The Home & Garden Education Center has received an abundance of inquiries related to Japanese pachysandra, (Pachysandra terminalis) during the last few weeks. Homeowners all over Connecticut are experiencing difficulty with this groundcover. It first becomes noticeable as other things around it start to green up in the spring and we see that the leaves are remaining a sickly shade of yellowish-green.

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Affected bed of pachysandra

As it catches our attention we notice that the plantings in general look a bit sad and sparse. A closer look at the leaves will reveal that there are areas of irregular brown blotches that have concentric line patterns within the affected area and pretty sharply defined darker brown edges. The center of the spots will can appear much lighter if the salmon-pink fungal spores are present.

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Pachysandra leaves showing signs of Volutella blight

The browning areas will continue to spread and darken and can encompass the entire leaf as it dies. The cankers that can develop on the stems and stolons can girdle the stem and cause the plant to wither and die by disrupting the transport of water and minerals through the plants vascular system.Unfortunately this can happen in as little as two weeks, especially if the weather is wet and humid. It has certainly been wet over the last week and although the total precipitation is around the average 1” needed for growing plants it has come in a slow but steady sprinkle allowing plants little time to dry out between the showers.

This is all the work of the fungus called Volutella pachysandricola, or Volutella Leaf and Stem Blight. This fungus is considered an opportunistic pathogen that attacks weak plants. It can infect leaves, stems, and stolons and is considered the most destructive disease of pachysandra. The pink spores that appear in the spring will darken to reddish-orange in the late summer and fall when a second type of spore is produced.

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Close-ups of the Volutella damage and spores

This winter may have provided the perfect storm needed by Volutella to thrive. Drying winds and winter sun can desiccate pachysandra if there is not an adequate cover of snow to provide protection. Also, many beds of pachysandra are near roads and sidewalks where salts may dry them out further. A cover of mulch could provide just enough needed winter protection for plantings in these areas but it should be removed in the early spring. Some symptoms of winter injury or sunscald such as tan or scorched leaves may initially appear to be Volutella but they will not exhibit the characteristic concentric lines of the disease.

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Those same pachysandra beds that are near sidewalks or roads or are used as edgings can receive damage from mowers, clippers and weed whackers (Or as they are called in Australia, ‘whipper snippers’. I just love that!). Cuts from lawn equipment can provide an opening in plant tissue and when the plant is wet the fungal spores are able to infect it easily and travel to the stems where they will cause the girdling mentioned earlier.

Good sanitation practices can be helpful when dealing with pachysandra blight. It is too late for a good fall cleanup now but you can still remove any plant debris that remains. During dry weather remove and bag (not compost) any diseased plants to reduce the inoculum. Thinning out beds will also help improve the air circulation that can speed up drying. Fungicides can be used as preventives for new growth or when wounds occur and systemic curatives can be used when symptoms first appear although they will not correct damaged tissues. Allegheny pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens) can be less susceptible to the disease or you could consider another groundcover such as creeping myrtle or vinca.

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Vinca major, also known as variegated greater periwinkle

Another source of wounds to pachysandra that should not be overlooked in insect damage. Scale insects such as Euonymous scale, two-spotted spider mites, and root knot nematodes have been found on plant samples that have come in to the Center. Horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps applied now can help control scale, just be sure to thoroughly coat the pests with the product. A miticide can be used on the spider mites but there is currently no control chemical treatment for the nematodes.

Euonymous scale

Euonymous scale image by Joan Allen

If you are experiencing these symptoms in your pachysandra beds you can get additional information from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station fact sheet entitled Volutella Blight of Pachysandra, on our website at Pachysandra Leaf and Stem Blight, or by contacting us at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center.

-Susan Pelton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not generally good news if you discover holes in the bark of your trees.  Common causes of holes in trees include wood boring insects and birds.  In the case of insects, it is usually the larval stage that feeds within the tree while the adults feed on leaves or other external tissues.  In spite of this, it is most often the adult stage that created holes in the bark.  These may be either entry holes caused by adult beetles entering the tree to lay eggs or exit holes created when mature beetles or moths emerge following pupation.

