Agriculture


Lilac in snow 3

These are some crazy times lately. Snow in the second week of May just adds to the disruptions in our lives right now. Folks are looking to their yard and gardens to bring stability to the upheaval in their lives, and snow and cold weather does not ease the mind. However, mother nature has a way of healing the plants and in doing so, shows us we will heal, too.

Some blossoms will sustain damage without the entire plant being lost. Some plants will succumb to the freeze, but these plants are ones that grow naturally and natively in much warmer areas which would not experience snow or freezing weather. If tomatoes or marigolds were planted out in the garden, they most likely were killed from the freeze. See packets and transplant labels state to wait to plant after all danger of frost has passed. For us in Connecticut, May 15th is the average last frost date. I err on the side of caution, waiting until Memorial Day when the soil as warmed considerably before planting cucumbers, peppers, petunias, squash and tomatoes. Putting these plants into cold soil will shock and stunt them for the rest of the growing season.

Perennial plants in our area are like old friends, returning home after a long absence. The familiarity of finding them in walk abouts, makes the world seem normal. Even some stalwart rhubarb laden with snow gives me hope we will weather  our storms. Rhubarb is a hardy perennial vegetable, providing pies and baked goods from its leaf stalk. Don’t eat the leaves as they contain a high level of oxalates the body doesn’t handle well. Better to use the leaves in the compost or lay them on the ground in the vegetable garden to keep the weeds down. They cover a lot of area.

Rhubarb in snowEarlier in the week, I removed a flowering stalk from the rhubarb plant, to conserve the plant’s energy by not producing seed. Removal of the flower helps the clump grow bigger and get stronger.

rhubarb flower stalk

Cut the rhubarb flower stalk at the base of the plant and compost it or use it in a flower arrangement.

Lilacs are a long-lived, woody shrub capable of with-standing freezes and snow. The flower buds were encased with ice and snow, but should bounce right back; only time will tell. The plant itself can live for over 100 years!

Lilac in snow one bud open

Magnolia is  another woody tree that lives a long time, but its flowers are often damaged by frost and cold weather. The photo below was taken before the snow  but after a frost, of Magnolia x soulangeana, showing the damage to the open blossom and the newly opened flower that was in bud at the time of the frost. After today’s snow, the petals have all fallen.Magnolia flower and cold damaged one

Flowering quince is a hardy shrub tolerant of late freezes. Its scarlet flowers didn’t blink with a covering of snow, shaking them off to shine brightly by noon once the sun came out. Each blossom should be appreciated up close for its rose like shape. Unfortunately, it is a pretty scraggly and unkempt specimen the rest of the year. She reminds of a  disheveled  and gangly teenage boy that cleans up nicely for prom, but only once a year.

quince flowering

Clove current is blooming, and before the snow released its spice scented aroma to soft wind. Hopefully, once the warmer weather returns so will the shrub’s offering to those in backyard.

 

Clove current flower

I spoke of plants returning like old friends, expecting nothing from you except your company. They don’t try to change you or bring you around to around to their new found way of processing the world. Plants would never talk politics with you. They are just happy with your company. I think people could take a lesson or two from plants. Even weeds are consistently reappearing, each in their own time bringing a sense of comfortable familiarity. Chickweed has arrived, budded up with blossoms open in sunnier spots.

Chickweed

Bedstraw aka catchweed is entwining the old-fashioned shrub roses rescued from a 1600’s cemetery on Cape Cod. The paving truck was laying an asphalt walkway right over the rambling mass of thorny branches. I had to at least save a few in the way of its destructive path. The bedstraw always appears only in these bushes, making me think they must be old friends, too. I pull a few but don’t have the heart to remove them all, plus I like their airy foliage mixing with the deep pink roses once they bloom in June.

bedstraw at rose base

Milkweed shoots are up, promising a food source for many caterpillars and other insects. The monarch butterfly used milkweed species exclusively on which to lay eggs and for its larva. Common milkweed can become weedy as it spreads via seed and root, enlarging its colony each year.

Milkweed shoots

 

I hope you find the return of old friends in the garden and maybe add a few new ones this season.

-Carol Quish

Given the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to focus on viruses to share a little more on these infectious agents.

A virus has a very simple makeup. It is just a piece of DNA or RNA, a protein coat, and in some cases a fatty (lipid) layer. The protein coat provides protection for the piece of genetic information (DNA or RNA), and can code for different functions when the virus infects a host organism.

