Monday, May 31, 2010

I Told You it Flowered!

Many if my co-inhabitants here in the South will recognize my discussion today. It is Tillandsia usneoides, better known as Spanish Moss. It is also known as Grandfather's Graybeard or Florida Moss. You see it draping from trees all over here in Charleston. It's range is basically the entire Southeast, which it is native to, from Florida to the Carolinas and out to Texas. You have probably seen it a thousand times in movies and such, but just in case, here is what it looks like.


It is an epiphytic plant, which means it grows on another plant, but does not rely on the host plant for nutrients. The plant has no roots but derives its nutrients from rainfall, airborne dust and anything else it happens to gather from the air.
While the plant is not parasitic, it can sometimes damage the host tree by shading the leaves, thus reducing photosynthesis, and by weighing down and breaking the branches. It can reach lengths of 20 feet. I try to thin it out as much as I can, personally I don't even like the looks of it, but that is probably the Yankee in me talking.
For many years and even today, it has many uses. The fibers were originally used in Louisiana for mattresses, and in upholstering. Dry Spanish moss was used for fire arrows. The moss was wrapped around the base of the shaft, lit on fire and then shot from the bow. The moss was, at one time, boiled to make a tea for chills and fever.
Today, Spanish Moss is used in flower arrangements and as decorations for handicrafts.
Several species of bats including the Seminole bat roost in clumps of Spanish moss. Yellow Throated Warblers and Northern Parulas build their nests inside clumps of living Spanish moss. Several other species of birds gather the moss for nesting material. There is at least one species of spider that only occurs in Spanish moss. It is also used as fodder for animals. I know for a fact that my mother's goose "Frank" loves it!
Spanish Moss grows well in partial shade. It prefers moist environments but can survive well in dry habitats too. It is propagated by seed or by division. The plants are very easy to grow, as they need no soil or transplanting.
Now, You know a lot about Spanish Moss. I have told many people here that it flowers and they have looked at me like I was crazy. Well, the crazy man is going to have the last laugh! For those of you in at least the greater Charleston area, go out and look at the moss in your trees, it is flowering now. For the rest of you, here is the proof! It is the tiny, Lime Green, three petal, star looking things. Click on the picture to bring it up larger.



Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Holy Jalapeno!!

This year, I was determined to grow enough Jalapenos to make some pickled rings and a few other things. I believe I am going to get my wish....and then some. Today, I am going to make some Jalapeno rings, SO, I went out to my three plants, only two of which are producing so far. This is what I came in with:



