Like many gardeners, I love my tomatoes and, I love to try new plants, especially novel vegetable varieties and cultivars – always looking for that culinary adventure I guess. Aside from my basic red staple tomatoes, I grow or have grown orange ‘Sungold’, ‘Yellow Treasure’, ‘Brown Betty’, ‘German Pink’, ‘Green Grape’, ‘Great White’ and ‘Mr. Stripey’. But until now, I had not tried a blue one. This year a good friend of mine gave me 2 blue varieties, ‘Fahrenheit Blues’ and ‘Indigo Rose’. 

Indigo Rose tomato

Indigo Rose tomato

I just picked my first ripe ‘Fahrenheit Blues’ and took a quick picture before popping it in my mouth. Very juicy and tasty with a definite tomatoey flavor. Blue tomatoes are not actually blue like the sky. They are more purplish-blue, like an eggplant. They start off green and turn a dark purple, almost black as they mature. Part of my tomato had some red and it and that is because the leaves prevented the sun from reaching that part of the tomato. If you cut one open, the flesh looks similar to a red tomato although I think it is a little more darker and vibrant.

Fahrenheit Blues flesh is red and vibrant.

Fahrenheit Blues flesh is red and vibrant.

So where did blue tomatoes come from? I believe the first one was bred by Dr. Jim Myers at Oregon State University. He was looking to produce luscious, dark-colored fruits that have high levels of an antioxidant called anthrocyanin, the pigment that gives blueberries and black raspberries their color. He used traditional plant breeding techniques crossing domestic varieties with wild tomatoes having the anthrocyanin gene. His first release in 2012 was ‘Indigo Rose’. Clusters of 6 to 8 two-inch or so tomatoes are covering my plant now which is indeterminate and does need staking. In fact both of the varieties I am growing need to be staked.

Several other breeders have also produced blue tomatoes, some through conventional breeding and others by incorporating genes from another plant like a snapdragon.

While ‘Indigo Rose’ is supposed to be fairly disease resistant, all of my tomatoes are showing signs of septoria leaf spot. I just went through and removed all the diseased foliage this past weekend.

The hardest thing about the blue tomatoes is telling when they are ripe. The fruits go from a shiny eggplant purple to a dull purple-brown color. Or you can cheat and just look at the bottom which is not exposed to the sun. It should be a ripe red color.

Blue tomatoes not exposed to full sunlight ripen red, although usually this is just seen on the bottom.

Blue tomatoes not exposed to full sunlight ripen red, although usually this is just seen on the bottom.

When I was out grooming the plants, I noticed one tomato with really sparse foliage when just a few days before it looked healthy and bushy. Upon closer inspection were two large tomato hornworms. One was very happily munching on my tomato leaves and stems and the other was in slow decline as he (or she) had the cocoons of a braconid wasp on its back. The wasp lays eggs under the skin of the caterpillar which hatch and feed on the insides of the hornworm before chewing their way out through the skin. They then create these cocoons to pupate in and emerge from the cocoons as adult wasps ready to seek out another meal.  

Tomato hornworm parasitized by braconid wasp.

Tomato hornworm parasitized by braconid wasp.

Now if only a natural enemy of those cross-striped cabbageworms would show up in my garden!  

 Dawn P.

Male squash blossoms, C.Quish photo.

Male squash blossoms, C.Quish photo.

Where are all my summer squash? Why do my plants have many blossoms and not squash? These are a few of the questions I hear about yellow and zucchini squashes when the squashes look like they should be setting fruit. Be patient, gardeners, squash will come.

Squash plants produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers contain the pollen, the male part the reproduction process.  The female flowers have the ovary at their base. The ovary looks like a very small squash. This ovary will not develop and will be aborted,(dropped off), of the plant if pollen is not moved from the male flower to female. The process is called pollination, resulting in fertilization, then the ovary will develop into the fruit, the squash. The male flowers are produced and open a few days before the female flowers open. So the males are ready before the females. (I am not going to comment on this.)

The male flowers are on a long stem with no little squash at the flower base.

Male Squash Blossom, photo by C.Quish

Male Squash Blossom, photo by C.Quish

Male squash blossoms, C.Quish photo.