Viruses are considered neither alive nor dead. Viruses do not consist of cells or have any components to carry out basic functions on their own. They rely on the cell functions of their host to replicate. They hijack their host’s cells to operate in a way that allows the virus to thrive.

For this exact reason, viruses have a biological incentive to keep their hosts alive. If their hosts die, the virus can no longer replicate. Viable virus particles can exist on a surface, such as a table. But without a host, the virus can not cause disease or infection.

The first virus to be crystallized and therefore each of its parts were able to be studied, was actually a plant virus, Tobacco mosaic virus. Rosalind Franklin made this discovery in 1955. Since then, thousands of new viruses have been described.

TMV CaptionAs a plant pathologist, I work with plant viruses. Let’s take a look at Potato virus Y as an example. Potato virus Y (PVY) is one of the oldest known plant viruses, and the 5th most economically important plant virus in the world, meaning that it can cause a lot of damage. Hundreds of plants can infected by PVY including potato, tomato, pepper, eggplant, tobacco, and many species of weeds.

Historically, PVY has been easy to detect in fields because of the beautiful mosaic symptoms it causes on foliage. On potatoes, other symptoms include veinal necrosis, deformed or rotting (necrotic) potatoes, and up to 70% yield losses.

symptoms blogHowever, new strains of PVY have evolved to make it more difficult to notice an infection until it is too late to do anything about it. Viruses are capable of evolving to change the symptoms they induce in hosts in order to continue to thrive.

Just like COVID-19 disease (SARS-CoV-2 virus) is spread from person to person, plant viruses are infectious and spread from plant to plant as well. The mode of transmission varies depending on the virus.

Most plant viruses require a vector to be spread among plants. A vector is an organism that does not cause disease itself, but carries an infectious agent from one host to another. Examples can include insects, parasitic plants, nematodes, and even humans. Other means of spread include infected vegetative propagates or cuttings of plants; infected seed; and mechanical transmission through infected plant sap (like pruning an infected tree and using the same tools to cut a healthy tree).

In the case of PVY, it is vectored by over 50 species of aphids. When probing plants for a tasty morsel to eat, aphids insert their needle-like stylet mouth parts into the stems and foliage. If the plant is infected, PVY particles adhere to the aphid’s stylet, and it only takes a few seconds of feeding for the aphid to be infective to new plants. And, because hundreds of species of plants can be hosts to the PVY, weeds surrounding gardens or potato fields can be important sources of PVY.

Thistle blogThe other way PVY is spread is through infected seed. When infected seed potatoes are planted, they result in infected plants. These infected plants then are a source of PVY inoculum for aphids.

Once plants are infected, there is no cure for the virus. PVY does not kill plants, but can cause potato defects that render them unmarketable for potato growers and in some cases inedible for home gardeners. PVY also can decrease yields significantly.

The best management recommendations for PVY include:

  1. Scout your plants regularly and often for PVY. Symptoms can change rapidly, and early observation is crucial for limiting spread of the virus.
  2. Remove any infected plants when you see symptoms arise. Do not compost infected plants because potatoes can easily regrow in your compost pile. If you’re not sure if your plant is infected, send a sample to us for diagnostic testing.
  3. Control weeds around plantings to limit alternative hosts of the virus.

-Abby Beissinger

Amidst the chaos, we’re happy to invite our colleague Nicole Freidenfelds, coordinator of a UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy Program, to tell our Ladybug readers about an exciting summer program that you won’t want to miss! Take it away Nicole.

-Abby Beissinger

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I am excited to have this opportunity to share with you a free statewide UConn program that is perfect for anyone who gardens or even simply enjoys spending time outdoors among nature. It’s also great for Master Gardeners looking to satisfy their volunteer hours.

The Conservation Training Partnerships (CTP) partners teens and adult community volunteers together and supports their conservation efforts by providing training during a two-day field workshop and guidance as they conduct any local conservation project they want to tackle.

The teams are paired prior to the workshop. During the workshop, each team learns how they can apply innovative, user-friendly mapping and web technology to address local conservation issues through hands-on fieldwork. We have workshops scheduled in Stamford, Waterbury and Eastford this June.

 

After the workshop, the team carries out a conservation project that addresses a local environmental issue in their hometown, using their new skillset. The projects are developed by the team at the workshop and CTP instructors provide support to help the team along the way.

Examples of past projects include planting pollinator gardens, cleaning up local parks, removing invasive plants, and installing rain gardens. Below I highlight a few specific projects.

