Sunday, July 31, 2011

OH, Ziziphus!

There is a fruit that I am have been in search of for some time now. I have planted seeds and they never germinated. I have finally located a tree and it is on its way to me. This is probably a fruit that many of you have never heard of, it has a common name of Jujube or Chinese Date.....but it is more fun to call it by its botanical name....Ziziphus. The full name is Ziziphus jujuba.
This uncommon fruit has a long history. It may of originated in China where they have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years and where there are over 400 cultivars. Though its precise natural distribution is uncertain due to extensive cultivation, it is thought to be in southern Asia, between Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, northern India, Bangladesh, the Korean peninsula, as well as southern and central China. It is also seen a great deal in southeastern Europe though more than likely it was introduced there.

Photo courtesy of Papaya Tree Nursery.

I do not for the life of me understand why this fruit is not a commercial crop in more of the country. Let's see what makes them tick.
First off, there are not too many parts of the country they will not grow. Jujubes can put up with extremes at both ends of the thermometer, from 120 degrees in Summer to -22 degree cold snaps in Winter, without slowing down. Just to give you an idea of how wide this range really is, Jujubes have fruited in the Puget Sound and low Cascade regions of Washington State as well as in Pennsylvania, then going all the way down to northern Florida.
Jujubes should be given a warm, sunny location, but are otherwise relatively undemanding. Given adequate heat and sun, the trees will thrive without any special care.
It is a deciduous tree, meaning it drops its leaves in the Fall. It is considered a small tree to medium size tree, growing from about 15 feet to 30 feet depending on the cultivar. Though it has attained a height of 40 feet in some places in Florida.
The small, oval shaped leaves are 1-2 inches long and a shiny bright green. In the Fall, the leaves turn bright yellow before falling. There are usually two spines at the base of each leaf. Some spines may be hooked while others are long and dagger like. There are some thornless cultivars though.

The flowers are small and not very noticeable, as you can see above. They are white to greenish yellow and are somewhat fragrant. The flowering period extends over several months from late Spring into Summer. You need only one tree to produce fruit, cross pollination is not required.
Jujubes tolerate many types of soils, but prefer a sandy, well drained soil. They do less well in heavy, poorly drained soil. They are also able to grow in soils with high salt content or high alkalinity. A high pH.
Fertilizing is a snap. They appear to do well with little or no fertilization. A light application of a balanced 10-10-10 every two months during the growing season seems to speed growth along slightly, but if you happen to forget, this tree is very understanding.
Another one of the outstanding qualities of the Jujube tree is its tolerance of drought conditions. Regular watering, though, is important to assure a quality fruit crop.

The fruit is the real treat here. It is a drupe,(A fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed) varying from round to elongate and from cherry size to plum size depending on the cultivar. Though they can be eaten raw, which is the form preferred by the Chinese, they are better candied or dried, very much like our dates. Fresh and raw, they taste somewhat like small, tart apples. They can even be left on the tree to dry, tree dried fruit stores indefinitely.

If picked green, Jujubes will not ripen. If you are interested in trying some of the fruit yourself, find a local Asian Supermarket, I can almost guarantee they will either have some fresh or at least some dried and candied.
The fruit is packed with all kinds of vitamins. Fresh, the amount of Vitamin C is higher than dried, but almost all other vitamins and nutrients will remain the same.
There are many cultural and culinary uses for Jujubes.
Substitute the dried Jujube whenever recipes call for raisins or dates. Dried Jujubes are a wonderful snack that can be prepared without the use of any preservative as is so commonly needed for other dried fruits.
In China, a wine is made from the fruit and is called Hong Zao Jiu.
The candied fruit can be made into syrup and used over pancakes and waffles.
In the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, the jujube was often placed in the newlyweds' bedroom as a good luck charm for fertility.

