Blooming Cactus

I have an enormous prickly pear cactus that lives in a corner of my office, where it’s mostly out of the way and less likely to injure me.  I’ve blogged about this cactus previously, in “I’ve got blisters on my cactus!” and “Cactus Shoot”.  I’ve had this cactus, or its parent plants, for decades.

It’s easy to start a new plant by sticking one of the fleshy, green pads into soil, and I can’t remember how many times I’ve done that.  If the cactus gets too tall, starts flopping over, or the oldest stems dry up and look ugly, I decide it’s time to start over and discard the old plant.  I seal the old cactus parts inside a box so it’s unlikely that someone will be injured by them.

Over the years, the cactus (or one of its predecessors) has bloomed four or five times that I can remember.  It usually waits until I’m out of town, so when I return all I see are spent flowers.  This time, I actually was able to see the flowers.

prickly pear cactus flower

prickly pear cactus flower

The cactus produced three yellow flowers.  The flowers are about six cm (a little over two inches) across.  They lasted only a couple of days each, and opened consecutively.  In the photo, the second flower is open and the spent bloom from the first flower is at the upper left.

You can read more about prickly pear cactus species at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower CenterDesertUSA, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (search for the genus name, “Opuntia”), or the University of Florida.

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Weekend Harvest

We just picked some vegetables and fruit from our garden.  Botanically, I guess they’re all classified as fruit as they all contain seeds.

eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, and blackberries

eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, and blackberries

The pole beans (‘Kentucky blue’ and ’emerite’ varieties) were producing heavily in July, but the hot, dry weather seems to have slowed them as they have had fewer blossoms lately.  It has cooled a little now that we’re in August and I expect they will come back.

I picked a few tomatoes and eggplant last week, but now these hot weather crops are taking off.  So far, we have ripe tomatoes from cherry tomato ‘nectar’ and the new ‘garden gem’ variety.  The eggplant, ‘ichiban’ , are the only type I have planted the past few years.  The long, slender fruit seem more tender than other varieties.

These are the first fruit we have harvested from our thornless blackberry brambles this year, although birds found a few ripe blackberries before we did.

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Volunteer Flower

While checking the garden tonight, we discovered an unexpected flower growing where the ‘hakurei’ turnips and cabbage greens were planted.  Those vegetables are mostly finished for the year.  The remaining cabbage greens have quit producing leaves and are flowering, as I described in this post and this one.

petunia flower growing in the cabbage family garden bed

petunia flower growing in the cabbage family garden bed

That’s dill leaves that you see in front of the petunia; like many herbs, dill spreads readily and comes up throughout the garden.

I’ve had ‘volunteer’ petunias come up before (see this post), in a pot where they had previously been planted, but I’ve no idea how the seed made its way into the vegetable garden.  The flower looks the same, so the seed probably did come from my petunias.

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First Beans

We picked the first pole beans of the season tonight.  We got 618 grams (nearly 1.4 lb.), mostly of the ’emerite’ variety, which I have found in the past grow faster and produce earlier than ‘Kentucky blue’, my old standby.

The season's first green beans came to 618 grams.

The season’s first green beans came to 618 grams.

This year, I planted four feet (1.3 m) each of ‘Kentucky blue’ and ’emerite’ pole beans along one side of my six feet (2 m) tall trellis.  I planted ‘super sugar snap’ peas on the other side of the trellis as usual; they are nearly done producing.  The pea vines don’t quite make it to the top of the trellis, but the pole beans are already trying to climb higher.

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Shades of Green

The cabbage family plants in garden bed number three (Chinese (napa) cabbage, pak choi, radish, kale, turnip, and assorted greens) come in many different shades of green, plus the purple of one variety of pak choi and the red of mustard.

assorted cabbage family plants

assorted cabbage family plants

In the photo, the napa and pak choi cabbages and the kale are at the far end.  Radish ‘cherry belle’ is interplanted with the cabbages.  We won’t get many radishes or daikon this year because the hot weather this spring caused them to “bolt” or make flowers and seeds rather than roots, a problem I’ve posted about before.  I already pulled out most of the daikon.

At the near end, I planted five rows of vegetables, in order from the left:  mizuna; fun jen pai tsai (which is also starting to bloom) and wasabina; komatsuna and daikon; Japanese turnips; and mibuna and red giant Indian mustard.  The two varieties in the last row didn’t germinate well.  In the case of the mustard, that really doesn’t matter as I have “volunteer” mustard coming up all over the garden anyway.  Komatsuna also re-seeds itself although not as freely as the mustard.

I have the best luck with fun jen pai tsai, mizuna, komatsuna, and the mustard.  The cabbages and kale also usually grow well.  One thing to watch out for with the napa type cabbages is slug attacks; they seem to prefer these plants over everything else.

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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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