This Glastonbury CTP team chose to install a monarch waystation at Wind Hill Community Farm. They planted native monarch-friendly plants in a small patch of earth on the farm property, but the plants got eaten by a pesky rabbit. After a second planting that included protective fencing, they were ecstatic to find a monarch caterpillar happily munching on a milkweed. I consider that a huge success!

wildflower map

This CTP team created an interactive map of Benjamin Wildflower Preserve, a property of Aspetuck Land Trust in Weston. They created a map that can be accessed by anyone and used to help identify a number of different wildflower species along the trail.  Check out their project poster and online map to get inspired by the possibilities for your town could be.

hebron

A multi-part project in Hebron involved both digitizing a nature trail and native planting for pollinators at the RHAM High School Memorial Garden. Their goal was to engage the local community and get more people into nature. They used technology to excite and make the public aware of a school trail, and planted a native garden in a school park to attract both local community members and pollinators.

CTP teams typically showcase their projects in the form of a poster or video at a conference in March, but unfortunately the conference has been postponed due to concerns about COVID-19.

The good news is that we’ve decided to host a virtual conference to highlight their hard work and you’re invited to attend! Come learn first-hand about the program and how you can help make a difference in your community. The virtual conference will take place this Saturday, 3/21. For more information and to learn how to attend, check out:  http://s.uconn.edu/fevcc.

If CTP sounds like the right program for you, check out our website for details on how to apply: http://nrca.uconn.edu/students-adults/index.htm . Feel free to contact me with any questions at nicole.freidenfelds@uconn.edu.

By Nicole Freidenfelds, 2020

 

Did you know that October 26th is National Pumpkin Day? At least, it is according to the unofficial National Day Calendar. I would have thought that a special day for pumpkins would fall on October 31st but it seems that there are already several other honorees on that day, including Halloween, World Cities Day, and National Doorbell Day. That last one at least seems to make sense, given the number of doorbells that will be rung by trick-or-treaters. Those adorable trick-or-treaters will pass by many carved and illuminated pumpkins adorning steps and porches.

Carved Ct field pumpkins crop

More than 2 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown in the United States each year and unfortunately about 1/3 of them end up as waste in our landfills and the other 1/3 may get composted. When pumpkins are carved and then set outside as decorations they begin to decay immediately. We’ve all seen sad-looking jack-o-lanterns that have collapsed in on themselves as they rot.

That is a lot of food waste. In China, where their pumpkin production is almost 6 times that of the US, most pumpkins are eaten in soups, in congee (a delicious slow-cooked rice dish), or even made into flour. The consumption of pumpkin in the US is often limited to desserts, with pumpkin pie winning by a landslide. I’d have expected Thanksgiving, or at least a day in late November, to be Pumpkin Pie Day, but it seems that December 25th has that designation. Who decides these things? I like to make a pumpkin sweet bread that has cinnamon-sugar sprinkled generously over the top prior to baking. And pumpkin is a key ingredient in the homemade dog cookies that Sir and Ellie enjoy when they visit.

Many cuisines around the world treat pumpkin as a savory vegetable, not a sweet fruit. Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in Africa use pumpkins in soups, stews, or just roasted. Here are some sugar pumpkins that have been stuffed and baked. Sugar pumpkins, also known as pie pumpkins, are smaller and rounder than carving pumpkins, with thick, sweet flesh. I removed the tops, keeping them for a lid to put back on to serve them. The seeds and pulp inside the small cavity were removed and then I baked them for an hour at 350°F until a sharp knife easily pierced it. While they were baking, I sautéed onions, apples, dried cranberries, and pecans. When the onions were soft, I added cooked wild rice, rosemary, salt, pepper, and some maple syrup. This mix was stuffed into the cooked pumpkins and then baked again for another 20 minutes to meld the flavors.

Roasted pumpkin seeds are another popular way to utilize more of the pumpkin. Rinse them in a colander as you separate the seeds from the pulp, soak them in a saltwater solution for about 30 minutes then rinse them again before spreading them on a tea towel to dry a bit. Heat an oven to 300°F. Toss the seeds with a little melted butter and some coarse salt and then roast them for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until they are a golden brown, nutritious snack. Spices can be added to the melted butter prior to tossing the raw seeds in it, giving you many sweet and savory options. I guess you could make pumpkin spice pumpkin seeds if you desired.

Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop in the genus Cucurbita which also includes winter squashes, zucchini and summer squashes, and ornamental gourds. The native Americans were already growing pumpkins when the Europeans arrived. The Connecticut field pumpkin is a large (15-25 lbs.) heirloom variety that may be descended from the pre-Columbian species that made their way to New England from northeastern Mexico where they had been cultivated for thousands of years.

