Gardening


black etched prominent Cerura scitiscripta

Caterpillar of the black-etched prominent has highly modified anal prolegs that it can flail to defend itself against predators

 

I love insects. They are amazing.

-Andrea Arnold

 

Many insects never make it to adulthood to complete their life cycles because in the grand scheme of things, they are low on the food chain. Between birds and amphibians, mammals and fellow insects, there is no lack of creatures that rely upon insects as a food source. Insects are not necessarily limpid little defenseless victims of a more sophisticated life form, though. They have strategies for survival. Some use camouflage,  are cryptic in form and color, veil themselves with material, have weapons they use when threatened or they may simply hide. 

rose-hooktip-moth Oreta rosea-cryptic

Rose hooktip moth hidden by day by blending in on a leaf

P1270059

Pine sphinx caterpillars blend in with the green and white striped needles of white pine

One of the ways insects can hide in plain sight is by coloration, body form and feeding techniques. Spring caterpillars are often light green and feed on new leaves of similar color. Caterpillars that feed on mature foliage often have colorations or body forms that imitate the dead leaf spots and edges that occur later in the year.

cocoon structure of caddisfly- possibly Climacia areolaris

Caddisfly larvae Climacia spp. pupates inside this structure it made

Warning coloration protects many insects from being eaten, especially bright reds and oranges. Also, insects may have warts that sport hairs that repel some birds and other predators. One such insect having both is the red-humped caterpillar.

red hump caterpillar Pamm Cooper photo

Red- humped caterpillars Schizura concinna have warning colors and warts with hairs that detect air movement

Some caterpillars feed along leaf edges and appear to be part of the leaf itself. Careful scrutiny will reveal the ruse. Two of the prominent caterpillars, the Wavy- lined Heterocampa and the Lace-capped caterpillar are just two examples of this behavior.

wavy-lined-heteocampa-2-on-leaf-edge

Wavy-lined Heterocampa caterpillar hides in plain site feeding along the edge of a sweet birch leaf. It blends in also with cryptic coloration.

Walking sticks are a good example of cryptic coloration and mimicry. Both the insect’s shape and color allow it to blend in with leaf veins and twigs  so that unless they move or cast a shadow, they are very difficult to see.

walking stick 6-29-14

Early instar walking stick blends in with leaf vein color

Camouflage loopers are small caterpillars that are found on the flowers of composites. They take petals from the plant’s flowers and “glue“ them on their body. They blend in so well that the only evidence of their presence will be that the flowers seems to be deformed.

camouflaged looper plus tiny looper Belding

Camouflage looper sitting atop a flower head from which it has cut and pasted the flower petals upon its body

Caterpillars like woolly bears, Ios, slug moths and some tussocks have defense mechanisms that utilize urticating hairs or venomous barbs to ward off potential predators. Handling these caterpillars may prove a painful experience for some people. Especially to be avoided are the saddleback slug moth and the spiny oak slug caterpillars, which are very small but able to inflict severe pain or a burning sensation that may  last for several hours or even a few days. Use caution around any caterpillar having barbs, hairs or spines.

small saddleback

Tiny saddleback caterpillar has both urticating spines and coloration similar to the host plant leaf for defense

Another means by which insects can protect themselves is by mimicry. Many flies have coloration and markings that are very similar to wasps and bees, especially syrphid flies. These flies can also feed on the pollen of many of the plants that bees and wasps also visit. Birds will tend to avoid any insect that may have the potential to sting, so these bee mimics need not worry as they go about their everyday work acquiring pollen.

syrphid fly

This syrphid fly resembles a wasp and birds will leave it alone

Many insects use leaf shelters as a means of hiding from predators by day and then feed at night. They may tie leaves together with silk or fold a leaf. The caterpillar of the  spicebush swallowtail and the poplar tent caterpillars do this. Stink bugs routinely use leaf shelters abandoned by other insects.

spicebush ready to eat

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars hide by day in a leaf folded lengthwise

red admiral

Chrysalis of the red admiral butterfly is made inside a leaf shelter where it was protected as a caterpillar

Some insects feed as immatures inside plants such as gall makers, borers, leafminers and others. Safely inside plant tissue, success rates of surviving to a mature adult are very high.

Pine Cone Willow Gall, caused by a gall midge, Rhobdophaga strobiloides. 9-16-19

Pine cone willow gall houses a midge larva, Rhobdophaga strobiloides

thief weevil

Thief weevil female laid an egg inside two a tightly rolled structures they made by cutting the leaf edge lengthwise while still remaining attached to the pedicel. Larva will feed safely inside on the leaf tissue.

potter wasp pot

A potter female wasp made this small clay pot and inserted food and its egg inside. Larva will be safe inside.