Bark beetles are very small, often just a few millimeters long in the adult stage.  A typical life cycle would go as follows:  Adult beetles mate and females bore through the bark of host trees, leaving a tiny round entry hole.  Once below the bark, she excavates a parent gallery and lays eggs in niches along its length.  When the larvae hatch they tunnel outward in a pattern (gallery) characteristic of that species which can aid in identification.  They feed on the living cambium layer between the bark and the wood and when the cambium layer is killed all the way around the tree no new conductive tissue is produced for movement of water and nutrients in the tree and the tree dies.  Once the larvae mature, they pupate in their galleries and emerge as adults through new exit holes in the bark.

Bark beetle exit holes in ponderosa pine.  (http://www.fs.fed.us)

Bark beetles are often attracted to trees stressed or weakened by other agents such as drought stress or other pests and diseases.  In addition, some species emit an aggregation pheromone from an attractive host tree that attracts many more bark beetles of that species.  When many entry and exit holes occur together it looks like shotholes and there are certain bark beetles that are known as shothole borers.   Some bark beetles carry fungal spores on their bodies and when they create their parental/egg laying gallery, the fungal spores are introduced into the host tree where the fungus can develop in the wood.  These fungi may or may not have a direct impact on tree health and the fungus is sometimes a source of food for the larval insects.

D-shaped emerald ash borer exit hole (PA Dept. of Cons. & Nat. Res. – Bugwood.org, larval galleries of the emerald ash borer (wikipedia).

D- shaped or oval exit holes are typical of Buprestid beetles including the emerald ash borer (D-shaped).  Common names of beetles in this group include metallic wood boring beetles or flat-headed borers.  There are over 15,000 species and some have brilliantly colored metallic looking elytra (wing covers).  Holes are relative to the size of the beetles which are small to medium in size.  The D-shaped exit hole of the emerald ash borer is about 4-5mm across and the beetle is just under ½” long.

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Asian longhorned beetle exit hole and adult beetle. (US Forest Service photos).

Round exit holes that are larger than those of the bark beetles are created by round-headed or longhorned beetles as they exit trees (family Cerambycidae).  In this family, eggs are often laid singly in the bark and newly hatched larvae tunnel into the wood to feed until they pupate and emerge as adults.  The Asian longhorned beetle falls into this group and the emergence holes are deeper than those of many other similar beetles.  Pupation of the Asian longhorned beetle occurs not far below the bark but these larvae tunnel throughout both the heartwood and sapwood of the tree.  Because of this, they tunnel out toward the bark to pupate, creating a tunnel from deeper in the tree.  There are a number of native longhorned and other beetles that created similar exit holes.  If you are concerned that you may have a tree infested by Asian longhorned beetles be sure to contact the plant diagnostic lab in your state (at your state’s land grant university of state agricultural experiment station) for a definite identification.

Sugar maple borer scar and black and yellow adult beetle.  (Scar photo: S. Katovitch, USFS, bugwood.org, Beetle photo:  R. Kelley, VT Dept. of For., Parks and Rec., bugwood.org.)

Some borers create somewhat longitudinal or horizontal scars on the surface of woody stems and branches.  Examples are the rhododendron borer and the sugar maple borer.  Rhododendrons may be attacked by two types of borer.  The rhododendron borer is the larva of a clear-winged moth while the rhododendron stem borer is a longhorned beetle.  Evidence of damage begins as wilted then dying shoots and stems.

woodpeckerdamage3Woodpecker damage, left.  J. Allen photo.

Sapsucker damage and yellow-bellied sapsucker. (injury photo: R. Cyr, Greentree, bugwood.org., bird photo: E. Verhasselt, bugwood.org)

At least two types of bird create holes in the bark of trees to access food.  Woodpeckers create large, irregular and rough-edged holes as they peck away at the bark to get to insects, including borers underneath.   Sapsuckers also peck holes in trees but they are smaller, uniform in size, round and often occur in rows or grids of multiple feeding sites.  As their name implies, sapsuckers feed on tree sap, not insects.