CT field pumpkins

Connecticut Field Pumpkins

There are dozens of varieties of pumpkins squashes on the market now in so many shapes, sizes, and colors. Recent visits to farm stands and nurseries showed just how unusual some of these can be. The pale yellow Cotton Candy is petite pumpkin with an almost-white flesh.

Blaze has lovely deep red-orange stripe accents.

New England Cheddar, on the left, and Jarrahdale, on the right, are pumpkin varieties that have pale hues.

Pumpkins that are guaranteed to get some attention are the ‘warty’ varieties. Galeux d’Eysine, featured in the image on the left, is also known as ‘Peanut’ for obvious reasons.

Victor, Warty goblin, and Goosebumps are all orange warty varieties.

The pumpkins and squash that are in the species Cucurbita maxima and are among the largest available. The grey Jarrahdale pictured previously is in that category as are the Cinderella, on the left, the blue Hubbard on the right and an Atlantic Giant below.

So carve or cook a pumpkin today!

Nathan

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center

All images by Susan Pelton

cobrahead weeder and red gloves

It is harvest time in the vegetable garden, doing end of season gathering of squash this week. The vines of the honeynut butternut and spaghetti squash have all withered and dried signaling the squashes are ready to be picked. Once the color deepens and skins toughen the fruit should be cut from the vines and cleaned up. I wash them in a slight bleach solution to remove any fungi and bacteria that might cause rot once they are placed in storage in my cool hatchway to the basement where they will not freeze. Wrapping each in a sheet of newspaper to keep them from touching is an added measure to help retard decomposition.

Squash harvest 2019

Back in the garden I pulled all of the vines to add to the compost or burn any diseased plant remains. Insect problems from this year might over winter in the plant debris so cleaning up the beds is recommended. While I am there, I scrape the soil with my 20 year old CobraHead hand-weeder, my favorite tool. When held horizontally it only disturbs the top inch or so of soil while I remove any weeds without bringing up many weed seeds from deeper in the soil which might germinate next year. Even though I am only disturbing shallow depths of the ground, some insects come crawling, wiggling and moving out of what they thought was a safe place to spend the winter. It is amazing to sit on my little garden stool and watch the life emerge from what at first glance, appears to be lifeless or dormant.

cobrahead weeder

First to emerge from the soil was a crazy snake worm, (Amynthas agrestis). They are an invasive species from distant lands of Korea and Japan, and do not belong in my New England garden. They move in an ‘S’ pattern and rather quickly, but they are no match for my fast, gloved hand to grab and toss into a repurposed ricotta container rescued from the recycle bin to live another life as a worm container of death. A few more swipes of the CobraHead and several more make an appearance only to be promptly deposited to the dreaded, dry plastic vessel too tall from them to slither out.

snakeworms 2

Normally worms are considered a beneficial being in the soil, but not snake worms. They damage the soil by eating large amounts of organic matter and leaving behind their castings (poop) which resembles Grapenuts cereal, small granules of black matter. Their castings change the micro biome of the soil making plants less likely to survive. There are not legally allowed control measure for obnoxious invaders except for hand removal of them. There is some research work being done at the University of Vermont and more around the Great Lakes as the snake worms are having a very large detrimental effect on the forest floor in those areas. Crazy snake worm adults will die when the ground freezes, but they leave behind their eggs, called cocoons, which will survive the cold to hatch next spring.

The next critter that made an appearance was an earwig. My gardens have always had a lot of these brown decomposers of dead plant material, but occasionally I they will feed on live leaves, flowers and fruit. Normally they do very little harm, despite their fierce looking pinchers on their butt end. They use their forceps for defense and offense, and will pinch skin if you hold one in your hand. Earwigs overwinter in the adult stage, coming out of their dormant period in the spring to ensure their population continues yet another year.earwig 10-19

Grubs are the larval stage of beetles. There are many beetles which inhabit soil and above ground spaces. Most lays eggs in or on the soil, which hatch into grubs that feed on plant roots. Grubs in the lawn can cause significant damage, so do grubs in the vegetable garden when they feed on the roots of my vegetable plants. As a general rule, I squish grubs when I find them in my vegetable beds, even though some adult beetles may be considered beneficial by feeding on other pests. In my garden, the Asiatic garden beetle is the predominate one, causing lots of feeding damage on my leaf crops. They love basil, effectively stripping plants seemingly overnight.