Male squash blossoms, C.Quish photo.

The female shows the small squash.

Female squash ovaries at base of flower. C.Quish photo.

Female squash ovaries at base of flower. C.Quish photo.

 

Insects such as bees are the common pollinators of squash plants. They feed on the nectar in the flower, and in the process pick of pollen from the male flowers, dropping some in the female flower when the move into it. If all goes well, fertilization happens and the squash will develop.

A common pest insect of summer squash is the squash vine borer which lays eggs on the stems of the squash. The eggs hatch into a larva which tunnel into the stem to feed. Their feeding damages the inside of the stems and the water conducting vessels of the plant, causing part or entire collapse and wilt of the plant. The squash vine borer is a clear winged moth with 1/2 inch long orange abdomen with black dots. It flies during the day and rests at night. The SVB is attracted to the color yellow. A trap can be made by filling a yellow bowl with with soapy water. The SVB will fly into the bowl and drown. Place trap near squash plants. Other management options are to plant a second crop of summer squash in early July that will mature after adult borers have finished laying eggs. Pull and destroy any plants killed by squash vine borers to keep the larva from overwintering after feeding for four to six weeks. They exit the stems and burrow a few inches into the soil to pupate  where they stay until the following summer. There is only one generation per year..

I use a row cover as a physical barrier that keeps out all insects. The row cover is a poly spun fabric similar to mosquito netting placed over all of the squash plants in the bed, then held down with weights to exclude all insects. The row cover also excludes the pollinators, so I have to either hand pollinate each female blossom or remove the cover once the female blossoms appear to allow insects in to do their job of pollinating. If hand pollinating, do it in the morning as the pollen is most available then.

Row cover protecting squash from insects reaching the plant. C.Quish photo

Row cover protecting squash from insects reaching the plant. C.Quish photo

Squash vine borer adults, Photo UMN.edu

Squash vine borer adults, Photo UMN.edu

 

Squash vine borer larva and damage. Photo UMN.edu

Squash vine borer larva and damage. Photo UMN.edu

 

-Carol Quish

When most of us hear the word ‘hornet’, it’s not a very positive thing. If one happens to fly by within a few feet, they don’t get a very warm reaction. At least they are unaware of this. They’re just out foraging for food for their young and that’s what their focus is. At least until they sense a threat to their nest. Bald-faced hornets are very protective of their nests and a perceived threat is the most likely instance when they will sting. And when they do sting, it may be very painful (the venom is more potent than that of bees) and they will sting repeatedly. So what’s so good about them? Like other wasps and bees, they play a role in pollinating flowers, especially late in the season. Early to mid summer is spent collecting insects to feed to their larvae, thus helping to control insect pest populations, including that of the nearly equally underappreciated yellowjacket.

Bald-faced hornet coloration. Photo from en.wikipedia.org

Bald-faced hornet coloration. Photo from Ohio State University

The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is not a true hornet, it is a yellowjacket wasp. Members of the genus Dolichovespula all build large, papery nests in trees, shrubs or on structures. The paper wasps build exposed nests in which the individual cells are visible. The bald-faced hornet is native to North America and is found throughout most of the 48 contiguous states, Alaska and Canada. To find out a little more about this sometimes intimidating insect, let’s take a look at its life cycle.

The overwintering stage is the fertilized queen. In the spring, each fertilized queen selects a site for a nest and begins construction. These hard workers collect tiny bits of weathered or rotting wood from trees and fences and mix it with saliva by chewing it. This results in a sticky, papery material that is used in nest building. The grayish-brown nest is small at first and is attached to a tree, shrub or building, usually at least three feet off the ground. The surface may have streaks of gray and tan that give it a swirled appearance. The queen constructs several cells within the nest and deposits one egg into each. The young are fed and tended by the queen and grow up to be sterile female workers. They take over the feeding and nest tending duties while the queen spends the rest of the summer laying eggs.   Eventually the nest will contain several layers of cells resembling a honeybee comb, may be as large as a basketball (or more!), and will be home to hundreds of hornets.   In late summer to early fall, fertile females and males are produced and mating occurs. Fertilized females from this generation will overwinter and all other members of the colony will die of old age or freezing.   The fertilized females overwinter in sheltered places such as tree stumps and become next year’s queens.