Maplesyruptap.publicdomainA final interesting cause of holes in sugar maple.  Taps used for extracting sap for maple syrup production can also create round holes in that type of tree and they look very much like the exit holes of some of the larger wood boring beetles!

J. Allen

Living more sustainably has become a goal to many individuals who recognize that the earth’s natural resources are finite. There are numerous ways to lessen our impact invoking the three R’s of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. One relatively easy method of recycling is composting. And now would be the perfect time to start as May 1 – 7, 2016 is International Compost Awareness Week.

Up to one-third of a household’s waste could potentially be composted including food scraps, yard wastes and paper products. It has been estimated that about 70 billion pounds of food waste are discarded by Americans each year. That comes to about 20 pounds per person per month. So between 25 and 40 percent of food grown, processed and transported each year never gets eaten!

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Fruits and vegetables can be composted if not consumed. Photo by dmp.

According to www.feedingamerica.org, most of this is disposed of in landfills or by incineration. In fact, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than plastic, glass, paper or metal in municipal solid waste. When landfilled, the buried food breaks down in an anaerobic environment and methane is produced. Methane, as many of you are aware, is a potent greenhouse gas about 21 times more the global warming potential than carbon dioxide.

On top of the environmental cost and loss of resources that all our food waste is creating, we need to pay to have it removed from our property. Either we contract with private haulers or your city or town removes it paid for through your taxes. Many localities are beginning encouraging residents to compost their leaves and other organic wastes as both a cost saving tool and a way to amend lawn and garden soils.

While the optimal solution to this problem would be not to waste food and this should top everyone’s list, if food is going to be thrown away, as much of it should be composted and turned into a valuable soil amendment as possible.

Composting is simply the controlled process of decomposition of organic materials. Decomposition is a natural process. Any bit of plant or animal debris that falls upon the earth’s surface gets broken down and transformed by visible and microscopic creatures. Composting hastens this natural process by creating conditions that tend to accelerate natural decomposition the end result being a stable humus-like product that is great addition to most soils.

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3-bin compost unit at Middlesex County Extension Center, Haddam, CT. photo by dmp

Composting can be as simple or complex as one chooses to make it. The basic requirements for composting are a source of organic materials, air, water, microorganisms and a site for composting. The organic materials can be food scraps, leaves, grass clippings, spent plants, shredded newspaper or office paper, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, manure, sawdust and spoiled hay. These organic materials may be layered proportionately according to how much carbon and nitrogen they contain. Decomposition is hastened when the amounts of carbonaceous material (brown) are balanced with high nitrogen containing organic matter (green). Many piles are started by using 2 parts green to 1 part brown. Technically this is referred to as the carbon nitrogen ratio and there are many online and written sources listing the ratios for a variety of organic materials. A carbon nitrogen ratio of 25 or 30 to 1 ensures faster decomposition.

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Easy turn compost bin. Photo by dmp.

Typically natural rainfall keeps the pile moist but you may need to water it occasionally during dry spells. Keep in mind that most of the decomposition is done by soil microbes and they need oxygen and water just like all living creatures. The compost pile should be as moist as a wrung out sponge. If it seems dry, give it some water. If it is too wet, turn it to aerate and dry out a bit. A general rule of thumb would be to turn the pile every week or two initially.

Whether you make or purchase a compost bin or simply create a compost pile is up to you. Wire fencing or cement blocks are an inexpensive way to contain a pile. Locate your bin or pile not too far away from either the garden or the kitchen so food waste and garden debris can be readily added to the compost pile and finished compost will be conveniently located next to the garden. Facts sheets at www.soiltest.uconn.edu give greater details on the composting procedure as well as on the various types of compost bins available.

Compost is finished after 3 to 9 months when it is loose and crumbly and the original organic materials that were put in the pile are no longer recognizable. Using compost in the garden or landscape has many benefits. It adds organic matter to the soil which in turn increases the water and nutrient holding capacities of the soil. Compost improves the soil’s structure which in turn results in better plant root growth. Since the pH of finished compost is usually around 7.0, using compost also often eliminates the need to add limestone or wood ash to the soil.