The vibrations of my scraping the soil seemed to bring armies of squash bug nymphs and adults to surface where I was working and to adjacent areas yet to be disturbed. This was the squash bed and I expected the squash pests to be where the cucurbit crop was grown, but I didn’t anticipate the crowd that came to see why I was unearthing their winter abode. Only the adult stage is listed as overwintering, but I found many nymphs not yet developed to their mature adult stage. I hope the cold will kill them so I don’t have to squish many more.

squash bug adult 10-19

Adult Squash Bug

 

The final insect I found while digging wasn’t crawling or moving. It was the resting stage of a moth, which species, I do not know. It was the pupa without many identifying features. I have yet to find a book just on moth pupae, but I am still looking. Once I found the pupa of a tomato hornworm, identifying itself by the hookshaped ‘horn’ on the end of the pupal case. I wish I had taken a photo of that one!

pupa, moth 10-19

-Carol Quish

 

zinnias 10-19

 

This Thursday through Sunday (February 21st-24th) is the 38th Annual Connecticut Flower & Garden Show. The UConn Home & Garden Education Center along with the Master Gardener Program and the Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab will be staffing an exhibit and giving seminars. The UConn Horticulture Club will also set up a landscape display. For those of you unfamiliar with the Show, it takes place at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. There are going to be hundreds of exhibits and dozens of seminars and talks devoted to different topics pertaining to flowers, plants, and gardens.

Our exhibit is located at booths 419 and 421, across from the Federated Garden Club. We will be providing free soil pH testing along with limestone recommendations, so be sure to bring a small bag of your soil! Soil Test Kits will be on sale for $12.00 (cash or check only). There are also tons of handouts on composting, gardening, lawn management, and pest & weed control. We will be available to answer any questions you may have, provide useful tips and pointers, or just chat about any of the services we offer.

floor plant

Final-Floorplan-2019-Flower-Show

flower show booth

(Setting up our booth. Image by Joe Croze.)

Aoril in Paril

(The theme for The Federated Garden Clubs of CT, Inc is April in Paris. Image by Joe Croze.)

Dawn Pettinelli, an Assistant Extension Educator as well as the manager of both the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab and Home & Garden Education Center, will be presenting two seminars on Thursday. The first is at 11:00 am and is about When Good Worms Go Bad, and the second is at 2:00 pm on Garden Ornaments.

Dawn Pettinelli

(Dawn Pettinelli. Image by https://ctflowershow.com/seminars-demos/)

Pamm Cooper’s seminar, Gardening to Support Native Pollinators and Butterflies, is on Friday at 12:30 pm. Pamm was an assistant superintendent at a golf course for over 20 years, teaches entomology and turf portions in the Master Gardener Program, and worked with Dr. David Wagner studying caterpillars in a bio-survey for the Tankerhoosen DEEP property and Belding Wildlife Management Area. She now works in the Home & Garden Education Center office using her insight to help guide others and answer questions on better lawn and garden management practices.

Pamm Cooper

(Pamm Cooper. Image by https://ctflowershow.com/seminars-demos/)

Carol Quish will be speaking about Healthy Gardens on Saturday at 2:00 pm. Carol earned a degree in Ornamental Horticulture and Turfgrass Management from UConn, is an Advanced Master Gardener and Master Composter, and is a CT Nursery and Landscape Association Professional. Carol works as a horticulturist at the Home & Garden Center where she identifies pests, insects, and plant disease.

Carol Quish

(Carol Quish. Image by https://ctflowershow.com/seminars-demos/)

Flower show exhibits

(Various exhibits throughout previous years. Images by Dawn Pettinelli.)

More information about the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show (ticket pricing, parking, additional vendors, booths, speakers, etc…) can be found online on their website or Facebook page:

https://ctflowershow.com/

https://www.facebook.com/CTFlowerGardenShow/

We look forward to seeing you there!

-Joe Croze

With the encroaching winter storm and dropping temperatures, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a very interesting and unique soil order, the Gelisol. Soils are dynamic systems that are essential to life as we know it, and are nonrenewable resource that vary in physical and chemical composition throughout the world. Parent material (underlying bedrock, glacial deposits, wind-blown sediment, etc…), climate, topography, biological activity/factors, and time are the 5 soil forming factors. Different places on the planet will produce a wide variety of variations of these 5 factors. To help understand and classify soils, 12 different orders were formed. The 12 different Soil Taxonomy Orders are: Alfisols, Andisols, Aridisols, Entisols, Gelisols, Histosols, Inceptisols, Mollisols, Oxisols, Spodosols, Ultisols, and Vertisols. Each order has unique properties that are a result of 5 soil-forming factors.

