- Author: Erin Mahaney
Last fall I wrote in this blog about one of my favorite houseplants, Streptocarpus, which I recommended as “an easy, colorful, houseplant to grow.” Immediately after writing that column, I somehow killed almost every one of them in my house. Plus a few African violets.
What happened?! At this point, I'm not really sure, but I have a few theories. It all started after that fateful column, when – in writing that column – I learned that I had planted my Streptocarpus in heavier soil than they ought to be in. Streptocarpus belong to the Gesneriad family, which also includes African violets and Gloxinias, and they prefer rich, well-drained soil. So I decided to replant my Streptocarpus, plus a few African violets that had outgrown their pots, in soil that approximated the conditions of their native home. That was my first mistake – DON'T MESS WITH A HAPPY PLANT.
I attempted to provide what I thought would be better soil conditions by buying African violet soil and throwing in a few amendments. But all that was available in the local store was Miracle-Gro African violet potting mix, which describes itself as “feeding” plants for up to six months. I was concerned about the effects of additional, and perhaps unnecessary, nutrients on a transplanted plant, but went ahead and bought it. (Perhaps I should have been more cautious in light of potting mix's advertising – to the contrary, as we learned in our Master Gardener classes, we do not “feed” plants with plant food, but instead we fertilize them.) That was my second mistake – DON'T SETTLE WHEN IT COMES TO SOIL.
On the positive side, I used fresh, presumably sterilized, soil, and new, well-scrubbed, pots. Even so, after a few weeks, I noticed that my plants were drooping. The leaves were dull and limp, and some of the plants' stems were mushy. Over the next few months, the plants declined until I finally resigned myself to the fact that they would not recover and threw them out. This was especially disappointing because I generally have found African violets and Streptocarpus easy to grow and willing to take a measure of neglect.
I then tried to figure out what went wrong. One of the most common causes of houseplant death is overwatering. I have never before had this problem with my plants because I usually forget to water them until they are gasping for water and trying to drag themselves out of their pots looking for water. In retrospect, it is possible that, because I wasn't used to the new soil mixture, I thought that it was drier than it was (sometimes fresh potting soil isn't as permeable to water) and overwatered the plants. Or maybe I underwatered them. In my research after the mass demise, the symptoms of under- and over-watering can be similar (brown and wilting leaves), which isn't terribly helpful. That was my third mistake – DETERMINE IF YOU ARE OVER- OR UNDER-WATERING YOUR PLANTS BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.
Too much fertilizer also can result in wilting, drooping, foliage. Perhaps the potting mix with its plant “food” was too strong for my transplants.
If I overwatered my plants, then they would have been more susceptible to pests and fungal pathogens, such as Pythium and other species. I never saw any pests, but I did notice that the stems turned mushy on some of the plants. This suggests that the plants suffered from a common fungal disease, crown and root rot, which causes the crown, stem, and roots of the plant to turn soft and mushy. This problem can arise when plants are watered excessively, have poor drainage, or are planted too deeply. It can be prevented by using sterilized potting soil mixes and clean containers, which I did.
I will never be entirely sure about what killed my plants. I had had them for several years, and they thrived and survived transplanting until this one last time. I am inclined to think that the problem was either overwatering or the potting soil, or some combination, that led to crown and root rot. Maybe. To be on the safe side and avoid further problems, I threw out the potting soil (luckily, it was a small bag) and the pots.
While it has been disappointing lose a number of my favorite houseplants, the silver lining is that I will get to shop for new ones!
- Author: JoEllen P Myslik
Spring is the time when many of us think about planting tomatoes. I for one am always fascinated with the tomato- sprouting process when I've started them from seeds myself. But what I was completely mystified by a few weeks ago was discovering sprouts inside some tomatoes I had purchased from my local produce market. I had seen this a time or two before in store-bought tomatoes (never my own homegrown ones) and at the time determined I had just kept them around too long and they were overripe. That was probably true with my previous experiences, but this time, I knew I had purchased these tomatoes less than a week prior. Each time the tomatoes were of the on-the-vine variety.