Believe it or not, the picture really doesn't show it well, there are 39 peppers there. I say again, this is only off the two plants that are producing so far. I also left many smaller ones on the plants. Good thing I like Hot Peppers. Some of the other things I am going to make with these are, Pepper Cheesecake, Pepper Sauce, Pepper Flakes and anything else I can think of or find. Hey, I know what you are thinking, don't knock the Cheesecake until you have tried it.
The original chili pepper plant, classified as a fruit, not a vegetable, hails from either Peru or Bolivia, depending on which anthropologist you ask, circa 7000 B.C. The tiny, pungent red fruit was most widely cultivated in Mexico, where it was deemed important enough to serve as currency as well as food. Seeds were carried by birds throughout Central, South, and southern North America. Modern Mexico still produces the greatest variety of chili peppers, about 140 types at last count.
Jalapenos are named after the city of Xalapa, Veracruz. It is a cultivar of the species Capsicum annuum originating in Mexico.
The Jalapeno pepper is a small to medium sized chili pepper. They grow on average 2-4 inches and are green when ripe, but do turn red the longer you keep them on the vine. The more common variety is green, although red Jalapenos are both tasty and a bit sweeter.
Choose a location with full sunlight, they love LOTS of sun. The plants will grow to about 3 feet tall and the same wide. They like lots of water, but beware of overwatering, they can develop root rot.
How hot is a Jalapeno? Personally, not that hot.....I am a true Chilihead. To give you a little background on Pepper heat go back and read my article entitled PROUD CHILI HEAD Dated, March 24th, 2010.
For a quick reminder, in 1912, a pharmacologist named Wilbur Scoville invented a standard for measuring the capsaicin in peppers, the stuff that makes them hot. This standard of measurement is also known as a Scoville unit. A Bell Pepper ranks a big fat goose egg at zero Scoville Units. A Habanero is rated around 200,000 to 300,000. The Bhut Jolokia Pepper or Ghost Pepper is upwards of one million Scoville units!! The Jalapeno rates at right around 5000 units. Child's play!
Silliness aside for a moment, Peppers can cause some major problems for certain people. You get the juice in your eye and it can cause severe pain, ask anybody that has been sprayed with pepper spray. For somebody that is very sensitive, it can also cause blistering of the skin and mouth ,so please be careful.
If the pain is too much after eating any kind of hot pepper, the cow can be your best friend. Consume any kind of dairy product, milk, yogurt, ice cream, etc. Dairy products contain a chemical called Caisen that combats the effects of chile peppers' capsicum by stripping it from its receptor site on the skin. Also, this was suggested by a poison control center for those times you do not have a dairy product on hand: Wash the skin with warm, soapy water. Rub the skin with vegetable or olive oil and let set a minute. Rinse. I have not tried the last thing, but I thought I would throw it out there.
The one thing that many people do not know about Jalapenos and pretty much any other hot pepper is their health benefits.
Chili Peppers Have Loads of Vitamin C
A typical chili pepper packs more vitamin C than an orange, so if you need your extra C, grab a chili pepper!
Chili Peppers Fight Migraine Headaches and Sinus Headaches
Studies show that chili peppers can provide pain relief for migraine and sinus headaches. The Capsaicin is known to inhibit a key neuropeptide, Substance P, that is the key brain pain transmitter.
Chili Peppers Prevent Sinusitis and Relieve Congestion
The pepper heat helps to stimulate secretions that aid in clearing mucus from your nose, combatting nasal congestion. It also contains antibacterial properties that help fight chronic sinus infections. And you thought the runny nose you get after eating something hot was a bad thing!?
Chili Peppers Fight Inflammation
Capsaicin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. It inhibits Substance P, which is associated with inflammatory processes, much like it relieves headaches and migraines, listed earlier. Capsaicin may also one day be a treatment for arthritis, psoriasis and diabetic neuropathy.
This is just a small sampling of the health benefits. For those counting calorie and fat types, check out the Nutritional Information:
*Serving size 1 pepper (average size)
*Calories 4
*Total Fat 0g
*Sodium 0mg
*Total Carbohydrate 1g
*Vitamin A 2%
*Vitamin C 10%
*Iron 1%
I promise you, I am NOT one of those people that read Nutritional Information panels on regular basis, I found this information and thought it was mildly interesting.
There are many things you can do with Jalapenos. Chipotles are smoked, ripe Jalapenos. Chipotles are a key ingredient that impart a relatively mild but earthy spiciness to many dishes in Mexican cuisine. I have made pepper jelly with Jalapenos, though I also use some of the Ghost Peppers in mine. You can make Texas Toothpicks, which are Jalapenos and Onions shaved into straws, lightly breaded, and deep fried. Jalapeno peppers are often muddled (mushed up) and served in mixed drinks. Then of course you can also make Armadillo Eggs. The Jalapenos are stuffed with cheese, usually cheddar or cream cheese, breaded and deep fried, you probably know them better as poppers.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What in the World?

Another excursion into "What The Heck Are You Growing Now"?!
I am so excited, my Malunggay has sprouted!!


You don't know what it is? Well, let me tell you.
The "Moringa" (as it is more commonly known as) is botanically known as Moringa oleifer. It is a tree that is grown mainly in semi-arid, tropical, and subtropical areas. Basically, Zones 9 and 10 here in the US. Moringa is an ideal plant to grow indoors. It literally conforms to the container it is growing in. It grows best in dry sandy soil, it tolerates poor soil, including coastal areas. It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that is native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India. Today it is widely cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is considered one of the world’s most useful trees, as almost every part of the Moringa tree can be used for food or has some other beneficial property. In the tropics, it is used as forage for livestock, and in many countries, Moringa is used as a micronutrient powder to treat diseases. Sound good so far?
The leaves are highly nutritious, being a significant source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, protein, iron, and potassium. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach. In addition to being used fresh as a substitute for spinach, its leaves are commonly dried and crushed into a powder, and used in soups and sauces. It is also a good source for calcium and phosphorus.
They enjoy lots of sun and heat. Moringa trees do not need much watering. They should only be watered regularly during the first two months or so of growth, then water only when showing signs of stress.
As for fertilizing, Moringa trees will generally grow well without adding very much fertilizer. Resistant to most all pests, however, in older trees, Termites can be a problem.
The health benefits are amazing.
To name just a few:
The leaves help strengthen the immune system.
It can help control blood pressure, relieve headaches and migraines.
The tea can help strengthen eye muscles, help heal inflammation of the joints and tendons, and even can prevent intestinal worms.
Malunggay also helps relax and promote a good nights sleep.
The last health benefit that I am going to list is great for my diabetic wife, because it helps normalize blood sugar levels.
On top of all of this, it has a beautiful flower, that supposedly has a very pleasant fragrance.