gelisols global map

Figure 1: Global Distribution of Gelisols (NRCS https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/class/maps/?cid=stelprdb1237761)

Gelisols are, in my opinion, the most interesting and important soil orders. The Soil Science Society of American defines Gelisols as soils that are “permanently” frozen containing permafrost within 100 centimeters of the soil surface, and/or gelic materials within 100 centimeters and permafrost within 200 centimeters of the soil surface. Permafrost is soil and rock that remains below 0 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 2 years; and “gelic materials” are soil components that show evidence of cryoturbation, or frost churning, a mechanism unique to gelisols. Cryoturbation is the irregular breaking and mixing of soil horizons (think different segmented layers of soil) via the movement of water caused by seasonal melts and thaws. To clarify, just because your front yard is frozen for a few months in the winter is not enough to classify the soil within as a gelisol.

gelisols soil stelprdb1237732

Figure 2: A Gelisol (SSSA https://www.soils.org/discover-soils/soil-basics/soil-types/gelisols)

According to the United States Geological Survey, around 9% of global ice-free land area contain gelisols. They are found in tundra and cold-weather environments, which has made them a hot topic of conversation as the effects of climate change are becoming more obvious. Trapped within the permafrost, contained within gelisols are large amounts of preserved carbon. Over thousands of years, during the last ice age, carbon was deposited in permafrost as ice sheets advanced and retreated. Bedrock was ground into fine silts and dust via glacial movement. This glacial flour was blown across the world and deposited, covering everything in sight, including plants and animals. Quick burial in cold environments doesn’t allow for decomposition of organic material. So as a result, modern day gelisols are a giant carbon reservoir. As climate change continues, the environments containing gelisols are more at risk of melting. Melting gelisols means that the organic material within them are now subject to rapid degradation. The decomposition of organic matter releases carbon in various forms, the most dangerous being methane. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas that acts to trap light in heat within our atmosphere. Hopefully you can see the problem: increasing climate change has the potential to thaw gelisols, releasing large reservoirs of methane into the atmosphere, effectively increasing the rate of climate change exponentially. Quite literally adding fuel to the fire.

baby the bison

Figure 3: Babe, the bison was found in thawing permafrost is estimated to be around 36,000 years old. (Photo by: Bill Schmoker (PolarTREC 2010), Courtesy of ARCUS)

-Joe Croze, UConn Soil Lab

 

new year new start

The start of the New Year is a good time to start new in the gardening year too. There is always something new to plant or try, or a method of gardening to embrace. The down-time of winter offers the opportunity to seek out something new.

Start a new plant. Visit the warmth of indoor greenhouses to lift our moods and possibly find a new houseplant. Succulents are readily available and easy to grow if you have a sunny window. Use a well-draining potting mix formulated especially for cactus and succulents to get them off with a good beginning. Water only when the top inch or so of soil is dry.

container-gardening_14_520914843

Another popular houseplant with many different varieties and forms is Peperomia. They come with solid green or variegated leaves, some with white and others with reddish hues. Textures of the leaves vary by species with some smooth and others crinkled.  All plants in the Pipericeae family are non-toxic making them safe for homes with pets and small children. Known for its low-maintenance requirements, they will happily grow in bright, non-direct light and moist but well-drained potting medium. They have a slower rate of growth, keeping them in bounds of the container for a long time before the need to repot in a larger size container.

Start a garden journal. By tracking the bloom times and placement of perennials and trees, you might see a new combination to try. Having the plant’s location marked on paper helps one to find it in the garden in late fall or early spring, when it is the ideal time to move. Monitor and record the sunlight amounts throughout the year to see how shade increases over time as neighboring trees grow taller. A sunny yard can change to part or full shade over a decade or two. Vegetable garden journals and keep track of that exceptional tomato grown last year, or maybe the one that didn’t produce as advertised. This information will help plan the next vegetable garden with better or continued success.

garden journal

Start a new class to add you knowledge base of horticulture. UConn Master Gardeners offer advanced, topic specific classes around the state. These Garden Master classes are offered to the general public at a slightly higher price than UConn certified master gardeners, and well worth it. Topics range from woody plant identification to botanical drawing. Visit the garden master catalog to view classes.

mgs

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offer a wide range of outdoor classes and activities. Safety in outdoor sports is heavily reinforced if you interest is in boating, fishing, trapping or hunting. Their goal is education for you to keep yourself safe while starting a new outside activity. Classes on the environment and educational hikes are offered around the state at seven different educational facilities. 

