- Author: Kathy M Gunther
Trailing African violets are some of the most interesting violets in my collection. A trailing African violet is one that has more than one crown. Most violets are symmetrical as they grown from one center crown, whereas the trailing varieties have several crowns. In order for one to place a trailing violet in an African violet show, it must have a minimum of 3 crowns.
Trailers come in all sizes: standard, miniature, semi-miniature according to their leaf size. I have one that is a micro-miniature and will probably never need bigger than a 2” pot. I also have a standard trailer that is overflowing a 7”x9” bonsai pot!
If you get a chance to acquire a trailing violet, do it! You won't be disappointed!
- Author: Alex Russell
Everyone says you can't plant seeds from hybrid tomatoes, squash or any of the other tasty foods we grow at home. It's also well-known that no one is the boss of us in our own gardens.
Actually, planting the seeds of hybrids is one of the easiest ways to start plant breeding at home. This type of plant breeding is called “dehybridization,” which is the process of growing out successive generations of a hybrid plant with the ultimate goal of producing an open-pollinated version that's as similar as possible to the hybrid.
Last summer I planted ‘Cube of Butter' hybrid yellow summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) and it more than lived up to its name. This superior summer squash is widely acclaimed as the tastiest of all summer squash. In my garden, the plants were hardy, the flavor was incredible and the productivity left me almost completely sick of eating squash. By July, a few fruits that got completely away from me had plumped into hard-shelled clubs.
I first read about dehybridizing in Carol Deppe's book Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, and this seemed a perfect opportunity to try it. I have nothing against buying a $4 pack of seeds every year to enjoy this squash, but I'm also interested in saving seeds and trying my hand at vegetable breeding. So I carried in those past-due squash and dug out all the seeds I would need.
Open-pollinated (OP) Versus Hybrids (F1)
First, a few definitions.
Open-pollinated (OP) varieties are your typical heirlooms and really any plant that will reproduce by seed mostly true-to-type, meaning they will closely resemble the parent plants. These are varieties that are planted together and allowed to cross pollinate among themselves, either through self-pollination like beans and tomatoes or cross pollination like squash and corn.
Hybrids are very different. A hybrid is an intentional cross-pollination of two different inbred varieties. The result is a F1 (first-generation) hybrid. Any seed labeled F1, it's a hybrid. Hybrids are much more predictably uniform than open-pollinated varieties. There's also something special about a commercial hybrid, usually in terms of productivity or disease resistance. Because the plants don't reproduce true-to-type from seed, you'll have to buy new seed every year.
Dehybridizing starts with saving seeds from F1 hybrid plants. You grow out a hybrid variety, save the seeds and plant them. That second generation is the F2, and you don't really know what any individual plant will be. There is a chance you'll get something similar to the F1, but what will most likely happen is that the plants will resemble either parent lines of the F1 which could be very different.
First Steps to a Dehybridized Squash
In February I started nine seeds in pots in my ready-made, plastic bin cold frame. In late March I planted them out in the garden. Within two weeks, armies of earwigs ate every single one down to seed leaves.
This should not have been a surprise. I keep the garden beds under deep alfalfa mulch year-round, which is great for soil health but also incredibly effective for cultivating tens of thousands of earwigs every spring.
The demolished squash seedlings didn't all completely shrivel, so I didn't pull them out. It was the kind of destruction that sets a project back a year. I spread a few shakes of iron phosphate and spinosad bait, which is labeled for organic gardening, hoping to clear out the earwigs before planting melon starts.
Over the next three weeks, there came a slow flush of new leaves and stems on first two then three destroyed squash plants. In late April I pulled the others out and watched my three survivors unfurl. By early May it was impossible to tell anything at all bad had ever happened to them.
One thing I didn't count on is the size of these plants. A summer squash plant will take up 4 feet of space. That's a lot of space in any garden. In my initial, and characteristically optimistic, planting I spaced the original nine seedlings a foot apart. In May, the root systems reached past the furthest leaves. Next year I'll be sure to give every plant room so it doesn't outcompete and shade everything nearby.
