Mutant Mustard

Two years ago, I discovered that I had a kale seedling with three seed leaves, or cotyledons, rather than the usual two.  I had another one show up this year.

When I was planting chard, carrots, mitsuba, beets, and lettuce in the fourth garden bed earlier this week, I discovered a “volunteer” seedling, probably red giant India mustard, that has four seed leaves.

mustard green seedling with four cotyledons

mustard green seedling with four cotyledons

I marked the plant with a stick and will watch how it grows.  The kale seedling from 2014 that had three seed leaves grew normally.

four seed leaves on a mustard green seedling

four seed leaves on a mustard green seedling

Kale and mustard are both members of the cabbage family, as you might guess when you see how similar their seeds and cotyledons are.  I wonder if plants in that family have a higher incidence of extra seed leaves.  I’ve never seen excess cotyledons on my other seedlings, although I’ve read online about them showing up in non-cabbage plants.


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How to Get Garden Gem Tomato Seeds

Last summer, I heard about an interesting new variety of tomato called ‘garden gem’.  I wanted to try these in my garden because they promised great flavor while also being easy to grow, but they aren’t yet available from seed dealers.

The man who developed this new tomato variety, Professor Harry J. Klee of the University of Florida, has made the seeds available to home gardeners.  If you visit his research webpage and make a donation of $10 or more, he will send you packets of seeds for ‘garden gem’ and another interesting new variety, ‘garden treasure’.  I did that and the seeds arrived this week with a letter describing the two varieties.

'garden gem' and 'garden treasure' tomato seeds and letter

‘garden gem’ and ‘garden treasure’ tomato seeds and letter

Now, I need to decide what I will have to exclude from my garden to make space for these new tomato varieties.

Update:  To find out how well these varieties grew in my garden, check out my 2016 Tomato Report post.

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Vegetable, Flower, and Herb Seeds Order

I ordered my seeds today from Pinetree Garden Seeds.  I only ordered eight packets of seeds this year; here is the list:

  • bean, emerite pole
  • carrot, Nantes
  • carrot, Danvers half long
  • chard, bright lights
  • cosmos, sensation mix
  • okra, jambalaya
  • pea, super sugar snap
  • savory, summer

Most of these seeds are varieties that I have already planted.  They grow and produce well in my garden and I’ve run out, so I’m just re-stocking for this year.  Most seeds are viable for several years, so I save mine in the refrigerator and only buy new seeds when I don’t have enough.

In the past, I’ve planted ‘Cajun delight’ okra.  I like it and wanted to get more, but it’s no longer available from Pinetree.  Most seed companies constantly change what they offer, adding new varieties and removing those that don’t sell well.  Since I can’t get the okra variety that I prefer, I’ll try ‘jambalaya’ this year.  It is a short-season variety that they say will do well in northern areas.

I’ve planted ‘Napoli’ carrots before and liked those too.  They’re a type of ‘Nantes’ carrot, so I decided to try the original, heirloom ‘Nantes’ variety this year.  It takes slightly longer until it’s ready to harvest (72 vs. 66 days) but that shouldn’t really matter as carrots do well in cool weather.  I also like the blunt tips on the original variety.

I grew a small variety of cosmos, ‘cosmic yellow’, in a pot a few years ago and it grew very well and attracted butterflies.  I decided to try growing a larger variety of cosmos in a flower bed this year, so I ordered ‘sensation mix’, which should reach four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) tall and produce lots of blossoms that I hope will attract butterflies.

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Hyacinths off to an early start

We had very warm weather through December.  So warm, that several plants have come out of their dormant state prematurely.  In addition to my azalea and lilac bushes that bloomed in September, I saw a flower on my peach tree this fall and one of the ornamental cherry trees in a nearby park was in full bloom in December.

My hyacinths have been similarly confused about the time of year.  They started coming up in December and their shoots are still visible even though we’ve finally received some of the snow and cold weather that are usual for this time of year.

hyacinth shoots, lamium, and snow

Hyacinth shoots, Lamium, and snow

Some of the Lamium maculatum ‘Chequers’ (dead nettle) groundcover plants are visible at the top of the photo; as they are a native, evergreen plant, I’m not worried about them.  I wonder if the hyacinths will be able to bloom this spring however.

One thing I noticed about all the confused plants is that, as far as I know, none of them are native to this area.  While they may not be able to flower this spring, most will survive, according to this article.

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Last Harvest before the Frost

With possible frost predicted for tonight, and even colder temps predicted for tomorrow night, I’ve been busy taking care of cold-sensitive plants.  I’ve moved tender houseplants into the house and my office over the past few days, and today we picked all of the vegetables and herbs that can’t take any frost.

lots of green tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and beans

lots of green tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and beans

We picked all the tomatoes.  Many of the green ones will ripen over the next few weeks, but some will rot.  Peppers of course are perfectly usable when green.  There were a few, small eggplant fruits, at the far right in the big colander in the photo; I don’t know if they are edible.  The pole beans have been producing all fall.  The purple-striped pole beans are the ‘rattlesnake’ variety; the others are of the ‘Kentucky blue’ and ’emerite’ varieties.

In addition to the vegetables in the photo, we also harvested a few carrots to eat.  Since they are protected from frost by being in the ground, carrots of course can stay in the garden through the fall.

We cut off all the marjoram, summer savory, and basil.  The marjoram and savory will be preserved by drying.  The basil will be preserved by chopping the leaves with olive oil in a food processor, keeping the lime and cinnamon basils separate from the sweet basil.