trailhike

Start a new book. New publications in the non-fiction realm of plants include three winners from the America Horticultural Society. One is about bees and native plants needed to feed them, another on the subject of a cut flower farm, and the third is about trees of North America. There is many other great garden and plant books to start you own self-guided learning on subjects of interest to you. I was gifted the two below written by Carol J. Michel which look entertaining and educational.

books

Start anew by joining a group of like-minded plant people. Garden clubs offer talks and friendship with other members, and some have civic minded projects involving gardening, usually by town. The CT Horticultural Society offers monthly lectures to state wide members and others, for a fee, and occasional hands on workshops. They list their scheduled speakers on their website. Other groups are focused on one subject, such as the CT Valley Mycological Society where you can learn all about mushrooms and fungi. There is also the Hardy Plant Society, and the CT Rose Society. If your tastes are more specific, check out the Iris Society or the CT Dahlia Society.

-Carol Quish

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient required for the production and growth of all plants, vegetation, and living organisms. It makes up 78% of our atmosphere; however, that only accounts for 2% of the Nitrogen on our planet. The remaining 98% can be found within the Earth’s lithosphere; the crust and outer mantel. The Nitrogen found within the nonliving and living fractions of soil represents an unimaginably low fraction of a percentage of all the Nitrogen on our planet. That tiny percent of all total Nitrogen found in our soils is what we can interact with to help or hinder plant production.

To be considered an essential nutrient, an element must satisfy certain criteria:

  1. Plants cannot complete their life cycles without it.
  2. Its role must be specific and defined, with no other element being able to completely substitute for it.
  3. It must be directly involved in the nutrition of the plant, meaning that it is a constituent of a metabolic pathway of an essential enzyme.

In plants, Nitrogen is necessary in the formation of amino acids, nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), proteins, chlorophyll, and coenzymes. Nitrogen gives plants their lush, green color while promoting succulent growth and hastens maturity. When plants do not receive adequate Nitrogen, the leaves and tissues develop chlorosis. However, over-application of Nitrogen can cause even more problems, including delayed maturity, higher disease indigence, lower tolerance to environmental stresses, reduced carbohydrate reserves, and poor root development.

N1

Chlorotic corn. Image provided by T. Morris, 2018

The Nitrogen Cycle describes the movement of Nitrogen through a landscape. Nitrogen undergoes numerous changes that affect its availability to certain plants and organisms.

N2

The Nitrogen Cycle. Image provided by T. Morris, 2018

Nitrogen undergoes numerous transformations within a landscape; each transformation represents a distinct chemical reaction or process that acts to further Nitrogen within the cycle. The different transformations are shown in the image provided, but some important ones to keep in mind are Mineralization (organic N -> NH4+), Immobilization (microbial), Denitrification (NO3 to a gaseous form), and Leaching (the loss of dissolved Nitrate into groundwater). There are factors that determine the rates and occurrences of all Nitrogen transformations including pH, temperature, saturation, etc… All of these transformations determine how much Nitrogen is available in your soil for plant uptake. Leaching poses a big problem, when too much Nitrogen is applied via fertilizer, NO3 can be transported in the soil water. Excess leaching can lead to Eutrophication.

Most plants take in Nitrogen as Nitrate, NO3, and Ammonium, NH4+. Generally, Nitrate is absorbed much more than Ammonium, but it is all plant-specific. The combination of both of these forms of Nitrogen can help to improve over-all plant growth when compared to intake of just one. Some plants use symbiotic N2 fixation, where they supply C for fixed Nitrogen from bacteria, actinomycetes, and cyano-bacteria (blue-green algae). This process involves the transformation of N2 to NH3. For instance, Legumes use Rhizobia inside their root nodules to convert N2 to NH4.

N3

Nitrogen Fixing Nodules. Image from NC State University

Applying the correct amount of Nitrogen is key in reducing leaching, and ensuring your plants are getting the perfect amount for maximum yields. Nitrogen testing proves to be difficult because of the constant transformations it undergoes. Getting your soil tested for other micro and macro nutrients can help provide information on overall soil health, and from there, proper Nitrogen fertilizer recommendations can be made. Talk to anyone from the UConn Soil Nutrient Lab or Home & Garden Education Center for more information on Nitrogen fertilizers and soil testing.

An alarming piece of new research shows decreasing Nitrogen availability with continued global warming. As CO2 levels increase in the atmosphere, essential nutrients are becoming less available to plants. As essential nutrients become less available, forests and ecosystems that usually absorb CO2 would be unable to do so, further increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere. Oligotrophication is the term coined to describe the decreasing productivity of a forest due to the unavailability of Nitrogen. You can read more about this process in the paper “Isotopic evidence for oligotrophication of terrestrial ecosystems” in Nature Ecology & Evolution by Andrew Elmore and David Nelson from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Joseph Crain of Jonah Ventures.