As mentioned above, the bald-faced hornet is beneficial both for pest control and pollination. During early to mid summer when there are many larvae to feed, insect prey are caught, chewed up, and fed to the larvae. Insects preyed upon include yellowjackets (a favorite), flies, caterpillars and many other insects. Once the number of larvae in the nest declines, the hornets’ diet consists mainly of nectar and pollen from flowering plants. They will also forage around sweet foods at picnics, etc, and can be a nuisance at times.

Typical nest in a tree. Photo from en.wikipedia.org

Typical nest in a tree. Photo from en.wikipedia.org

Upside-down flask-shaped nest in early summer.  Photo by J. Allen.

Upside-down flask-shaped nest in early summer. Photo by J. Allen.

The nest itself is an impressive structure for its materials and method of construction, its durability, and its functionality. Some nests are constructed around a small twig or branch which gives them added resilience in the wind. The entrance is located on the bottom of the nest and there are vents built into the top to allow hot air to escape. Early in the season, the nest sometimes has the shape of an upside down flask with a long entrance tube. The one shown in the photo was seen in the woods in Granby, CT. Nests are only used for one season then abandoned. However, sometimes other insects and spiders will move in for the winter. Birds know this and might tear apart abandoned hornets nests looking for food.

Because these hornets rarely sting, except in defense of the nest, it’s best to leave them undisturbed unless they are within several feet of human activity. In these locations, you may decide to remove the nest, preferably before the population builds up too much. If you’re allergic to bee and wasp stings, or just nervous about attempting removal, have this done by a professional pest removal service. If you decide to do it yourself, there are precautions that should be taken. Use a wasp and hornet spray and apply the product at night when hornets are least active and most will be in the nest. DON’T stand away from the nest and spray the outside. This will get the hornets all riled up, won’t kill them, and they will be in a stinging mood for several days. The spray must be applied directly into the entrance of the nest while holding the nozzle against the hole (if possible) to prevent the hornets from escaping. Some products can spray a stream up to 20’ if needed. Wear long sleeves and long pants, protective gloves and goggles, and a head covering.   You may have to do more than one application a day or two apart to get those individuals that weren’t at home the first time. Pesticides are poisons. When using them, always read and follow instructions carefully.

Prevent stings by:

  • Avoiding disturbing a nest. When working in shrubs or trees, check carefully before you begin to see if a nest is present.
  • Avoid using perfumes or wearing brightly colored clothing for outdoor activities.
  • At picnics, keep food covered as much as possible, especially late in the season. Be cautious about drinking sweet beverages like soda or lemonade from cans to avoid swallowing a wasp/hornet and getting stung in your mouth or throat.
  • Keep trash containers well-covered.

In the event that you get stung, the following treatments are recommended. For a known or suspected allergic/anaphylactic reaction, call for medical help immediately. For a non-allergic (localized) reaction:

  • The bald faced hornet has a smooth stinger and it will not stay in your skin unless you swat the hornet and cause it to break off. If this happens, remove the stinger with tweezers.
  • Cover the sting site with an ice pack for five minutes at a time.
  • Over-the-counter pain and itch remedies can be helpful. Avoid scratching.
  • Native Americans apply mud to stings for 15 minutes or so to help draw out the venom.

By J. Allen

spicebush swallowtail MAy 11 2009

The Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus Linnaeus )  is a large, dark  swallowtail  native to Eastern North America. The wings are black with a single line of ivory spots along the outside edge and the “ tails “ along the edge of the hind wings from which the swallowtails get their common name. Females have a blue wash and males a greenish blue wash on the upper side of the hind wings. Wingspans range from three to four inches, making swallowtails our largest butterfly. These butterflies are found especially near woodlands, where the males patrol looking for females, but they can turn up in any open areas such as fields or roadsides as they search for nectar sources and larval host plants. Flight in New England is from April- October. Look for them when Japanese honeysuckles begin to bloom in the spring.