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Topdressing garden bed with compost. Photo by dmp.

Depending on what organic materials were added to the compost pile, the finished compost will contain varying amounts of the nutrients that plants need. Manure-based composts would generally have higher nutrient levels than leaf- or food waste-based composts. After adding an inch or so of compost to your garden soil and mixing it into the top 6 inches of soil, it is a good idea to test the soil before adding any more fertilizer or limestone. Many gardeners tend to add copious amounts of compost to their vegetable and flower beds resulting in excessive levels of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen which can pollute surface and ground waters. Conscientious gardeners want to supply their plants with enough nutrients to ensure productivity but not caused environmental or human health problems.

There is no time like International Compost Awareness Week to learn about composting and figure out how to incorporate it into your yard or garden. Apartment dwellers might want to consider indoor composting using worms. Yard-less residents may find that a nearby community garden would take their food scraps.

Dawn P

ribes odoratum upclose

Clove Currant, photo by C. Quish

I love a plant that come with a story. I know every plant someone ever gave me and the reason for such  a gift, or to commemorate a celebration, or maybe a mentor sharing a piece of their garden. My clove currant shrub has such a story.

During the 1990s I was seeking to improve my knowledge of perennials by taking a local gardening class at a little library in my home town. The two ladies imparting their wisdom were how we say, very experienced with growing just about everything, and very willing to share with those less in the know at the time. The last class was a tour of their properties of very well established gardens in sun, in shade and in between, with popular plants and some unusual ones. There was also a  large vegetable garden in the sunny back field filled with peas, onions, rhubarb and lettuce  pretty well along even though it was still April. They were very good gardeners with the know-how to grow vegetables as well as trees, shrubs and perennials. I don’t think they ever met a plant they didn’t like or knew how to grow and propagate.

As we walked the property, one spoke of each plant, noting its character, benefits and highlights. One arching shrub was near the back door of her house, in full bloom with yellow tubular flowers. I could smell it before I saw it. Wisps of clove filled the air, not too sweet or flowery, just enticing. Most in the class had never seen this gangling, somewhat messy shrub before, but the flowers and scent made me like it. Now at the driveway, the tour was concluding with the opportunity to take in the vistas they had created. I now realized the gardens I was touring were across the street from my husband’s deceased grandmother’s house and stated it out loud. The instructor and owner smiled, remembering how 40 years before, she was welcomed as a new neighbor by my husband’s grandmother, with a plant dug from her own garden. It was a piece of the clove currant. Grandma Ferry said she should plant it near the back door, as was hers, so you could smell its heavenly scent when in bloom.

A few weeks later, after the clove currant finished blooming, the instructor came to my house with the gift of a piece of her clove currant bush. She said the plant has history with our family and she needed to share it with us. I planted it near the back door, and now 20 years later it has grown large and is still going strong to tell its story another day.

Scroll down for cultural information.

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Clove Currant, (Ribes odoratum)

Clove currant’s botanical name is Ribes odoratum. It is a native plant in the central and eastern United States and hardy to zone 4. Its size is manageable,  growing to between 6 and 8 feet tall and about as wide. Responds well to rejuvenation pruning and cutting off suckers as is tends to spread from its roots. It is soil adaptable preferring a pH of 6.1 to 7.8 and does best in full sun, taking some shade, too.

Leaves are interesting with 5-lobes on long petioles and a blue-green in color. It is a deciduous shrub in the same family as gooseberry and currants and does produce an edible black berry in July, but only on female plants. Clove currant is dioecious, with male and female plants. If berries are wanted, plant at least one male and one female for pollination purposes.

The Ribes genus are the alternate host for the disease white pine blister rust. There were quarantine laws put into effect in the early 1900’s to eliminate all plantings of any currants or gooseberries in gardens and in the wild, to protect the lumber industry. It proved to not work and goes unenforced in many states. White pine blister rust can cause chlorotic spots on the tops of the current leaves and orange pustules that develop on the underside of leaves, as is typical of rust fungi. Leaves will drop prematurely.  Other leaf spot diseases my occur, but none are common problems with Clove Currant.

