- Author: Amy Haug
When my son was born some 14 years ago, I was given a cactus. It is an Echinopsis. This cactus originated in South America and now is grown worldwide. I have had it in my kitchen window all these years and once a year it blooms. The bloom seems appear overnight and only lasts one day. The flowers can be 3 inches in diameter or larger and feature a spiny floral tube. They can come in many beautiful colors, like electric pink, deep scarlet, and even bright yellow. (Mine is pink and white).
- Author: Kathy Low
If you're a fan of persimmons (Diospyros kaki), a USDA Agricultural Research Service project funded with a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture titled “Enhancing the Marketability of California Persimmons” will be of interest to you. The project seeks to increase the profitability of California persimmons by recommending cultivars preferred by consumers, by evaluating the flavor, nutrient and vitamin content of 55 cultivars, and by developing protocols to rapidly dry persimmons.
Dr. Rebecca Milczarek, one of the project co-investigators on the project discussed the status of project at the Statewide Master Food Preserver Conference held in June. The project began with the collection of samples from 55 cultivars. The cultivars included astringent, non-astringent, and pollination-variant phenotypes.
Pollination-variant persimmon trees can produce both astringent and non-astringent tasting persimmons. Those blossoms on the tree not pollinated in the spring produce astringent persimmons with no seeds. Those blossoms that are pollinated produce non-astringent persimmons with seeds. “Chocolate persimmons” and “Coffee Cake persimmons” are examples of pollination-variant cultivars.
The cultivar samples are being collected and tested over a two year period. The samples are from four sources. Those sources are the National Clonal Germplasm Repository, L.E. Cooke Co. (Visalia, CA), Oak Acre Farms (Live Oak, CA), and O. Bertolero (Santa Rosa, CA).
Under the project, the persimmon cultivars (both fresh and dried) will undergo a chemical analysis of their anti-oxidant, tannin content, brix, TTA, pH, sugars, vitamin C, and organic acids. The texture of the dried persimmons will also be evaluated. And the dried persimmons will undergo several consumer tests.
Dehydration methods used in the project included traditional Hoshigaki style open air drying the whole persimmons, and hot air drying. In addition, another preservation method included was freezing the pulp.
More information on the project can be found at www.ars.usda.gov/PersimmonCDFA2014project.html
- Author: Lanie Keystone
No matter how many years I “dig in the dirt” and pop a seed into the ground, the wonder of an entire plant contained in one tiny vessel--with the possibility of it bursting into life as a full, complete and living plant-- is still magical and wondrous.
We've all had our share of “experiments” when sticking a tiny seed in a pot or in the ground and hoping for the best. But, Nancy Bubel, in her authoritative book, The New Seed Starters Handbook (1988), helps us take all the guess work out of such a “magic trick”.
Bubel begins by making a convincing case for planting seeds rather than seedlings or plants. Her reasoning includes such statements as-- planting seeds gives us: 1) earlier harvests; 2) greater plant varieties; 3) stronger seedlings; 4) healthier seedlings; 5) greater cost savings; and 6) wonderful sense of satisfaction and enjoyment.
The book takes us in detailed, in-depth steps from starting seeds indoors to moving plants outdoors. She is careful to take into consideration specific techniques and special situations and annotated with helpful checklists for each task. My favorite section, seeking out, collecting and saving seeds, is a wonderful highlight. Other topics covered are: soils and other mediums, mapping out gardens, insect and animal pests, cold frames and hot-beds, starting wildflowers, trees and shrubs from seeds, care of young transplants, and direct seeding. One of the most delightful sections is on “the young seed planter”—surefire advice for getting kids “hooked” on planting and caring for seeds. They all are Jacks and Jacquelyns planting the magic beanstalk!
It's a simple, easy to follow volume, much like a well-used cookbook. In fact, Bubel invites us to dog-ear pages, mark up favorite passages and get dirt smudges all over! The black and white photographs, drawings and illustrations add to understanding the how, when, why and what of seed planting. And if that isn't enough, Bubel concludes her informative book with an “encyclopedia” section listing more than 200 plants—including vegetables, fruits, garden flowers, wildflowers, herbs, trees and shrubs. Here she gives specific details about how to start each plant successfully from seed. So, what are we waiting for? Let's get out there and plant some “magic”!
- Author: Betsy Buxton
This interesting puzzle came as usual from the Vallejo Farmers' Market. An older couple came by with questions about a crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indicia or L. hybrid) that was planted by a landscaping company in their front yard several years ago. Actually, there are 2 of these bushes/trees planted there and neither one has ever bloomed! What could possibly be the matter with them and what can be done?