It Gets Weird
Cube of Butter is a bright yellow squash with incredible flavor. If you cut it, there is a tinge of green on the inside. Cook this squash in olive oil because it doesn't need a bit of butter to taste great. I was expecting something similar to the F1 fruit. That's not what I got.
While one of the three plants is producing a completely light green squash, the other two have been producing fruits that are half green and half yellow. In a little searching online I found only one variety of squash that comes out bi-colored like this. It's called ‘Zephyr,' a well-appreciated F1 hybrid.
None of the squash are coming out all-yellow. If all nine original plants had survived, maybe I would see more variation in fruit color that I don't with just three plants. Maybe I lost a plant that would have produced all-yellow fruit.
So far, I have cooked and eaten the bi-colored fruits. The taste was good, but not quite butter in squash form.
So will I save and replant seeds from these bi-colored F2 fruits? Sure. I just read something from Carol Deppe where she recommends planting seeds from all the F2 plants before choosing what to save with the intention of keeping only seed from plants with the qualities you want. And besides, Seed Savers Exchange recommends saving seed from five to ten plants to maintain a variety. I'll plant more of the F1s next year.
The taste is fine, and there is some novelty in a bi-colored summer squash, something I never expect to see in the grocery store. It's still a month or two until I'll want to pull the plants. Let's see how tired I get of eating squash.
- Author: Brenda Altman
Today the day's sunshine is close to its maximum, it's solstice time. When the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer 23.5 degrees north latitude, the axis of the earth is tilted to its maximum so the northern hemisphere gets its maximum number of daylight hours. Daylight hours are getting longest. The rhythm of the sun, the solar day drives circadian rhythms.
At Summer solstice in the northern polar region there is less intensity of solar radiation but twenty-four hours of light. At the pole you could take a picture of the sun making a round trip across the sky at, you guessed it, 23.5 degrees in the sky from the horizon. Solar radiation is not as intense there as it is at the tropic of Cancer, but there is 24 hours of sunlight.
I lived in Alaska for a number of years and witnessed this incredible phenomenon at Prudhoe Bay Alaska, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle, 77. 2269 degrees north latitude in July. The sun appeared to circle the sky like it was 10:00 a.m. all day!
It was hard to get any sleep. I had all this energy. It's interesting, to note, even in Anchorage 850 miles south of Prudhoe Bay, in the summer you can fall asleep at 8:00 p.m. take a short nap for an hour wake up refreshed and panic because it looks like you're late for work because your watch says 9 o'clock. I've been there, the joke was on me!
All living things have internal biological clocks called circadian rhythms. There rhythms fluctuate with the seasons. That's why you have more energy in the summer, your circadian clock has made changes to the sun's rhythm. A disruption in latitude or longitude can have serious effects on ones circadian clock.
In the spring, plants respond to the sunlight and warmth of solar radiation by releasing hormones to sprout and seed. In their nest, insects respond to their circadian clocks by hatching and looking for food. Hopefully the plants and pollinators clocks will coincide and they can reproduce and thrive. As described above, humans can have their circadian clocks disrupted by moving across several latitude or longitude lines in a short time period. We get up at the wrong time, we're hungry, we're wide awake at night when all the stores are closed etc.… A catastrophic event such as a prolonged overcast of the sun from wildfire smoke can have plants opening up their stomata at the wrong time. The Circadian clock will tell a plant its daytime, and to maximize photosynthesis. It will waste precious energy stores not produce enough food and perhaps even die. 65 million years ago circadian rhythms were totally disrupted when an asteroid hit the earth at Chicxulub covering the sky with dust. Plants died because they could not photosynthesize and all the dinosaurs died off it was the end of the Cretaceous period.
Even a minor disruption like an solar eclipse can disrupt a circadian clock.