Don't like the name "Malunggay" or "Moringa"? It has a few other names that might tickle your fancy. How about:
"Drumstick tree", from the appearance of the long, slender, triangular seed pods.
"Horseradish tree", from the taste of the leaves, which can serve as a rough substitute for horseradish.
I think this is the perfect plant! I will keep you posted on the taste, smell and growth of this very useful and interesting plant.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Monday, May 24, 2010

See you later, Alligator.....Pear

Pushing the limits of what I can grow is a great passion of mine. Don't tell me I can't grow something. I may not succeed the first or even the second attempt, But I will keep on trying. Take for example the Alligator Pear, or as you probably know it better as, The Avocado. I had a beautiful tree growing. I babied it for about 5 years and was expecting fruit within a year or two. Then, the Winter of '09-'10 came to visit. The tree was about 12 feet tall and would not fit in my greenhouse. I know now that I could have/should have topped it and put it in the greenhouse. It would have been fine and probably just bushed out more. I will tell you what I tried. I laid it down on the concrete patio and covered it up with a blanket. This actually worked for about a week. The tree was surviving very well. However, being that it was SO cold for SO long, it just didn't make it.
I know what I did wrong, I will fix it. I really want to pick my own Avocados.
The Avocado probably originated in southern Mexico, but was cultivated from the Rio Grande to central Peru long before the arrival of the Europeans. It was first reported in Jamaica in 1696. It wasn't until 1825 that it was planted in Hawaii and it was common throughout the islands by 1910. Florida got into the act in 1833, when it was introduced by Dr. Henry Perrine. California started in 1871.
Now the avocado is grown commercially not only in the United States and throughout tropical America and the larger islands of the Caribbean but in Polynesia, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar, Mauritius, Madeira, the Canary Islands, Algeria, tropical Africa, South Africa, southern Spain and southern France, Sicily, Crete, Israel and Egypt. Seems like a popular fruit. Botanically speaking, Avocado is considered a fruit, not a vegetable....just in case you get a spot on Jeopardy.
There are some 60 varieties of commercially grown Avocados, including West Indian, Guatemalan, Mexican and assorted hybrids. The most common type we see in grocery stores is 'Hass'. It was registered in California in 1932. It is a Guatemalan Mexican Hybrid.
The West Indian race requires a tropical or near tropical (think southern Florida) climate and high humidity especially during flowering and fruit setting. The Guatemalan race is somewhat hardier, having arisen in subtropical highlands of tropical America, and it is successful in coastal California. The Mexican race is the hardiest and the source of most of California avocados. It is not suited to southern Florida, Puerto Rico or other areas of similar climate. Temperatures as low as 25 degrees do it little harm. In areas of strong winds, wind-breaks are necessary. Wind reduces humidity, debydrates the flowers and interferes with pollination, and also causes many fruits to fall prematurely. See why I think I can grow these things? Citrus works for me, so Avocados should too.
They grow on a wide range of soils as long as it has good drainage. The PH range they like are rather Alkaline, 6-7.5.
Avocados can be grown from seed. However, there is a good chance it will not come true to type. This can be half the fun. It might be as good as the fruit you ate, might be a little worst or it could even be better!
Normally, avocado seeds lose viability within a month. I would still plant them as soon as possible. Why delay the fruiting process any?
There are two ways to germinate an avocado pit. The first is to pierce the seed with toothpicks and suspend it, pointed end up, over a glass of water. Roots should start to develop within two to six weeks. Then pot up the plant, leaving the tip just poking out of the soil. However, not all avocado seeds will germinate, so if your seed hasn't sprouted after six weeks, try again with a fresh seed.
The second method is basically to just plant the pit in some good potting soil. Place it pointed end up and only cover about three quarters of it. Keep it warm and damp and wait for it to germinate. It will take anywhere from 7-10 years before it bears fruit. Every indoor Avocado grower holds out hope for fruit from his or her plant. This is always a possibility, but realistically it is not likely to happen. Indoors, the plants may never experience good enough conditions to ever flower, let alone ripen fruit. They are sun lovers but will grow in partial shade.
Avocado irrigation is no different from citrus or other fruit and nut trees,water slowly, deeply and thoroughly.
I am determined to grow one of these to fruition. While researching this article, I found some really interesting ways to enjoy Avocado.
In Brazil, the Avocado is used mostly mashed in sherbet, ice cream, or milk shakes.
In Java, Avocado flesh is thoroughly mixed with strong black coffee, sweetened and eaten as a dessert.
Some Oriental people in Hawaii prefer the Avocado sweetened with sugar and they combine it with fruits such as pineapple, orange, grapefruit, dates, or banana.
As for me, I want to make some really good, spicy Guacamole. I already grow the Limes, Onions, Garlic and Hot Peppers......now I just need some Alligator Pear.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

To Prune or Not To Prune, Is that the Question?