When I saw these sprouts in the past, I scolded myself for not consuming my tomatoes fast enough, but gave them a second life in my compost bin. This time, I really really wanted to have the tomatoes with my breakfast, so I did a taste-test and although they didn't taste awesome, I deemed them edible enough to consume. However, a few hours later I regretted that decision since I experienced very similar symptoms to food poisoning. Although my symptoms did not last as long as other times when I have experienced food poisoning, it was still not the least bit fun.
I wasn't completely sure that the tomatoes were the culprit, so I did some investigation online and found several articles about tomatoes that had begun sprouting on the inside, otherwise known as vivipary. Vivipary is Latin for live birth and is the term for plants that begin growing while still inside or attached to the mother plant. According to an article on the University of Connecticut College of Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension site, it is common in certain varieties of tomatoes, peppers, apple, pears, and some citrus. Vivipary happens when the hormone controlling the seed dormancy is exhausted or runs out, letting the seed grow in the moist environment inside the fruit.
Apparently I had unknowingly created the perfect environment in my kitchen and had three tiny greenhouses sprouting tomatoes right on my counter. And these sprouts were about to pop right through the skin of the tomato, so I could have taken them out to my garden and planted them.
But the mystery remained … were these sprouts what caused me to become ill? I didn't find much information to support that theory, but since there were at least a few stories of these sprouts being potentially toxic and some people becoming ill, then it must be true, right? Well, since I couldn't connect my illness with anything else I ate, and since my dining companion did not become ill after we ate exactly the same meal except for the tomatoes, then I have concluded that the sprouts are the culprit. I have vowed to never let my future tomatoes get too ripe, and if they do, never to let sproutlings cross my lips again. Tomato Consumers Beware!
- Author: Jenni Dodini
So, I get this email looking for a Master Gardener to speak about spring colors. I check the date, thinking, "I can do this. Something that I actually know about!" I check my calendar. MAN!!! I am working that day. What was I thinking?! I haven't gotten into the habit of going to the MG calendar before accepting shifts at work --- YET.
So, inspiration won't leave me alone and I thought that I could share some of the spring colors from my yard. The daffodils are pretty much spent along with the crocus. The freesias are on the way out, but still smell heavenly, and the roses, they are a bit confused and doing their thing already. The bearded irises are just starting to make me smile.
Then, if you want some variety, I highly recommend going for a hike. The wild stuff is simply spectacular! We hiked and stopped I don't know how many times just to appreciate Mother Nature's work. I had to ask what many things were. Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) was open all over the place. Having never seen it before, I was quite taken. Pictures were taken, but due to the wind that day, they were pretty blurry. (A task for another hike, and blog.) Having to look it up, I learned that it is a member of the Iridaceae family. An iris! It likes zones 4 - 9, but was growing like crazy in the Concord open space at Lime Ridge.
If there is an actual point here somewhere, I will say two points, spring has sprung all around us. All we have to do is look around. Then of course, decide what we want to see in our own space next spring and write a note to self, put it on the calendar for September, and make a plan. Then, point #2, go for a hike and admire the work of the ultimate Master Gardener, Mother Nature.
- Author: Betty Homer
'I am a self-described lazy gardener who is always looking for edible plants which require little work but yield a delicious and fruitful harvest. Beauty is a welcomed bonus. One such variety of plant that I am growing is the artichoke, which grows quite well in Solano County, even though artichokes are usually found growing close to the coast (e.g., Monterey County). I currently grow 4 varieties of artichokes—the prolific 'Green Globe' which is commonly found in supermarkets, a beautiful, new-ish purplish variety called 'Opera', a smaller, Italian variety dating back hundreds of years known as 'Violetta Precoce', and the one that is the subject of this blog entry--Artichoke 'Carciofo Romanesco' aka the Artichoke of Rome.