Joe C.

rose, irish

Not so wild Irish rose.

Vacations are for traveling and relaxing, seeing new lands and experiencing cultures other than our own. I did just that this summer on a trip to Ireland visiting the entire coastal perimeter of the country. I am a plant person at heart, so of course I was enamored with the plant life I saw, touched, and even ate and drank. The golden barley in the fields was to become an important ingredient in the Irish Guinness beer brewed in Dublin. We took a tour of the brewery to learn how the fruit of the hops plant and the grain of the barley are turned into the well-loved stout beer.

Guiness

Keeping the husband happy.

Along the coastal route we traveled, we did not see many vegetable farms as they were located more inland where there were better growing conditions and soil. We did see many fields with sheep and cows. Beef and dairy cows were often feeding in fields not used for hay.

cows

Often large fields would have a lone, ancient tree standing within its boundaries, and could be any species that happened to take root on the spot. Our tour guide told us those trees are known as fairy trees which house the fairies of Ireland. Fairies in Ireland are not nice and cutesy like we Americans think of them. In Ireland fairies are tricky beings, and can bring havoc and bad will to those who disturb them. For this reason, farmers will leave a large tree in the middle of his field, even driving around it when seeding and growing crops, avoiding tilling up the area so as not to disturb or offend the fairies residing under it. The superstitions are handed down with the generations, and many stories of them may be found in bookstores on the local legends.

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Fairy Tree

fairy tree, seems a little magical

Magical Fairy Tree. Can you see the fairies?

We passed peat bogs which are wetlands covered in accumulated dead plant material and mosses. Peat takes centuries to form under the acidic and anaerobic conditions. Layers of peat were traditionally cut out of the bog, left to dry and then used a fuel source to burn inside fireplaces to heat homes. Now a day, modern heating is used in Ireland, and bog management laws limits on the amount of peat harvested. Peat moss used in gardens is also harvested from bogs. Since it takes centuries to form, it is not really a very good renewable resource.

 

In windswept, boggy meadows along the seaside were plants that looked like cotton blowing in the wind. It is called bog cotton, Eriophorum angustifolium, a grass-like sedge plant with fluffy seed heads. Each seed is attached to a fluff of hairs/bristles that can catch the wind to be carried far away. Great method of seed dispersal created over eons to ensure the survival of the species.

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Bog Cotton

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Bog Cotton seed head.

Heather grew wild among the rocky areas and tolerated the harsh, windy climate well. It was low growing among the native grasses providing a subtle lavender color to the fields.

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Heather field

 

Foxglove is a native weed just about everywhere in Ireland. Its purple nodding bells arising from waste areas and rock walls. Called Fairy Thimbles in folklore, they are deemed unlucky if you bring them into the house in case you let a naughty fairy into the home. Foxgloves are biennial, with second year plants blooming from June through August.

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Foxglove

I captured (with the camera), this cute little bee coming in for nectar on this non-wild foxglove in a tended garden.

Bee coming in for a landing, Ireland

While in Northern Ireland at Malin Head, I came across the most unusual hedge plant planted in multiple yards and outside several establishments. After asking a local or two, its identity was revealed as Hebe, a broad leaved evergreen plant with showy purple flowers in July and August. It is native to New Zealand and the folks I spoke with weren’t sure how it originally came to their town, but they share it readily with neighbors. Hebe is hardy there, but will not take temperatures below freezing. Even one exposure to a freeze and its top growth will die back. The stands of I saw were happily six feet tall and tolerating even this northern most town on the coast.

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Hebe flowers

 

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Hebe hedge

 

What would a visit to Ireland be without the mention of potatoes? Several museums and tour guides told the history of the Irish potato famine caused by the fungal disease of late blight, Phytophthora infestans, the same disease that infects tomatoes and can wipe out a crop. The English withheld all other food sources from the Catholic following Irish people unless they denounced their religion. Once the potato blight hit for several years, there was no food left resulting in mass deaths and migrations to other countries. Still today, the entire population of Ireland has not reached the numbers it had before the blight hit.

potato blight

 

At the end of our trip, we packed up our mementos of Irish lace and tweed caps along with the rich stories of Ireland. My memory cards are full, both the physical one in my camera, and the one in my head.

-Carol Quish, all photos copyrighted by CQuish

potatoes

 

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