I have done a couple of lectures the past few weeks and have been asked about pruning Citrus, both there and at work lately. So, I guess it is a good time to address this situation.
When should you prune Citrus, How should you prune Citrus, SHOULD I prune Citrus?
These are usually the questions asked.
I usually don't recommend pruning Citrus trees, you would be cutting fruit off if you do. However, there are times when it is or might be necessary.
Let's start at the beginning.
Unlike most other fruit trees, Citrus trees do not require pruning to keep them productive. On their own they will develop an attractive shape without any pruning.
Young trees will often produce very vigorous shoots that will give the tree an unkempt, out of balance feel. These shoots can be cut back to maintain a more uniform shape.
If you have a grafted tree, anything below the graft line should be cut off. The graft line will appear as a dog leg, maybe 3-6 inches above the soil. This is where the Scion and Rootstock meet. If the sprouts are below the graft, that is the rootstock trying to come back. Chances are, this will produce fruit that you really wouldn't care to eat.
There are some theories out there that any vigorous growers, usually Lemons, can be cut back about 20% to 30% every couple years. this will keep the fruit in a range that is much easier to harvest.
Keeping the centers of Citrus trees open, think vase shape, will help with the health of the tree. To do this, you will want to remove any crossing branches, dead branches or by selectively thinning branches. This will allow sunlight into the center of the tree and help keep inner portions productive. This will also increase air flow, decreasing the chance of fungus and disease.
Occasionally, you may need to prune a leggy tree. This will be caused by inadequate light or grown indoors. You can cut this back to force branching and create more bushiness.
Hard freezes will occasionally come and harm your Citrus tree. You will want to cut any dead or apparently dead wood out right away. Well Don't!
Wait until after the first good flush of Spring growth. I know it looks ugly, but you can actually do more harm and actually slow down the trees recovery. There is research out of Florida that has found that trees pruned after the first flush of growth, actually recover more quickly and grew more vigorously than those pruned immediately after the freeze event.
Citrus trees can also be cut back if you planted them in the wrong place to begin with. I would recommend moving the tree first, but if that is not possible, an occasional clipping to keep it out of the sidewalk or driveway is not detrimental to the tree. Under normal conditions, light pruning will not drastically reduce your fruit crop. A heavy pruning, such as a quarter of the tree or more, will reduce it accordingly.
Well, there you have some reasons why you would want to prune a Citrus tree. There are probably others I haven't listed. The next question inevitably is always, WHEN, can I prune?
Citrus can generally be pruned at any time, but it is best to do it just before it blooms or just after fruit set. The tree will adjust itself.
Avoid pruning during late Summer to early Fall if you can. Pruning during this time usually stimulates vigorous new growth. If you are planning on protecting your trees during the Winter, like moving it into a greenhouse, this is okay. If your trees are planted in the ground, this can cause problems. The new growth that a late pruning stimulates will not have enough time to harden off before Winter sets in. This will greatly increase the chances of frost damage.
If you are pruning late in the year, you can also have the problem of exposing the fruit and bark to too much sun suddenly and sunburning it. Bark can be highly sensitive to sunburn. If it is severely burned, it will die and cause a girdling of the tree.
I hope this helps in your quest to give your Citrus tree a haircut. Personally, I very seldom prune mine. Occasionally I will limb a tree up a little, so I can get to the soil to feed and water it easier, but other than that, I let them go to town.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

This blog today will touch on gardening of any kind only superficially. Today is Mother's Day, as you probably know. I would like to take this time to truly THANK my mother for everything she has ever done for me. I can never, ever repay her!!
I was told once by somebody very wise, probably my mother, that the best way to repay your mother was to become the best you can be. I bet a mother came up with that old Army saying.
My mother instilled a great many things in me, probably even more so than most mothers. Why do I say that? My mother was a single parent after my father passed away when I was in 2nd grade. She IS the main reason I am what I am today.
I try everyday to be the best that I can be, in everything. Gardening is a major passion in both our lives. She was the driving force in this also.
Because of her instilling a love of gardening and nature in me, I became a Master Gardener, I work at the Nursery, became a member of the Charleston Hort Society and Coastal Carolina Camellia Society. I work very hard in my yard and have been hosting area plant swaps for the past 7 years.
My mother enjoys talking plants with me every week, she comes to my plant swaps and she enjoys visiting just to see my yard. Yea, I think she likes seeing me too.
My yard makes me proud and doing what I do best is my way of THANKING her.
Because of her, I can show off things like this:





Happy Mother's Day to all the Mothers out there. And a VERY SPECIAL Happy Mother's Day, Thank You and I Love You to my mother. You're the best!
Happy growing!
Darren

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Can I Cacti?

Cactus' or Cacti are probably one of the easiest plants to grow. They can take unbearable heat, think Arizona Desert in August. And to some extent, they can take some wicked cold.
This was my Cacti, out on my back steps during the Snow we had here in Charleston.


Sad huh?
Well, they stayed there all Winter. Took the Snow, well below freezing temperatures and everything else Mother Nature threw at them.
Look at them now!!