The Spicebush Swallowtail has to be one of the most spectacular caterpillars of any of the North American Lepidoptera. Tucked in a leaf shelter during the day, these caterpillars often go undiscovered unless you know how to find them. First of all, check out the main larval host plants- principally spicebush, sassafras or sweet bay- and then look for leaves that are folded in half length- wise. Gently open the leaf and see if there might be a caterpillar inside. The caterpillar has eye spots on the thorax and usually the head faces the outward tip of the leaf, where it will resemble a little snake. It gets more spectacular in appearance as it progresses through its instars. The eye spots are a good defense against  many a bird that would otherwise have  them for dinner.

spicebush 2008 V Fallsspicebush final instar July 31, 2013 Belding photo copyright 2013 Pamm Cooper

Swallowtail caterpillars also have another defense mechanism- a gland called an osmeterium  that can be flashed from the thorax when the caterpillars is alarmed. It emits a disagreeable odor that is thought to deter predators. Sometimes just jostling the branch where the leaf shelter is located is enough to cause the caterpillar to use this line of defense. You will be alerted to its presence by the foul aroma, and need only look for the source nearby.

When caterpillars are ready to pupate they turn an orange or yellow color t as feeding stops. The host plant may not be the same plant where the caterpillar will pupate, and they will often travel some distance to find a suitable place for pupating. Like all swallowtails, the chrysalis is formed by the caterpillar hanging in a   head up position. Feet are tied down with silk and the thorax is hung away from the supporting stalk or branch by means of a silk “girdle “. The swallowtail chrysalis will have a set of “ ears “ where the head is, bearing a resemblance to Batman.  Chrysalises are green if the butterfly will emerge in the current year, and are brown if they will overwinter until eclosing the next spring.

??????????spicebush pupating

To attract the butterflies to your property, plant good nectar sources that will provide food from spring to fall. Buddleia davidii  is a favorite long- season nectar source for many butterflies. Bush honeysuckle, Lantana, goldenrods, Joe- Pye weed, purple coneflower and milkweeds are some plants that are attractive to swallowtail butterflies. In spring, phlox is a good source of nectar, and geraniums, impatiens and marigolds are good annuals to use. The Spicebush Swallowtail is singular in that it is able to enter the flowers of certain lilies like day lilies and Tiger Lilies to obtain nectar that is deep in the flowers. They are able to reach the nectar and then back out again with no harm done.

Including larval host plants on your property may encourage females to lay eggs nearby, making it possible to enjoy this creature in all of its life stages.

Pamm Cooper                  All Photos Copyrighted 2014 by Pamm Cooper

 

This past weekend, I was invited to participate in the 2014 Great Park Pursuit Finale. For those who are not familiar with the Great Park Pursuit, it is part of the No Child Left Inside program launched by the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment (www.ct.gov/deep/) in 2006. According to CT DEEP, “No Child Left Inside® is a promise to introduce children to the wonder of nature – for their own health and well-being, for the future of environmental conservation, and for the preservation of the beauty, character and communities of the great State of Connecticut.”

In a nutshell, families and friends register for the Great Park Pursuit in April and for 7 consecutive weekends in May and June, meet at certain parks and state forests throughout the state for recreational opportunities and educational activities. If all events are attended and other prerequisites, like photos, submitted, families can receive state park season passes at the final event, which this year was held at UConn on June 21st.

So I was trying to come up with a hand’s on soil activity that would be suitable for young children, would not require lugging massive quantities of soil and would not be too ‘dirty’. One of the soils professors at UConn, Cristian Schulthess, had shown me some soil paintings that a few of his students had done as a class assignment and I remember how beautiful they were. He gave me instructions on making the paints and I started collecting soils to use.

Soil painting by Chelsey Putera, UConn student 2006

Soil painting by Chelsey Putera, UConn student 2006

The colors of soil are derived from both the minerals that make up the soil as well as organic materials in the soil. For instance the red soils in Connecticut are due to iron in an oxidized form – think rusty nail.

The next step took the longest – using a mortar and pestle to crush the soils and then putting them through a fine sieve. The directions said to put them through pantyhose but I wasn’t going to ruin a perfectly good pair of stockings! That gives you an idea though of how fine the soil needs to be.