I will even give you a recipe for a Jujube Cake I found.
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/2 cup butter
* 2 cups dried, minced jujube
* 1 cup water
Bring these to a boil then set aside to cool
* 2 cups wheat flour
* 1 teaspoonful soda
* 1/2 teaspoonful salt
Sift these together then add to the above mixture. Bake at 325°

Okay, if this hasn't been enough information for you to run right out and get yourself a tree then I don't......what? They don't seem to have any at your local big box store?
Hmm, that could be a problem.
I know!
Go to Jujube Fruit Tree They have some nice ones for sale. I am sure there are other places online, but I know and trust these folks.
So, at last, I will leave you with this little tidbit, Jujubes appear to have no serious disease, insect, or nematode pests, except for the Pocket Gopher, which appears to have a liking for the roots. I don't know about you, but I have neither seen nor heard of a Pocket Gopher, I guess they tend to stay hidden in their pockets!
In case you do more research and decide to get yourself a tree or three, I am getting the Cultivar "Li". This is suppose to be the easiest of the many cultivars to grow.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Beware the Resistance

I was reading an article the other day from the University of Florida about Citrus Greening and the insect that spreads it, the Asian Citrus Psyllid. The article was more about the worry that these critters are starting to show resistance to the insecticides. The levels that have been documented to date are not high enough to cause product failures. Yet.
This got me to thinking about the insecticides that the average homeowner is using. In Florida and anywhere else commercial crops are grown, the farmers have a vast array of insecticides at their disposal. The homeowner, not so much.
Let me start with a couple of definitions.
Insecticide: a substance used for killing insects.
Insecticide resistance: an increase over time in the ability of an insect population to survive an insecticide application.
Some insects are going to naturally have a resistant gene to certain chemicals. Think of the situation that some people are allergic to peanuts and others are not. The ones that are not, have a resistance to the peanut chemical. This is a weak example, but gets my point across.
Insects with a resistance gene survive an application of insecticide and pass the resistance trait on to their offspring. If you continue using the same kind of insecticide that has the same Mode of Action,(more on that in a minute)the resistant individuals will continue to breed and the proportion of resistant insects in the population increases, while susceptible, or ones that don't have the gene are eliminated by the insecticide.
I know, what the heck did he just say?!
Pesticides are seldom 100% effective, so there are always a few individuals that can survive and reproduce. Survivors may have been able to detoxify the pesticide or are immune to the effect of the pesticide or can avoid the pesticide application altogether. If survivors mate and past on this resistance to their offspring, future generations will have fewer susceptible individuals. As time progresses, the entire population may become resistant.
This brings me back to the MoA or Mode of Action. Insecticides all work in different ways. I am not going to get major geek on you here, but some of the ways that they work and on what part of the insects body are,
The Nervous System: Most traditional insecticides attack the nervous system of insects. It interferes with their nerve fibers or the gap between the fibers.
Energy Production: These chemicals significantly slow the production of energy that an insect needs to survive. It basically starves them. The insects “run out of gas” and can even die standing on their feet.
Cuticle Production: Insects wear their skeleton on the outside of their body. Chitin is a major component of their skeleton. Chemicals called chitin synthesis inhibitors,slow or stop the production of chitin. Without chitin, the insect cannot molt,(shed it’s exoskeleton and re-grow a new one) and will soon die.
Endocrine System: Insect growth regulators,act on the hormone or endocrine system of insects. Juvenile hormones keep insects from molting (shedding their exoskeleton) until the insect reaches the proper state of maturity. They don’t allow the insect to molt at the proper time, keeping the insect from maturing and reproducing.
Water Balance: Insects have a thin waxy coating over their exoskeleton to prevent water loss. Some chemicals absorb the waxy coating, resulting in rapid water loss and eventual death.
There are many more, but you get the idea.
So now, you are wondering, how does this affect me? The chemicals are broken down into groups, 25 or so to be exact. You need to alternate between groups, NOT just name brands.
Here is an example of what I mean. Group one is Carbamates and Organophosphates, it is broken down into sub-groups A&B. Stay with me here. Sevin, a common insecticide, is in this category. A good product. It interrupts the transmission of nerve impulses. So, to avoid a resistance problem, you want to switch to something else....Good Idea!
You grab some Malathion...Bad Idea! This is in the same group and is the same way of killing the bugs. Ideally, an effective insecticide should be applied at a concentration high enough (following the label directions) to kill all the individuals in a population. However, it should only be applied twice before switching to another group.
Maybe going to the Insecticidal soaps, which will dry the insect out. You can also go to the Horticultural oils, which will suffocate the insect. Okay, so now you are asking, how do they become resistant to the soaps and oils? They will develop a sense of the danger and will move away from the chemical. If you do not hit them directly they may move to the under side of the leaf or a part of the plant that was not sprayed.
I know this may sound a little confusing, and yes it probably is WAY too detailed.
My point today is this, try to attract beneficial bugs to your yard first. Flowers and plants that they like are a good step forward. If that doesn't help, start with the most gentle of insecticides, soaps and oils. If you must go to the nuclear option of chemicals, keep in mind that you might be contributing to the evolution of a Super Bug. Then a nuclear bomb might be the only way to rid yourself of them!
Your best bet is to get to know a little bit more about the different classes and how the Modes of Action work. A good website is: MOA's
Oh, and just as a side note....Fungicides can also have resistance issues, but that is fodder for another blog.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Serious Cereus

