


I, many of you, grew up with this guy, from The Police to his long solo career.

I've enjoyed the latter so much.

This video was filmed in a studio at his country estate in England.

I have seen him interviewed several times.

He is a devoted musician, wonderful singer and consummate song writer.

A product of the 70's, when we had it best.

Heart, soul and desire.

May we never lose such talent in our lifetime. 

Oh, the recordings will always play.

Thank you Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

My Best Filet Mignon Ever...The Simplest

I will soon be writing once again about landscaping or a few plants such as Amaryllis and the Dawn Redwood (Thank you, Mark C) ...something I should be doing.

Yet, I love cooking and I love filet mignon...who doesn't, prepared rightfully or with a little passion? It is one of the best cuts of beef.

I enjoy preparing and cooking filet mignon and I have done so before in so many ways; however, nothing, in regard to the method and ingredients had changed that much. I and my guests were quite pleased.

Actually, nothing in the following recipe is such a huge departure. It is a simple change, actually simpler. You can't fail. The flavor of the beef is what comes through, so well.

The following recipe is based upon two 2 inch filet mignons purchased and cooked same-day-fresh. You can find some wonderful filet mignons (and other surprising products) at Omaha Steaks.

Filet mignon has lower fat content (which makes lesser quality cuts of fattier beefs, sometimes tastier - I get that) and has less connective tissue; yet, prepared well, is the most magnificent piece of beef.

Here we go.

Ingredients (Based on my last cooking venture - adjust accordingly)

Two 2 inch filet mignons

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

One clove of garlic

Roughly two table spoons of sweet or yellow onion.

Two pats of butter

Olive oil - enough to cover pan


Soy sauce

Instruction (Based on 2 inch filets - adjust according)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Finely mince garlic with a fine knife or use a rasp to do so.

Mince onion.

Sprinkle kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper on the filets.

Drizzle the filets with soy sauce.

Rub the filets with paprika, to coat. (This minor change was the departure from previous recipes - so minor.) Coat, rub the meat.

Heat a cast iron pan on medium low heat, adding extra virgin oil to coat the pan and then add the butter, garlic and onion. Once the garlic and onion has begun to slightly brown, turn the cooking temperature to high. 

Once the oil in the pan begins to slightly smoke or it seems hot enough for searing, quickly place the filets in the pan.

Allow one to one-and-one-half minutes for each side. The paprika will nearly blacken on each side.

Transfer your filets in the cast iron pan to the middle rack of your oven, already pre-heated to 350 degrees. Before so, if you notice no liquid in the pan, lightly add some olive oil and butter.

Wonderful and adequate cooking time should involve about four minutes per side for a two inch filet, but you may have to adjust the cooking time based on thickness. It depends on your company, guests, whatever. I can enjoy a well flavored and cooked filet mignon from rare to medium. Beyond that, you just ruined an expensive and flavorful piece of beef. You can't go back. Go grab the A-1 sauce, which I love - not here.

Remove from the oven, make a few test cuts along the periphery if need be (you, nor I are professional chefs), taste and throw back in the oven for a few minutes if need be.

Otherwise, immediately wrapped the filets in aluminum foil.

Rest. Pour some wine for yourself. Okay, a beer or your favorite cocktail. Chat it up with your guests for a few minutes.

When plating, try to ensure all the juices meet the plate or if there is much, spoon it over the filets. If it was cooked in the oven, then it is safe.


You may have just spent 30 minutes preparing the healthiest and now tastiest cuts of beef you've ever had. 

Let me know.



Friday, January 15, 2021

Sesame Tilapia with Capers

Firstly, the photo you see is not the dish I am writing about. It's a stock photo from a service I sometimes use. I made (first time) this dish, plated it (without taking a photo) and we enjoyed it all...all gone.

Secondly, this recipe could be used on most any white fish, not just tilapia.

Thirdly, I am not big on recipes; using or writing them. Give me a protein, a starch, some vegetables and a well-stocked refrigerator and/or cupboard of oils, spices and juices and that's all I need. I'll use the stove top and perhaps oven or grill and get busy having fun. 

My all-time favorite white fish was grouper (I lived on the panhandle of Florida a few times) and then I had Chilean sea bass (same family as grouper) prepared so damn well, but tilapia is a great alternative when one can't find grouper or the price gets a little crazy. I've lived in many coastal towns and miss buying fresh fish that just jumped out of the ocean, but tilapia can be found most anywhere and anytime of year, usually frozen.

The wonderful part of this recipe is that it is not complicated and you can modify some cooking methods to reduce the cooking time or take more time and enjoy preparing it among friends and family.

Ingredients (The Tilapi)

I can be technical and precise with some tasks, but "not gonna happen here". We aren't making a sauce (well, somewhat) or baking a cake. Use your nose, eyes and taste buds for this one.

Tilapia Fillets - I used six.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Garlic - 2 medium cloves (based on six fillets)

Sesame Seed

Kosher Salt

Lime Juice

Smoked Paprika

Dill (fresh, if you have it - I cheated this time with powder)

White Wine (Chardonnay, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, not port or sherry)



Sprinkle smoked paprika, kosher salt and dill (or lay dill sprigs on) not to coat the entire fillet, on both sides.