Preparing soils for painting

Preparing soils for painting

To turn the soil into a medium for painting, it was mixed in small plastic cups with clear artist’s acrylic and thinned with a little water. I ended up using watercolor paper which was cut in half for the kids to paint on as regular copy paper got too wet and tore. Last Saturday was a beautiful day but a bit breezy for soil painting outdoors so I just made a lot of small batches so they would not dry out too fast!

GPP UConn Soil Painting, Photo by CT DEEP 2014

GPP UConn Soil Painting, Photo by CT DEEP 2014

All in all, 175 kids plus a few grown-ups came to the table to try their hand at soil painting. Not a bad turn out and hopefully a lesson that soil has many uses and we should appreciate all of them!

GPP UConn Soil Painting, Photo by CT DEEP 2014

GPP UConn Soil Painting, Photo by CT DEEP 2014

Good Gardening!

Dawn P.

Comfrey flower, photo by C. Quish

Comfrey flower, photo by C. Quish

Not all pretty flowering plants in small, four-inch pots siting on the nursery bench are as innocent as they appear. Beware the sneaky aggressor! About five years ago the delicate and rare clear blue color of the comfrey blossom, shyly wooed me into taking it home. What could one more plant hurt in the side garden abutting the wild side of the neighbor’s yard hurt? Well, it hurt plenty. I have been cursing the day I planted it.

Comfrey gone wild. photo by C.Quish

Comfrey gone wild. photo by C.Quish

Comfrey spreads incredibly fast. It is a hardy perennial with a deep and extensive root system. And its seed drop and are spread to create new plants elsewhere. The neighbor loves it and encourages its spread which doesn’t help my eradication efforts on my side of the property line. I suppose it makes a better fence than wood and nails, and he enjoys the view.  The bees enjoy the flowers, too. Dozens of honey bees can be found busily entering flower after flower, not caring how close I get to almost petting them.

Bee feasting inside comfrey flower. photo, C.Quish

Bee feasting inside comfrey flower. photo, C.Quish

Comfrey is botanically known as Symphytum sp. and is a member of the borage family. The Latin name means ‘grow together’.  It was first brought to America with the English as a healing herb. I contains a high level of the chemical allantoin which aids in cell formation, healing. It also is reported to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, known to cause liver damage when taken internally in large amounts. The leaves can be crushed or bruised to be placed on external skin areas to heal wounds and broken bones. I only use the plant as an ornamental and to spread into the neighbors neglected ‘wild’ area.

Comfrey has a tap-root, growing about 18 inches deep in the soil. It does a great job of breaking up compacted ground, accessing the minerals and nutrients out of reach of shallower plant roots. For this reason, comfrey leaves are a great addition to the compost pile, as those deep-seated nutrients of the ground are now taken up by the roots to be stored in the comfrey leaves. Once the microbes in the compost pile break down the comfrey leaves into its basic chemical elements, the nutrients are released into the compost and made available for use by other plants. Just don’t put any of those spreading roots into the compost pile. Keep any seeds out of the compost also.

So heed those enticing words on the plant labels when the just mention the words, ‘fast grower’ or ‘spreading’. Sometimes they really mean it!

-Carol Quish

 

Whether you have a backyard pond or you are out on the water in a kayak or canoe, you may have the opportunity to see some beautiful water lilies. When I was out kayaking recently I noticed that some of the smaller pond lily leaves had a lot of serpentine lines in them that looked typical of leaf mining insect damage.  I snapped a couple of photos and made a mental note to look up the possible culprits later on.

Image

I wish I’d grabbed a couple of leaves to see if anybody was still there and actively feeding for identification but that will have to wait for the next outing. Anyway, it turns out that there are a couple of midges that could be responsible.  They are in the family Chironomidae and possibly in one of two genera: Chironomus (leaf-mining midges) or Cricotopus (false leaf-mining midges).  The adults are mosquito-like and can be seen hovering around the water and lily leaves at dusk. They do not bite.  Eggs are laid on the leaves and have a sticky coating that aids in adhesion. The tiny larvae hatch and begin to feed. Leaf-mining midge larvae tunnel between the leaf surfaces and the false leaf-miners chew trails on the surface. False leaf-miners are protected at the head end by shallow burrowing. Both types of feeding result in serpentine lines or trails that eventually rot and fall from the leaf.  A heavy infestation will result in tattered looking leaves.

J. Allen

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