Everybody needs a helping hand at times, right? What if you do all of your important stuff at night and there are very few people around?  That is kind of the boat that today's topic finds itself in.
Epiphyllum oxypetalum also known as Dutchman's Pipe Cactus, Orchid Cactus and Night Blooming Cereus is an epiphyte. This is a plant that grows on another plant which it depends on for mechanical support but not for nutrients. A helping hand type of thing. And of course it's other common name,night blooming cereus, kind of gives it away as to what time of the day it flowers.
This plants native range runs from Mexico to Brazil. It can be a very large grower, getting up to 20 feet tall, or long depending on how you look at it. It prefers to grow in the upper story of tropical jungles by clinging to trees by means of aerial roots. It produces dark green branches and fragrant white flowers, no wonder it is also known as Queen of the Night.
Just look at this flower:

Unfortunately, the flower, which can be 6" or more across, only lasts for 1-3 days (nights). It opens in the evening around dusk and closes at the first sign of sunrise in the morning. If you are lucky, this will repeat for a couple of more nights. Flowering times range from late Spring through most of the Summer.
As you can imagine being from that far South, it can only grow in USDA zones 10b to 12. They will tolerate temperatures less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit for a few hours, but will be damaged if exposed to freezing temperatures for any length of time. Most of the time it is grown as a house plant. Don't let the length possibility scare you though, this plant can be cut back to whatever size you want it to be and it will be happy. 
If you are blessed with ample room, yours could look like this picture I found online:
The Queen needs partial shade, remember, she is used to growing in the tree tops of the jungle.  She also needs a well draining potting soil with compost and plenty of humus along with sufficient moisture, especially in the Summer. A cactus potting mix works well. 
As your soil mix breaks down, the roots of the plant can suffer from too much water and lack of air around the root mass. It is a very good idea to repot every 2 years or so to keep the plants healthy.
After a long Winter indoors, be very careful when bringing it back outside, it can get sunburned very easy. The leaves are broad and do not resemble the usual fleshy leaves of other succulents.
This is your official geek alert!  
The leaf-like structures are actually flattened stems, generally called cladophylls.
You will want to fertilize the plants on a monthly basis with a balanced fertilizer diluted to 1/2 the strength recommended on the label. Do not use a fertilizer too high in nitrogen, the first number should not be over 10. It can cause the growth to be mushy. Do not fertilize during the Winter.
The Epiphyllum oxypetalum is an easy and fast growing epiphyte. They can be propagated from cuttings. Dip the cuttings in rooting hormone before planting in moist, but not soggy, soil mix.
This would be a good candidate for a cutting:

The smaller leaf off to the right is the one I am talking about. They can also be propagated by dividing large plants. It generally takes 2–3 years to raise a blooming size plant from a rooted cutting.
 As for pests, there are a few. Scale and mealybugs start the list, they can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Snails and slugs love epiphyllums! They can skeletonize the leaves in a short time and will do lots of damage. That is why these plants should never be allowed to grow on the ground. Snail bait should be put out on a regular basis. Please read the label regarding these products.
This plant can definitely bring a huge WOW factor to any house or yard. It is one of the easiest to grow. There is one more nice bonus to this plant, SHOULD you be lucky enough to have it happen. Once the Queen flowers and IF she happens to get pollinated, usually by moths and sometimes bats, it will produce fruit and it IS edible!
Kinda looks like this:

Happy Growing!