Heat oil, just enough to cover the cooking surface, in a large pan (I used a 12" stainless steel pan with vertical sidewalls to accommodate the six fillets) on medium-low temperature.

Finely mince garlic or use a rasp, and add to pan.

Add sesame seed to pan imagining you are sprinkling and evenly distributing (not coating) amounts on each fillet.

When sesame seeds or garlic begin to lightly brown, add fillets. Sprinkle sesame seeds over fillets.

Gently add wine and lime juice, not to remove sesame seeds from fillets.

Cooking time should be roughly equal for both sides depending on thickness. I cooked some fairly thin fillets on each side for about 5 to 7 minutes. You are somewhat cooking in a light sauce and on this heat, the fillets will cook slowly. Meat should lightly brown. I check fish using a spoon on the bias instead of a fork to not break up (flake) the fish.

After turning, add the capers. Allow some of the brine from the jar or can to make it to the pan. Capers are a flower bud (not a berry) and I believe the flavor and texture is better if not cooked as long. 

When done, light brown and flaky, remove pan from heat. Hopefully the other elements of the dish are ready - fish chills quickly.

After plating the fillets you may wish to add more wine, lime juice and capers to the pan and return to a medium heat or slight boil and use a rigid spatula to mix in all the remnants. Remove from heat or simmer for just a few minutes to make a sauce to pour over the fillets. This may help re-heat the wonderful meal you just plated.

Oiled and Salted Baked Potato

Wash baking potato and dry with towel.

Rub with extra virgin olive oil.

Wash hands and rub with kosher salt. The potato, not your hands.

I usually bake a medium size potato for 35 to 45 minutes on 400 degrees, erring on the lower time and checking.

Or, I cheat and use the microwave (not as crispy a skin).

Wash baking potato and dry with towel.

Stab potato several times with the end of a cutting knife.

Rub with extra virgin olive oil.

Wash hands and rub with kosher salt.

Completely wrap potato in wax paper.

I usually microwave a medium size potato for 7 to 9 minutes, erring on the lower time and checking.

The steam produced by the moisture being held in by the wax paper softness the skin and the flavor is just as good, but in a lot less time. Yesss!

Side Vegetable

Choose one of your favorite vegetables or a salad. A green vegetable such as roasted or steamed asparagus or steamed broccoli adds color to the presentation. The choices are virtually endless.

Again, I cheated. I took some canned black-eyed peas and homemade collards from New Year's Day and mixed them together on low heat. I then topped with fresh chopped onion. Not my first choice, but one more left-over not left around.

I occasionally like to take frozen steam-in-the-bag vegetables (seasoned, or not) and saute them in a pan, the way I want them, after they have steamed. Another time saver, only better.

That's it. Enjoy that wonderful fish that never made it to grouper or sea bass status.

Or, go all out and kick up your favorite white fish.

Oh, whilst using sesame seed in a dish, I wish to mention a wonderful additive/enhancer, Sesame Oil.  I'm not going to get into all its different uses, but there are many - sauces, dressings, marinades, sauteing partner, on and on.

And, if you want a bolder and nuttier taste, try Toasted Sesame Oil. You won't need much of either. Smell a little sesame oil and then some toasted sesame - you'll appreciate the difference. I use the toasted version less often and it doesn't take much. A small 5 or 6 ounce bottle, depending on your age and how often you use it, may last a lifetime.

Or, not. Begin playing around with it, lightly, and you may find all kinds of ways to use it.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Winter is a Wonderful Time to do Most Anything Regarding Your Property and Its Plants

Winters in South Carolina, particularly around the Midlands, are times so ripe for caring for plants, trees and shrubs on your property. 

In regard to plant life, almost anything is possible as far as care and planting. The atmospheric and ground temperatures afford most anything from pruning to planting of your favorite shrubs, trees and even those favorite colorful blooming annuals. This ain't Wisconsin.

Some plantings may best wait until late February or early March; yet, most evergreen trees and shrubs need not be held back from planting until such time. And, most all of these, with the proper planning (an objective) and thought can be pruned now, producing healthier plants and bigger blooms throughout the year.

Well-thought and proper pruning may (will) also help your plant's health and beauty. I have tracked my efforts pruning for customers and their recall for me to address the same plants ranges from roughly two to three years. This may not be good for business, but I take pride in such as much of this is the objective of proper pruning.

I must also say, I have acquired, or they have, me, some of the most plant-savvy property owners in this area. Regardless of such, I am so thankful for the customers I have, for so many reasons.

This journey first fell upon my eyes and then my soul, and as much as I feel what I do may be creative (artistic is a stretch), I feel more comfortable being a technician. Yet, I do love the opportunity to structure a plant. That's how this all started.

My studies of arboriculture and horticulture will continue and I will address whatever need-be for the task at hand.

Enjoy and take advantage of the Winter. 

Contact me and I will assist.

Doug Ingbretsen