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More About Soil Block Molds

I tried using molds to make soil blocks for starting seeds for the first time this year.  I found that they worked well for the okra and some of the herbs that I planted in them, although a few herbs such as summer savory and marjoram still gave me trouble.

One thing that I need to do differently is to increase the space between the soil blocks so plant roots don’t grow from one block into another.  I also need to plant only one seed per block of large plants such as okra.

I just watched a TV program about starting seeds that included the use of soil blocks.  You can find the episode at growing a greener world.  They gave a lot of useful advice about planting seeds.

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Spring Again?

Although spring is coming in the Southern hemisphere, we are heading into fall (or autumn) here in the North.  A couple of my (usually spring-flowering) shrubs seem to be confused about the time of year however.

Over the past few years, the red-flowered azalea in front of my house has had a few flowers during the summer or fall in addition to the full bloom that occurs in May, which you can see in the second photo from this post.  This year, there are more than a dozen flowers on this bush in September.

red-flowered azalea blooming in fall

red-flowered azalea blooming in fall

As it turns out, there are azaleas that bloom in both spring and fall (Encore™ azaleas, more about them at GardenWeb) but I think my bush is too old to be that variety.

Even stranger, for the first time ever, one of the stems of my big lilac, which also has its big bloom in May (see also this post about lilac pruning), has a few clusters of flowers now.

common lilac blooming in fall

common lilac blooming in fall

Like azaleas, there are re-blooming varieties of lilacs (see these articles in CSMonitor and The Plant Hunter) but, due to its age and size, I’m pretty sure my lilac is the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris).  I should mark the stem that is bearing these flowers so I can check on it next spring.  These fall lilac flowers smell as good as their spring counterparts, but there aren’t enough of them to fill the yard with scent, or at least not enough to overpower the smell of ripening pawpaw fruit.

Why are these plants blooming now?  I can only guess, but perhaps this behavior was induced by the extended hot, dry spell that we had during August and early September.

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Yellow Jacket Problem Solved

We’ve been having a problem with yellow jackets this year.  They’ve built at least two nests in the garden and have attacked us on two different occasions, perhaps when we got too close to the nests or stepped on the landscape timbers the nests were built into.  Don’t confuse yellow jackets with other, much gentler bees and wasps that you might find in your garden.

The yellow jackets haven’t stung me, possibly because I usually wear jeans, long sleeves, and shoes.  The most recent attack on my wife apparently injected bacteria (probably from her skin) into one wound that required a course of antibiotics to clear up.  My daughter was also stung the same evening.

I’ve been planning to kill the yellow jackets and researching methods.  A friend advised placing Sevin™ dust (carbaryl) around the nest entrance and inside it if possible using something like a turkey baster.  I’m not too keen to try this however as it is likely to make the yellow jackets attack me.

Last weekend, when we were picking vegetables, I discovered that the problem had been solved for me.

hole where yellow jacket nest was dug out of the garden bed

hole where yellow jacket nest was dug out of the garden bed

Some animals find yellow jacket larvae and pupae quite tasty.  I suspect my friendly insectivore was a skunk; I know we have skunks in the neighborhood.  If it had been a bear, the nearby blackberries would have gotten some attention too.

The entrance to the nest was in the crack between the top landscape timber and the one beneath it; I assume the nest was in the middle of the excavated area.  I could see only one adult yellow jacket and part of the nest remaining (bottom right in the photo above).

closeup of adult yellow jacket and remains of the nest

closeup of adult yellow jacket and remains of the nest

Now that’s pest control I can live with.

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Weekend Harvest

It rained Thursday, we were busy Friday, and it rained again Saturday, so there was a lot of produce waiting for us in the garden today.

tomatoes, blackberries, peppers, eggplant, okra, and beans

tomatoes, blackberries, peppers, eggplant, okra, and beans

The two small bowls at the front contain ‘nectar’ cherry tomatoes and blackberries.  In the large bowl on the left there is an assortment of tomatoes; the largest one is ‘Polish linguisa’ and the striped tomato next to it is ‘speckled Roman’.

The large bowl on the right contains several ‘Takiis ace’ bell peppers that are turning red, some ‘yellow banana’ peppers that have turned orange, several jalapeno peppers that have turned red, a few eggplant (purple), and two okra.  You don’t have to let the peppers turn color, but as they are produced faster than we can eat them, we leave the fruits on the plants until we need them.

The bag at the back contains pole beans from the three varieties we planted, ‘Kentucky blue’, ’emerite’, and ‘rattlesnake’.

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White Caterpillars Eating My Rudbeckia

Yesterday, I spotted two large, white caterpillars dining on a Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ (Black Eyed Susan) that I planted this summer.

caterpillar with long, white hairs on underside of Rudbeckia leaf

caterpillar with long, white hairs on underside of Rudbeckia leaf

I found a photo of what appears to be the same insect at BugGuide that is said to feed on Rudbeckia.  It’s a Spilosoma virginica, the Virginian Tiger Moth.  The caterpillars are also known as the yellow woolly bear and they range from white to yellow to light brown in color.  The adult moths have white wings with small, black markings and striped, white, yellow, and black bodies.

another view of the caterpillar

another view of the caterpillar

I’m going to leave these caterpillars alone.  They appear to be almost fully grown, and they don’t seem to have caused my Rudbeckia much harm.  As was true in 1892, “Although so common an insect, it seldom does sufficient injury to warrant our taking decided action towards fighting it.”

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