-Carol Quish

 

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Monarch butterfly on Heliotrope

With a noticeable decline in imported honey bee and native pollinator populations, there is an interest in gardening to support these insects. While native plants are a better choice for native pollinators, any good source of nectar and pollen will help attract pollinators. The benefit of using native plants is their durability in the New England landscape.

When choosing plants for pollinators, consider the species that are visiting your property already and choose plants for their seasonal or year- long activities. Observe those pollinators that are in your area but maybe not visiting your property, and then choose plants that may attract them during their foraging seasons.

One of our early native pollinators is the Colletes inaequalis, also called the polyester bee. These handsome, small, ground- nesting bees can be active as early as March and prefer large sunny areas that have sandy soils. They are important pollinators of early blooming native plants. Females forage for both pollen and nectar which they put in a neat little “plastic” bag deep in a tunnel that they make in spring.  The egg is laid in the bag aid above the semi-liquid mix, and the larva will feed on that until pupating. Next spring the new adults will emerge

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Native Colletes inaequalis ground-nesting bee, an early spring pollinator

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There are many species of bumblebees here in Connecticut. Native bumblebees hibernate every year only as queens and every year they must establish a new colony, which will work to support the new queens born that year. Because of the long foraging period of bumblebees- early spring through early fall- provide season –long nectar and pollen sources in the garden or landscape. In the wild, bumblebees visit early blooming maples, dandelions and blueberry. Later on they visit Joe-pye weed, goldenrods, boneset, asters and other late-season native bloomers. They are of a more hardy lot that many other bees, so they are found out and about on chilly, windy days, even during periods of rain. Bumblebees “cheat” when obtaining nectar from some flowers, such as salvia. Short-tongued bees will cut a hole at the base of the flower to obtain nectar on long tubular flowers.

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Bumblebee Bombus ssp. on Caryopteris, or bluebeard

Sphinx moths are also native pollinators and are considered the most efficient of moth pollinators. While some fly during the day, many fly at dusk and during the night. These hawkmoths pollinate many plants with their exceptionally long proboscis including catalpa and horse chestnut. If you know these pollinators are in your area, plant corresponding larval host plants for the caterpillars. Honeysuckles (Lonicera) are both a good nectar source for the moth and a host plant for two clearwing moth caterpillars.

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Catalpa flowers are pollinated by sphinx moths as well as other insects. Nectar guides turn from yellow to

There are many beetles as well as flies that pollinate flowers. While beetles may chew on flower parts as well as pollen, they still pollinate many flowers, especially goldenrods, pawpaw and daisies. Flies are attracted to flowers that smell like carrion- pawpaw, skunk cabbage and trillium among others. Little flower flies- syrphids- visit many native wildflowers. They are often confused with wasps because of their body shape and coloring.

long horned flower beetle on steeplebush flower July 19, 2009

Long-horned flower beetle on steeplebush

skunk cabbage flower and bee late April 2013

Normally pollinated by flies, this skunk cabbage flower is visited by a honey bee

Crabapples are a good source on both nectar and pollen for many pollinators, including beetles, flies and butterflies. Migrating spring butterflies can be found nectaring on crabapple blossoms, and ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive in time to nectar on the blossoms. Willows are early spring bloomers that attract a variety of pollinators- flies, beetles, bees and others and are host plants for several butterflies including the Mourning cloak and Viceroy.