I first became intrigued with 'Carciofo Romanesco' after I had learned that it had been in cultivation since the year 1400. It does not get much more sustainable than that. Think--the plant that could be in your garden, is the same one that someone else was cultivating approximately 615 years ago and that both of you are tasting the fruit fo the exact same plant! Remarkable--talk about living history.
From a practical standpoint, 'Carciofo Romanesco' is great in that unlike other varieties of artichokes (e.g., the other three types I grow) 'Carciofo Romanesco' is thorn-free. It is equally delicious as other artichokes and contains a large, nutty flavored “heart” that is "fuzz-free." Also, like other artichokes, 'Carciofo Romanesco' is a perennial which comes back each year to produce a reliable harvest of food.
'Carciofo Romanesco' is also handsome plant to look at, with silverish-green leaves and large globe-like buds streaked with purple. It is a plant that can be incorporated into flower beds to provide as a backdrop or to be at the center of attention. Also, the artichoke bud, which is the flower of the plant, is a huge attraction for our beleaguered bee population which can always use more help.
Artichokes are easy plants to grow in Solano County, but beware they do get big. Really big. As such, you should set aside a space where you have at least 3' in circumference, in an unsheltered, sunny spot with rich soil. Once the plant is established (beware that slugs and snails love devouring young artichoke plants--just pick them off), like other artichokes, 'Carciofo Romanesco' requires little up-keep.
For places to purchase 'Carciofo Romanesco', your best bet may be looking on-line for a source. Locally, I purchased my 'Carciofo Romanesco' from Annie's Annuals in Richmond, California.
- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
Walking out into the yard this morning was a sensual experience. The 'Eureka' lemon is dropping blossom petals like rain and the perfume wafts across the yard on a gentle breeze. The lilac (Syringa) adds its perfume and graceful blossoms, the floribunda roses (Rosa 'Iceberg') are budding, the Gerber daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) are smiling happily at me and the Freesias bow down as I pass.
The impetus for my walk this morning was to check those roses, which have attracted a bumper crop of aphids. I can't quite hear their munching and sucking, but I can see that they are at work trying to reshape my nascent blossoms. I wanted to see if my friends the lady beetles/lady bugs (family Coccinellidae) had arrived to begin their work. They have not. But I know that within the week they should be making their appearance along with the hover flies/syrphid flies (order Diptera) and perhaps a few green lacewings (Chrysoperla rufilabris), which, by the way, I have already seen inside the house.
All of the aforementioned critters will be delighted to dine on my aphids and yours. Can you recognize them all? I'm sure you know the lady beetles with their red spotted backs, but perhaps you haven't met the hover flies. They can look a bit like little bees with the yellow, black or white bands on their bodies. They are not bees, however, and they do not sting. They dart quickly from flower to flower, hovering in between like little helicopters, even at times flying backwards--one of only a few insects able to do so. The eggs they lay on around your flowers will become little maggots (green, yellow, brown, white or orange) that rise up on their hind legs to catch and eat aphids, mealybugs and others. And right along with them, both the green lacewings and the brown lacewings also lay tiny silken eggs that in their larval stage will feast on aphids. The lacewings have a very slender body about half-an-inch in length. Their transparent wings look like they might belong to a fairy. All these are very good workers to have in your garden!
There is one crew that is already madly at work at my house. That was the music I heard this morning. As mentioned, the lemon tree is in full production, and a critical part of that process is handled by the bees. They are swooping around, investigating every branch, crawling into open blossoms to sip the nectar and retrieve the pollen, which they will share with the other flowers into which they crawl doing their pollination dance. Because of them I have a tree full of lemons ripening for my lemonade, lemon water and lemon pies. Lovely.
In conclusion, I remind us all that these beneficial insects need our cooperation to continue in their work. They clean up our garden and make it possible for us to enjoy food crops that without their pollination would never bear fruit. Please include in your garden a little source of fresh water and avoid the use of pesticides. In my garden I have found that Nature balances everything out and a few misshapen roses are a small price to pay for the knowledge that the yard is clean and chemical-free for all to enjoy.