There are more that will be open in a couple of days. These things are tough! Just to remind you, I live in a Zone 8B, almost a 9.
The main trick to growing cacti is proper watering. Many cacti have been killed from overwatering during the winter. I will admit, I lost a couple due to this. There was a couple of weeks that we were getting anywhere from 1-3 inches of rain...EVERY OTHER DAY!
The Cactus family (Cactaceae) is one of the most striking, distinctive, diversified and specialized groups in the plant kingdom. It includes about 2,000 species.
The distinctiveness of the cactus family shows itself not only in the flower structure but also in one characteristic, that, although possessed by every cactus plant, is absent in all species of all other families. This is the spine cushion or areole. Whether or not spines are present, all cacti have areoles. Because these areoles differ in structure on different kinds of cacti, this is one way of distinguishing one cactus plant from another.
An areole is the radial arrangement of spines on pad-like buds where shoots and flowers may appear. The areoles themselves are arranged in a regular pattern, either along the ribs of columnar or barrel cacti, or at equally spaced intervals over the face of pad-like cacti.
One plant family that is often confused for the cactus family is the Euphorbia family (Euphorbiacea) which contains such plants as Cow's Horn Cactus (Euphorbia grandicornis), African Milk Bush (E. trigona) and Crown of Thorns (E. milii). While all these plants have spines, have green stems and few or no leaves, they do not have areoles. If you are still in doubt about whether you have a Euphorbia or a cactus, make a small cut in an inconspicuous place. If the sap is milky white and sticky, then you have a Euphorbia, since cactus sap is clear and watery.
Most cacti prefer a nutrient rich, rocky soil with good drainage. Pure sand will not work. There is actually soil under the sands of the desert. Just remember that cacti roots need a well draining, airy soil that will rewet easily.
Cacti need sun, and lots of it. I have not had any problem growing mine on those steps on the West side of my house. Like I mentioned at the beginning, mine take temperature extremes of 18 degrees as a low and probably 100+ as a high.
Cacti have practical uses as well as being fun to grow. The long, soft spines of Oerocereus celsianus are used as pillow and bed stuffing. Remind me not to go to a hotel using these pillows. Spines of other cacti are used as toothpicks, combs, sewing needles and fishhooks. Yet other cacti are used as building materials and as living fences or hedges.
If you are looking for a very easy plant to grow, consider Cacti. How many plants can you grow that, when you go away for a two week vacation, didn't even know you were gone!? They CAN be grown from seed very easily too. You can buy the seed at any of the big box stores for very little money. Patience is the key for this adventure however. There are many ways to start Cactus from seed. Do some research and see which method might fit into your lifestyle.
This picture is of one of my babies that is about 15 years old. I started it from seed, back when I lived in Maine!

Happy Growing!
Darren

Friday, May 7, 2010

One for the Geeks in us

This one comes from another one of my e-mail magazines. I was initially going to write about something else, but this one really spoke to my inner geek.
It comes from Greenhouse Grower.

Fake Ferns Exposed
DNA testing of garden ferns sold at plant nurseries in North Carolina, Texas, and California has found that plants marketed as American natives may actually be exotic species from other parts of the world.
The finding relied on a new technique called "DNA barcoding" that uses snippets of DNA to distinguish between species, in much the same way that a supermarket scanner uses the black lines in a barcode to identify cans of soup or boxes of cereal.
A team of North Carolina researchers suspected a fern sold in commercial nurseries might not be what the labels said it was, so they took a specimen to the lab to analyze its DNA. When they pasted the DNA sequence of three of the plant's genes into an online database, they discovered that what had been labeled as Wright’s lip fern (Cheilanthes wrightii), an American native popular in rock gardens and xeriscapes, was in fact a bristle cloak fern (C. distans), a distant relative from Australia.
“It was a 100 percent match,” says Eric Schuettpelz, a post-doctoral fellow at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in Durham. “Probably 50 percent of the plants I’ve collected from botanical gardens and greenhouses were incorrectly identified.”
“Nomenclature mix-ups in the nursery industry are frequent in all plants, ferns included,” says Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, a retail nursery that sells plants from all over the world.
Most nurseries are run by growers and retailers – not taxonomists, Avent said. Ferns are difficult to monitor because they’re tricky to tell apart.
"Ferns don’t have flowers or fruits to help with identification, like many other plants,” says Kathleen Pryer, associate professor of biology at Duke University.
Fern species are particularly hard to contain in the close quarters of a greenhouse, where their spores can drift into neighboring pots.
“After a while, who’s to know whether a plant is what the label says it is?” Pryer says.
Most mix-ups happen when plants are passed from one grower to the next without good labeling, Avent said. “But some mix-ups occur when nurseries intentionally change the tags to sell a plant, especially when they have requests for a similar species or cultivar.”
“Most nurseries don’t have the time or interest to find the proper nomenclature,” Avent says. “They are more interested in making money, and in this economy, staying in business.”
Since DNA barcoding was first proposed in 2003, the technique has caught on more quickly in animals than plants. A standardized botanical barcode remains elusive partly because of the greater complexity of plant genetics, but also due to ongoing debate over which combination of genes will work reliably for the more than 400,000 species of land plants.
But for those in the business of buying and selling exotic plants, DNA barcoding could help identify harmful or invasive species or prevent the sale of species that are rare or endangered.
“This might eventually be able to help prevent people from taking things out of countries illegally,” Pryer says.
One of the advantages of the technique is that it can identify species from small amounts of tissue or processed material – a bit of leaf, a plank of wood or an herbal mix – that are otherwise impossible to match to the plants they came from, says Michael Windham, curator of vascular plants at the Duke Herbarium.
Some scientists foresee a future in which biologists, customs officials and port inspectors can feed a piece of leaf or root into a handheld DNA scanner, which will then sequence a handful of genetic markers and spit out the species name.
“Just like the tricorder device they used in Star Trek,” Windham says. “Spock used it to analyze the mineral content of rocks, or the oxygen content of the atmosphere. Who needs to lug around a copy of ‘Flora of North America’ when they’ve got a species tricorder?”