An excellent draw for pollinators are native cherries- black, pin and choke species. Not only bees are found on the flowers. Butterflies are strongly attracted to native cherry blossoms, and several, such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail will Lay eggs on the leaves of smaller cherry trees.

tiger swallowtail on Joe- Pye 8-3-11

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on spotted Joe-pye weed

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Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar on black cherry

 

One of the best plants to attract bees is the Giant Blue Hyssop Agastache foeniculum. This long- season bloomer attracts native and non- native bees and has an attractive aroma as a bonus. Include long-season bloomers like alyssum, coneflowers (Echinacea), Lantana, Cosmos, Heliotrope, Buddleia and clovers. Late summer flowers such as goldenrods, Joe-pye, boneset, Stonecrop sedum, Queen Anne’s lace, Caryopteris, Salvia , and petunias will provide food for migrating butterflies bumblebee queens, and many other insects. Allium flowers are a wonderful attractant for all types of pollinators. And don’t forget milkweeds. Whether native or non-native, a good nectar source will not go unnoticed. Double-flowered varieties are usually bred for the flower at the expense of pollen and nectar, so avoid these plants in a pollinator garden.

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Stonecrop ” Autumn Joy” sedums are excellent for attracting pollinators of all kinds

The following link is an excellent source of plants suitable for Connecticut’s native pollinator.

http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/publications/fact_sheets/entomology/planting_flowers_for_bees_in_connecticut.pdf

Happy gardening! And may pollinators increase in both their populations and their good works in the wild and in the residential landscape.

Pamm Cooper                                            All photos copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper

 

Late March and early April in Connecticut are the time of year that we gardeners dream about through the long, cold winter. The temperatures are on the rise, the days have lengthened, the soil is workable, and even if we do receive a snowfall it generally doesn’t last for long. The Lenten Rose (Hellebore) has bloomed and the crocus, grape hyacinth, daffodils are in their glory, soon to make way for the tulips which will follow. Yellow daffodils paired with the deep purple-blue of the grape hyacinth is one of my favorite combinations.

The pussy willows have come out and the forsythia is in bloom which means that it is the anecdotal time to put down the crabgrass preventer. The pre-emergent herbicide needs to be applied and watered in before the crabgrass seeds that were dropped last year germinate. Please visit our page on Crabgrass Control for more information on this yearly bane of homeowners.

Pussy Willow

For me this time of year is about planning this year’s vegetable garden and starting the growing season. It starts with plotting out the area that we have allotted for our vegetable garden (its 15’ x 25’) which includes four raised beds that are 3’ x 5’ each. There are many ways to do a garden plan. The simplest way, and the way that I started some years ago, is to put pencil to paper and sketch out a rough drawing.

The next step up is to use graph paper to plot out the actual footage available. This is the manner that I have progressed to over the years. With pencil, ink, and colored pencils I draw the placement of this year’s plantings. I refer to prior year’s plans so that I can rotate varieties among the beds as much as possible although I don’t have a very large space. There are several established perennial plantings, such as asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, and chives that do not get rotated.

Chives

These crops are placed around the perimeters of the garden, mostly to the east and south, where they will not block the sun from other plantings. The asparagus spears are just starting to emerge, the chives are growing, and the rhubarb was a perfect size to divide and replant.

A recent post on our UConn Home & Garden Education Center  Facebook page shared a link to many vegetable garden planners that can be found on-line ranging from the very simple to those that allow you to enter your actual plot size, vegetable varieties and succession plantings. There is even an app!

So, plan in place, it’s time to start planting. There are so many crops that enjoy a cool weather start such as peas, spinach, kale, arugula, radishes, beets, bok choy, and carrots. I have been working with my daughter Hannah on some plans for garden beds that her early education class will be working on this spring. In doing research on some classroom-appropriate experiments I came across one that compares the growth rate of seeds germinated (prior to planting) vs. un-germinated (direct sown). I usually soak beet seeds before they are planted but this year I germinated all of the varieties that are planted in the early spring, laying the seeds out on a damp paper towel and covering them with another damp towel.

Pre-germination

Just a side note, did you know that each beet ‘seed’ is actually a hard shell that encloses 3 seeds? As they sprout you can not only see three distinct seedlings (the row on the left in the image below) but the colors reflect the variety of beet also, whether red or yellow.

2 Days Later

Within days most of the seeds were well-sprouted and I planted them in the garden in their selected spots. It will be interesting to see if this gives them a head-start and if Hannah’s class gets similar results. They will also be running an experiment that starts seeds in solutions of differing pH levels from base to acidic to see what seeds prefer. If you would like to know the pH level of your garden soil and what your crops require then a soil sample to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.