Another way you can disrupt the circadian clock is temperature. The circadian clocks in plants can be disruptive with temperature changes. We as gardeners know this and use this to our advantage using green houses, grow lights and warming beds to push plants off their circadian cycles and bud earlier than they normally would in the environment outdoors. In other words, we move the sun and its radiation to them rather than the other way, when we travel across longitude or latitude lines.
Climate change also changes the temperature and disrupts circadian plant and insect rhythms because the changes are subtle, we may not even notice them. The plants may sprout earlier because it's warm but there is not enough solar radiation to sustain its early growing stage. Insects emerge only to find the plants past their pollination stage.
Dr. Pamela Menegazzi, Department of Neurobiology and Genetics of the University of Wurburg, writes. “Circadian clocks with periodicity of about 24 hours enable animals to adapt to the day and night cycles. However, if these clocks are too rigid, this could be a disadvantage when adapting to weakly rhythmic environments like the polar regions.”
Diversity within the plant and insect worlds could provide organisms that could adapt to changing environmental factors that affect circadian rhythms.
As gardeners we are on the front lines of climate change and circadian rhythms. Observe which plants are thriving are the pollinators present? Provide diverse plants for all kinds of pollinators. Observe which crops do well in the warmer conditions and which do not. All this is vital information we can give to scientists and to each other so we can live well and thrive.
University of Wurzburg. “What drives circadian rhythms at the poles?” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 November 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191104141656.htm.
- Author: Mike Gunther
Our green hills are gone
Replaced with dry yellow grasses
Up to us to prevent fires
- Author: Lanie Keystone
For years, I have been buying flowers with Peruvian lilies in the bouquet because those beautiful “lilies” last and last for at least two weeks. I have longed to grow them myself and have coveted any neighbor who has the good fortune to grow them in their own front yards. Alas, I've never grown any myself…until now! Two months ago, my husband and I moved to wonderful Dixon—and low and behold, when we walked up the front walk of our new home, there they were—exquisite, pink Peruvian lilies—right in my own front yard!
After my initial excitement of being greeted by these happy flowers, I decided to do a little research to make sure I keep them growing and thriving. Peruvian “lilies” are also known as Lily of the Incas or Princess Lilly. They are of the Alstroemeria genus, are not actually true lilies at all. But, because their blooms extend up from clustered spear-like foliage, they resemble lilies in many ways. Natives of South America, (Argentina and Chile), they come in the most vivid shades of yellow, orange, pink, red, white, and purple and seem to be sun-kissed with distinctive warm brown “freckles”. Besides being elegant and long lasting in bouquets, they make wonderful border plants, growing 1-3 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide. Typically, Peruvian lilies bloom in the summer. However, with our warmer than average spring, our little guys are blooming their gorgeous funnel heads off right now in early May. They are tubers which should be planted in the spring after the last frost. Moderately fast growing, they often bloom in the first year. However, if planted as bare root, they bloom in the second year. Planted in full to partial sun in rich, well-drained acidic soil is the key to success.
Peruvian lilies are definitely “pass-along” plants—growing strongly enough to dig up the tubers and pass them along to all who love them. In their native South American habitat, they grow profusely in large, spreading colonies. If planted in favorable conditions and tended well, they will grow vigorously anywhere in Zone 7-10. You can control spreading by cutting the blooms with abandon to prevent seeding…so it's just a win-win for everyone. They do need proper moisture, about 1 inch of water per week—so check the soil, especially in the hot weather. They do best in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees—so, in our hot summers, it's best to plant them for morning sun only. Happily, they are not prone to pests, just the usual suspects of slugs, mites, and aphids. Keep that insecticidal soap and slug bait handy to prevent damage. Remember to cut them back after blooming to redirect the plant from seed production.
To me, one of the best parts of the “care and feeding” of Peruvian lilies is--the more you harvest the blooms, the more they will produce! Talk about a win-win. The best way to harvest the flowers is not with a pruner. Rather, grasp the flower stem, leaves and all from the root crown and pull up laterally. After that, just place them in a vase with the leaves. And now that I'm armed with that great harvesting advise, I'm off to gather my first bunch of Peruvian lilies right in my own front yard!