I can't wait to try playing with one of these. Beam me up Scotty!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ranting Again

I subscribe to many different websites, magazines and blogs, from around the world on an array of gardening topics. In my e-mailbox today was an article from Growing Produce Magazine about a European Grapevine Moth that has been discovered in California. Unless this thing bought a ticket on a Delta Airlines flight, it was brought over here accidentally. I have ranted before on accidentally bringing invasive pests into a state or country. There are laws in place to hopefully stop this from happening, unfortunately, most of the time they are ignored.
Now, I am not by any means a Wine drinker, but I do love grapes. I have two varieties growing right now, with plans to add a few more. The last thing I want to see is an article like this cropping up.

(Courtesy of Growing Produce.com)
Feared Pest Found In Rich Fruit-Growing Area

The USDA’s Systematic Entomology Laboratory has confirmed the capture of two European grapevine moths (EGVM), Lobesia botrana, trapped on April 28, in two separate traps about ½ mile apart and placed in vineyards southeast of the city of Fresno. The discoveries come just months after the first find of the pest in the U.S. It was initially found in Napa County in late 2009.
These traps were part of a statewide program to detect the invasive moth, according to the Fresno County Department of Agriculture. As a result of the finds, additional traps were placed in an approximately 80 square-mile area around the discoveries by Fresno County and California Department of Food and Agriculture staff. An additional EGVM was found May 1, in the Kingsburg area, approximately 11 miles from the original find site.
County, state, and federal officials are developing an agriculture quarantine to prevent the human-aided movement of the moth. Treatment options for the EGVM include traditional and organic ovicides and larvicides as well as mating disruption. These activities are designed to give both domestic and foreign trading partners confidence that products moving in commerce are free of EGVM.
The Fresno County Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) currently have over 5,000 EGVM traps in place throughout the county. Fresno County will continue to monitor traps in the county and in the quarantine area to determine the area where the pest is present.
Since the original September find in Napa County, EGVM has been found in Sonoma, Solano and Mendocino counties, where eradication efforts are on-going. While the Napa/Sonoma region is commonly known nationally as “Wine Country,” by far the bulk of the state’s wine grapes, and nearly all the table grapes, are grown in the San Joaquin Valley.
EGVM is a grape pest of economic importance in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, southern Russia, Japan and recently Chile. The larva feed on grape flowers and developing fruit. Second and third generations cause the most damage by direct feeding on mature grape berries and indirectly by predisposing the crop to grey mold, a fungal infection caused by Botrytis cinerea. Damage is greatest in grape cultivars with compact clusters or sensitive to rot.

I am glad the authorities are on this. Who knows how much economic damage these moths could have caused if they were not discovered. Just to be fair, these could have been introduced to the states from a commercial shipment of something else that would not normally be examined for the moths. I have heard of Asian Citrus Psyllids being discovered in a shipment of Basil, so anything is possible. There is not much I can do about commercial shipments, However, I will plead my case again to the general public, please do not bring anything into this country from another country! The risk is just to great. If there is a plant that you feel you just can not live without, check online for it. There is a good chance that somebody in the states may sell it. They have been authorized to propagate it and there should not be any "Foreign" pests on it then. If you can't find something you are looking for, PLEASE contact me, I have many contacts out there and there is a good chance I know where you can get some.....LEGALLY!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