One thing to keep in mind when planting is done as a classroom activity is the length of the available growing season. There is little point in planting vegetables that will need care and be ready to harvest during the summer months when school is not in session. Our choices therefore were cool-weather plants that would be ready to harvest before school dismisses for the summer. Among these are snow peas that will mature in 60 days, Indian Summer spinach (35 days), Little Finger carrots (65 days), lettuce, arugula and spinach (35-40 days), Early Wonder beets (60 days) and Cherry Belle radishes that will be ready to harvest in just 22 days.

Just think about it. In a little more than a month we can be enjoying a freshly picked, tasty salad that is the harbinger of more good things to come!

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

 

It did happen quite a while ago, in the seventeenth century in fact, but it’s a pretty interesting story. Tulips are native to Turkey and were first introduced into The Netherlands in 1590 by a botanist named Carolus Clusius.  He obtained seeds from a high ranking friend in Turkey and began growing and breeding them.  Among these were some so-called ‘broken’ tulips in which the dark color of the petal was broken by varying patterns of light to white streaks, stripes or flames.  As people learned of these unique new tulips, their value increased dramatically.  In the early 1600s, the Dutch were experiencing a strong economy and many people had assets to invest.  The rare and coveted tulips were often obtained by the trading of an entire business or fortune on the speculation that the value would increase.  A single bulb is reported to have sold for 3000 guilders, equivalent to approximately $1700 today.  The broken tulip variety known as Semper Augustus was the most expensive tulip sold during the tulip craze and is pictured.  The artist is unknown; the image is from https://en.wikipedia.org.   Tulipsemperaugustus

People recognized that these beautiful tulips were a temporary treasure…they observed that after a few years of blooming, the bulbs producing the broken tulips became weak, resulting in first smaller flowers and shorter stems but eventually no flower at all and bulb death. Because of this, many paintings of the striking blooms were commissioned during the peak of ‘tulipomania’ in the 1630s to preserve their beauty.

As it turns out, the beautiful streaking in the petals (and the decline of the plant over time) was and is caused by a virus. The most common is tulip breaking virus (TBV) but there are several others that cause similar symptoms.  It wasn’t discovered that a virus was the cause until the 1930s but by 1637, it was discovered that the tulip breaking trait could be passed from one bulb to another by grafting and the market for the broken tulips crashed, along with many investors’ assets.  Some describe this whole scenario as the first stock market.

How does the virus cause streaking or other patterns in the petals? The virus results in the lightening or darkening of the thin surface layer of cells by the inhibition or over production of pigments called anthocyanins in certain areas.  Only dark colored tulips can be ‘broken’ by the production of light colored areas due to the virus.  White and yellow flowered tulips can be infected but symptoms only occur on leaves as mottling because the petals don’t contain any anthocyanins (red to blue to purple pigments).  TBV is distributed throughout the world wherever tulips are grown but today is most prevalent in southern Europe.

As mentioned, the virus(es) can be spread from one bulb to another via grafting. They are also vectored or spread by several aphid species. Because the virus does result in a loss of health for the plant, many of the original ‘cultivars’ are now extinct. There was also a lot of variability and unpredictability in the virus-infected plants’ patterns making the purchase of a bulb not yet in flower truly speculative.  Today many countries, including the United States, prohibit the commercial sale of bulbs known to be infected.  Plant breeders have developed many beautiful varieties using traditional plant breeding that have striking color patterns and variegations in the petals reminiscent of those famous ‘ancestors’ from the seventeenth century.  In closing, I’ll share a verse from the poet Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) regarding the love for the breaking tulips:

“The tulip next appeared, all over gay,
But wanton, full of pride, and full of play;
The world can’t show a dye but here has place;
Nay, by new mixtures, she can change her face;
Purple and gold are both beneath her care,
The richest needlework she loves to wear;
Her only study is to please the eye,

And to outshine the rest in finery.”

By J. Allen

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