As usual, we started at the beginning: the who, what, where, and how. As insulting as it sounds, beginning by asking if the plants in question were actually crape myrtles, since plants even in nurseries are mislabeled or put in with other “like looking” plants as this happens –a lot. This is why it's so important to make sure that any plant you purchase has some form of identification: a stick in the pot, an attached hang tag, or a can label, so that later you can go back to the id and verify you planted the desired plant or tree. In this instance, there was no id of any sort to be had; on the planting plan, the variety of tree wasn't listed as to variety, just “crape myrtle”.
Then came the “20 questions”: where are these trees planted, sun or shade, or both; how often are they watered; have they been fertilized and with what; are they in a lawn area or with grass right up to the trunk; if you pruned them, when and how much; and other questions that occur to the booth members. Believe me, these questions are very important as to the information we give out. Without answers, we at the booth can merely be tossing out ideas blindly! Being told that the trees are in the sun, watered 4 times a week, yes, but with an unknown fertilizer, no lawn or grass, and yes, “he pruned them”, the cloudy crystal ball became just a little clearer. We suggested less water, no fertilizer for awhile, and no pruning, and sent the couple on their way.
Looking up crape myrtle care in books and Internet, I later found that we were mostly on the right track and a little off at the same time.
Here are some of the mistakes we make with our crape myrtles:
1. Pruning too late. If no flowers appear, it can be because the tree was pruned late in the season, mistakenly removing the new wood which causes the buds for the flowers to never really develop. Never prune a crape myrtle BEFORE it blooms. Having said that, just when do crape myrtles bloom? They usually bloom after other flowering trees and are usually one of the last flowering trees to bloom. My own crape myrtle just went into bloom last week; I've been admiring others I see in Vacaville and Vallejo for awhile, but this one takes its own time coming into bloom. If you have an older crape myrtle that doesn't bloom the way YOU think it should, wait until after crape myrtle bloom time and encourage it to bloom by PRUNING IT CAREFULLY and LIGHTLY.
If you trim away any dead branches that are inside the tree, this allows more sunshine and air to reach the interior. Don't just hack away; you can also enhance the look of the tree carefully as you prune.
2. No blooms to lack of sun. Not enough sunshine will curtail blooms on a crape myrtle. Being in a place where the tree does not get significant sunshine is a recipe for a non blooming tree. Make sure that the tree is not planted in an under-story position as the shade from larger trees and shrubs will block the needed sunshine to the tree. Full sun is a blooming crape myrtle's best friend.
3. Fertilizer. If that crape myrtle is getting plenty of sunshine and still not blooming, it could be a lack of phosphorus. Checking the soil around the tree may prove this out. OR too much nitrogen may be the problem; both of these situations cause no blooms. Heavily fertilized flower beds and lawns may have too much nitrogen which promotes leaves but fails to make crape myrtles bloom. If a lack of phosphorus is the problem, adding bone meal around the tree will add the needed phosphorus over time to the soil.
Checking all of these items should make your crape myrtle and you a happy gardener!
- Author: Launa Herrmann
Despite summer's overbearing heat and annoying insects, I enjoy harvesting a non-stop crop of cucumbers and a scant picking of cherry tomatoes. And I relish an occasional whiff of sweet, heavy sun-drenched soil. There's just something familiar and predictable about padding outside in ones slippers to pluck fresh veggies for a salad. As far back as I can remember someone in my family always had a vegetable plot. Grandma shelled her own fresh backyard grown peas. My uncle raised corn on acres of Nebraska river bottom. Mother grew the biggest reddest tomatoes to slice atop a fried egg sandwich. If they were still alive, I can only imagine their surprise at learning that recent crop gluts have created new markets for so many vegetables.
Do you know that corn and soybeans are now added to IKEA mattresses, Danone yogurt cups and Ford Motor Company seat cushions? Even Legos is considering adding grain to its little plastic bricks. Some Adidas sneakers are made with corn. An Illinois chemical company, trying to skirt the volatility of oil prices, is developing a flexible soy-made plastic for use in an adhesive for diapers, cardboard and road-paving material. For further details, check out the May 15, 2017 article in Wall Street Journal on how crop gluts affect harvests, which can be viewed online at https://www.wsj.com/articles/sneakers-made-from-corn-seat-cushions-from-soybeans-1494813781.
And to top off the list of changes is the use of shipping containers to grow vegetables. These mobile hydroponic farms featuring LED lamps produce lettuce, strawberries, herbs and more without the risk of E.coli. Intriguing, isn't it? You can view a recent article here online at http://www.dailyrepublic.com/business/this-shipping-container-farm-could-someday-solve-the-food-desert-problem/.