To Contain or Not To Contain

Anybody that has been following my blog knows, I grow everything in containers. There are a number of reason why. Today, I thought I would give you the pros and cons to this practice. It will let you decide for yourself if this is what you want to do.
Let's start with some of the pros:
No space? No problem. Using containers gives you the flexibility of growing just about anything in a smaller space. If you live in an apartment, containers can be put on the balcony. You can even use a spare bedroom with all the shades open and supplemental lighting. There is some wiggle room as to the statement of, "Grow just about anything in a smaller space". I am pretty sure that a Coconut Palm will not do well in a container, it would have to be one heck of a huge pot! A Sequoia would also be hard pressed in one.
Movin' on up. If you suddenly have to move for whatever reason, they are much easier to put into the back of a truck and you don't have to dig. This is ONE of the main reasons why I container grow everything.....I rent, for the time being.
Harsh Winters? This is another one of the main reasons I containerize so much. Like to try your hand at Pineapples, Guava or some kind of Citrus, but live in Minnesota? You can grow things in the container and move them indoors during the Winter or when frost is coming. During Spring, Summer and Fall, they can come outside. I LOVE the exotic stuff!
Crappy Soil? In containers, you can buy or create the most perfect soil ever. Peat, sand, vermiculite, perlite, small pieces of pine bark, the list is endless as to what you can use to create the perfect soil for whatever you want to grow.
Good for people with disabilities or mobility problems. These are even better than raised beds. They can be placed around in such a fashion that wheelchairs can slide in between two pots and they can both be worked. You can also bring the containers right to the wheelchair.
Containers can be anything that will hold soil. Tires, Buckets, Kiddie Pools, Barrels, your imagination is the only limit here. You will want to make sure that it has drainage holes. I am using an old bathtub for my Asparagus. I have seen people use old tires for potatoes. They can also be as decorative as you like. Imagine the fun you can have with a toilet, sink and bathtub, overflowing with plants in your front yard? Better check with your HOA before doing this however.
Plant not happy? In a container, you can move it to a place it will be happy.
Tired of the scenery? Move things around. You can create an entire new look of your yard in literally minutes.
There is no real back breaking digging. Fill a container with soil and plant. No turf removal. No digging. No rocks. You will probably also have less of a weed problem.
Got Critters? Moles, Nematodes, and many other soil living critters are stopped by having it in a container. You can also have it closer to your house, on the patio for instance, and the Deer or Raccoons will be a little more hesitant to come chow down.

Here is what some of my Peppers, Tomatoes, Potatoes and Citrus growing in containers look like in April:


OKAY, that is the good side of it. Now for the down falls.
The cons:
Watering. Depending on the type of plant, soil medium used and your weather conditions, you are going to have to water much more often. Quite possibly everyday. Cactus will require much less watering, even in the Summer, than Tomatoes. A hot, windy day will dry out your plants faster than an overcast, calm day.
The Heat! If you use a black pot and put it in full sun, which most plants need, the rootzone can easily reach 120 degrees! That will cook those poor little roots. You can shade the pot with a smaller, low growing plant. Clustering the pots together. You can also paint your container with white, plastic paint. A light colored pot will work also.
The Umbrella effect. Let's say you have gotten 2 inches of rain. No need to water, right? You go out and your tomato plants are all droopy. After you stick your finger into the soil, you discover it is dry as a bone! What gives?! The plant acted as an umbrella. All that wonderful rain basically was directed out and away from the soil. You can either live with this, and water more often, or use a much bigger pot than the plant is wide.
Weight. I said up above that you can move the plants in and out, depending on the weather. A fifteen gallon container full of plant and soil is not light. Use non-biodegradable styrofoam packing peanuts or pieces of styrofoam in the bottom to reduce weight. It will also aid in the drainage and keep them out of the local landfill. Be careful not to lighten it up too much, a tall, top heavy plant will blow over easily in a strong wind.
Feed Me. Nitrogen, probably the most important nutrient a plant needs and the first number on a fertilizer package. Unfortunately, it leaches out of containers the fastest. You will need to fertilize more often. I recommend either, every two weeks or using a solution of 1/4 to 1/2 strength every other time you water.
Well, that gives you an idea of the pros and cons of container gardening. I feel that the pros outweigh the cons, but you may feel differently. I wanted to present the case your honor and let you be the judge. After all, it is YOUR yard!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The TEST

One thing that all gardeners have in common is, the battle with insects. Your plants are doing great one day, then the next they have holes in the leaves, bites taken out of the fruit, or little critters just running all over them. What do most gardeners do? They reach for the insecticide and spray away. Now the question is, did you really need to spray? Was it a good bug or a bad bug? I understand that most gardeners know what an Aphid looks like or even a Mealybug. I am also pretty sure they know what a Ladybug looks like. What about a Ladybug larvae? Ever see anything like this on your plants?



These are all good guys and should not be sprayed.
I did a lecture back in March on Good Bugs, Bad Bugs and was surprised at the responses I got. I thought today would be a good day to repeat that experiment. I am going to show you a bunch of pictures of Good Bugs and Bad Bugs. Be honest with yourself, don't look to see what it is before you make a guess. There is not going to be any grades, and nobody else will know how you really did. It could, in the end, help your garden grow.

Let's get started:

GOOD BUG or BAD BUG?



GOOD...Red Soldier Beetle.... The larvae are carnivorous, feeding on insects in the soil. The adults are also predators, eating caterpillars, eggs, aphids, and other soft-bodied insects. Soldier beetles resemble lightning bugs but do not have light-producing organs.