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Here in my part of the world, gardens have kind of slowed down a touch, due to the extreme hot weather. In other parts of the country, gardens are pretty much in full swing. I decided to take a chance and planted a third crop of Cucumbers, along with some Hubbard Squash, Zucchini and Dills Atlantic Pumpkins.
As a side bar, if you are unfamiliar with the Dills Atlantic Pumpkin, this is the one that regularly produces world record size pumpkins. The current world record was grown in Wisconsin and weighed 1810.5 pounds. The current South Carolina record is 1164 pounds. If you are curious as to your state record, you can find them all here: State Pumpkin Records
In order to grow large pumpkins or any other type of squash and cucumber, you need to be aware of a really boring critter....Melittia cucurbitae or Squash Vine Borer.
This pest ranges from Canada to Argentina, with the possibility of southern states having two broods a year, and is the most serious enemy of squashes,(Summer and Winter) as well as pumpkins and gourds. Cucumbers and melons are less frequently affected. Though they will hit these if hungry enough.
The adult borer resembles a wasp, even though it is a moth. It is about 1/2 inch long with an orange abdomen and black dots. The hind legs are fringed with black and orange hairs.
Eggs are flat, brown, and about 1/25 inch long. The larvae are white or cream colored with brown heads, growing to almost an inch in length.
Beginning in late June or early July, late May in the South, Squash Vine Borer adults emerge from cocoons in the ground. They are an unusual moth because they are a diurnal species, which means they fly during the day, unlike most moths that fly at night.
The female will lays eggs on any and all parts of the plant, except the upper leaf surface. The majority of eggs are laid on the basal stem (plant base). Hatching larvae usually bore directly into the stem and feed internally for about 4-6 weeks, though some may feed externally prior to entering the stem.
The damage they do is caused by the larvae feeding through the center of the stems, blocking the flow of water to the rest of the plant. Plants wilt and usually rot and die beyond the point of attack. The first indication of an attack will be the sudden wilting of a long runner or of the entire plant. Closer observation of a wilting plant often reveals holes near the base of the plant filled with moist greenish or orange sawdust like material called frass, basically, bug excrement.
Once this pest invades your plant, pesticides are ineffective. There are those out there that have had some success when an infestation occurs. You can slit the infested vine lengthwise and remove borers or kill them with a long pin or needle. The slitting operation does not always work because you can miss one or two borers, and the plant is usually too weak to save at that point anyway.
The use of row covers before flower bloom can be effective, unless borers from previous seasons have entered your soil and pupated.
One method that I have heard about, and will try this year, is this,as soon as your vine starts to lay down from the weight of the plant, place aluminum foil on the ground underneath the stem at the base to disorient the arriving moths. This sounds somewhat reasonable, again, as long as the larvae from last year have not entered the vine yet. You can till the soil in late Winter to expose overwintering insects if you have had previous experiences. Rotating squash to another location in the garden each season is another good option.
Insecticides can be also be useful in killing the moths before they lay eggs. Caution should be used however, it will also kill your pollinators. Remember to follow the label directions! Ideally, you will want to monitor for the moths and apply the insecticide after the plant stops flowering. Observation is the key here. Adults make a very noticeable buzzing sound when flying. You can also use yellow trap pans to detect Squash Vine Borer adults. This can be any container (pan, pail, bowl) colored yellow and filled with water. Because Squash Vine Borer adults are attracted to yellow, they will fly to the container and be trapped when they fall into the water.
There are certain squash varieties that offer an apparent resistance to and tolerance of borer attack. Some of these include, Summer Crookneck and Butternut. Some of their favorites include, Hubbard type squash, Connecticut Field Pumpkin, Small Sugar Pumpkin, and Zucchini.
Hopefully you will not have to deal with this pest and can either compete for the worlds largest pumpkin or have enough Zucchini to supply the neighborhood.
Happy Growing!