GOOD BUG or BAD BUG?




BAD....Common Asparagus Beetle......Both the larvae and the adults of the Common Asparagus Beetle damage Asparagus plants. The overwintered adults emerge and begin to feed on the tender growing tips of the newly sprouted Asparagus.

GOOD BUG or BAD BUG?




BAD....Buffalo Treehopper....Both nymphs and adults suck sap for food. Plants include Willows, Elms, Cherry, Black Locust, Goldenrods, Asters as well as others.

How you doing so far?

GOOD BUG or BAD BUG?




GOOD.....Horned Assassin Bug.....This bug kills many garden pests including flies, mosquitoes, beetles and large caterpillars.

GOOD BUG or BAD BUG?




GOOD....Big Eyed Bug.....They are regarded as beneficial because they prey upon numerous kinds of insect and mite pests of turf, ornamental and agricultural crops.

One more.
GOOD BUG or BAD BUG?




BOTH....Earwig.....Earwigs are omnivorous, and will feed on dead plant material and dead or slow invertebrates. However, in large numbers, may feed on tender plants and may damage Lettuce, Strawberries, Dahlias, Marigolds, Zinnias and Roses. There are 22 types of Earwigs in the United States.
I hope this little test has given you an idea of the types of insects that there are in your garden. There is an estimated 900 thousand to over one million species of insects in the world, with more being discovered every year. There is a very handy item out there that you can get to help with some of the identifications. Do a Google search for "Mac's Field Guide of Insects". I use mine all the time. They are not very expensive. Besides, wouldn't it be a good idea to learn a little bit about the insects in your little corner of the world? Or at least be able to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys? I'm just sayin'!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Not Even Kissing Cousins

As the Citrus Guy, I get the question about Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) being related to Kumquats (Fortunella spp.). The answer is No, they are not even kissing cousins. This is an understandable question, would you want to have "QUAT" in your name?
They ARE both native to China, but the Loquat is indigenous to southeastern China and possibly southern Japan. It is said to have been cultivated in Japan for over 1,000 years.
The Loquat was first learned about in the Western World by a botanist named Engelbert Kaempfer in the year 1690. It was planted in Paris in 1784 and in England in 1787. It spread from there all over the world.
The Loquat can reach a height of 20 to 30 ft. The evergreen leaves, are 5 to 12 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide. The flowers have a very sweet fragrance, they are white, with 5 petals. Matter of fact, the flowers smell so good that, in the 1950's, the flowers attracted the interest of the perfume industry in France and Spain and some experimental work was done in extraction of the essential oil from the flowers and leaves. The product was appealing but the yield was very small.
The fruits are born in clusters of 4 to 30. They can be oval, rounded or pear-shaped, 1 to 2 inches long. They kind of resemble an apricot in size and color. The flesh is pale yellow and is suppose to have a sweet tart cherry like or pear like flavor. There may be 1 to 10 seeds, but usually only 3-5.
Once the tree is established, it can tolerate down to 12 degrees. The flower bud can be killed at 19 degrees, the mature flower at 26 degrees. This is important to know because Loquats are one of the first fruits to ripen in the Spring. They bloom in the Fall, needing 90 days from full flower opening to reach maturity. Basically it takes all Winter to form the fruit.
The tree grows well on a variety of soils of moderate fertility, but needs good drainage.
You can grow Loquats from seed, they are usually not very good though. Cuttings and grafting are the best methods of propagation. Started this way, you should see fruit within 5 years.
There are some cultivars that can produce 100 pounds of fruit per tree at 5 years of age. When they get to be 15 to 20 years old, they can produce in excess of 300 pounds. Loquats generally will keep for 10 days at room temperature, and for about 60 days in cool storage. There are said to be 800 varieties of Loquats, of which only about 46 are considered important or usable.
There are a bunch of pests and diseases that can affect your tree. Scale insects, aphids, fruit flies, birds, and a few other insects damage the fruit. Pear blight is probably the most serious disease. Good sanitation will take care of many of the disease problems. Watching for the first sign of an infestation with a good spray program, (remember to always follow labels directions) will take care of the insects. Netting for the birds.
There are many uses for the Loquat fruit. Some people prepare spiced Loquats (with cloves, cinnamon, lemon and vinegar) in glass jars. They can be used to make Jams, Pie Filling or peeled, seeded and eaten fresh. The fruits are high in Vitamin A, Dietary Fiber, Vitamins B6, B17, C, and Potassium.
I am excited about the prospects of trying a Loquat fruit. My tree, for the first time, has actually fruited and will soon be ripe. This amazed me because of the really nasty Winter we had. Check out the fruit:



This was one of the clusters, there are probably a total of two dozen fruit on the entire tree. I will let you know how they taste!

Happy Growing!
Darren