The larvae of tortoise beetles, 3-lined potato beetles and the infamous lily leaf beetle pile their frass on their bodies to escape predators.  Lacewing larva use their molted skins and other detritus to cover their body in a similar way. They can be found especially on white oak leaves in late summer appearing like a small, light tan, fuzzy pile moving across a leaf.

tortoise beetle larva waving frass hood

Tortoise beetle larva raises a “hood” made of frass when disturbed

This is only a brief look at some ways insects survive or attempt to survive in the world. There are many other ways and means by which insects employ subterfuge and other strategies that could fill a book, but this is simply a leaf through…

 

Pamm Cooper

The weather has definitely turned its thoughts to winter here in New England. Snow and ice have blanketed our landscapes several times already and it will be months before most plants are actively growing, putting out flowers to attract pollinators.

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are clustered in their nests or man-made hives for the winter. Unfortunately, during prolonged cold spells, many bees may die off. If the nest has enough stored pollen and honey then the queen may begin to lay small numbers of eggs early in the new year to help the population recover. Once fresh sources of food are available in early spring brood rearing can begin in earnest. Early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, and witch hazel and perennials like bloodroot, trillium, and Lenten rose are great plants to have in your yard as early sources of nectar. Additional early-flowering perennials can be found at our fact sheet Perennials. Clockwise from the upper left are witch hazel, Lenten rose, and lilac.

In April, a colony will be able to collect enough pollen and nectar to begin honey production. Commercial hives world-wide produced over 4 billion pounds of honey in 2017. The chances are pretty good that you consumed some honey last year, either as a sweetener in a beverage, in cooking or baking, or on bread or toast. A trip to a grocery store or a farmer’s market provides so many choices, from locally-sourced, single-origin honey to trendy products such as Mānuka honey, a honey that is sourced from the Mānuka tree that is native to Australia and New Zealand, or ‘prebiotic’ honey. All honey has prebiotic and antibacterial properties, even if it isn’t marketed that way. Raw and organic honey are also available. These products are usually not as clear as commercial pasteurized honey.

Also available in many stores is honeycomb. Honeycomb, or comb honey, consists of the hexagonal wax cells that are constructed by bees to contain larvae and the honey to feed them. This form of honey is not generally used in cooking or beverages. It is more of a novelty, a point of interest on a breakfast table, to be spread on bread or toast. During honey production when the honey is spun out of the comb by a centrifuge the wax cells may remain stable enough to be returned to the hive intact. Returning the wax cells to the hive allows the bees to expend less energy creating the structures as manipulate the wax. They need to consume more than 8 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax.

Humans have gathered honey since ancient times and began fermenting it more than 9,000 years ago in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Mead, also known as honey-wine, is a fermented beverage that at its simplest is made from honey, water, and yeast. Around the world it has more than 4 dozen names based on the local language or the variants that are used in its production. These can include the addition of fruits, herbs, and spices. My son Luke began the process of mead fermentation back in April so that he would have a special gift for the groomsmen at his wedding this past October.

In a simple yet multi-step process, honey is dissolved in just-boiled water and then additional cool filtered water is added to bring the temperature to a level in which yeast can thrive. The yeast that may be used is similar to brewer’s, winemaker’s or baking yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

 

Some other equipment that is helpful are a hydrometer, to measure the alcohol content, and an airlock for the neck of the container, to allow gas to escape but keep bad bacteria from contaminating the ‘must’, another name for the honey mixture.

Once this is set up the must needs to ferment for at least a month. As this happens you can see the fermentation actively happening as gas bubbles continually rise to the surface.

6-fermentation bubbles

The mead is ‘racked’ to smaller, airlocked containers so that any sediment remains in the initial container. Another month of fermentation and then it is ready to bottle and cork. Butterfly-pea blossom petals, from the flower butterfly-pea, Clitoria ternatea, added during the second fermentation turns the liquid a lovely shade of purple.

Speaking of weddings, bees also made an appearance at the ‘Flower Power’ bridal shower for our future daughter-in-law Jamie in the form of cookies and decorations.

The popularity of bees is evident in their presence of many household goods, from shower curtains and towels to honey pots and pictures. They even made an appearance on Jamie’s birthday cake recently!

It is easy to say that 2019 was the Year of the Bee for our family. Those little pollinators made their presence felt in many of our celebrations and in all of our gardens as they went from blossom to blossom, fertilizing fruits and vegetables that we would enjoy long into the new year.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Although winter officially started only a few days ago, the wet, rainy, snowy, and icy weather we’ve had over the past several weeks has put me into a bit of a funk. Don’t get me wrong: I am a Chicago native and have lived in New England for five years. I am well accustomed to a seemingly endless winter. But I think we can all agree that during a period of freezing, thawing, and mixed precipitation, the New England landscape leaves something to be imagined. Mud and dried grass muck up yards, bare deciduous trees leave our forests looking sparse, and the sky often remains one shade of gray. With only a few colors in the New England winter color wheel, I find myself dreaming of something decidedly more…green.

winter tree upright

Photo by Abby Beissinger

To help get myself out of this funk, I find myself thinking about planning the upcoming season’s garden. Usually December is too soon for me to start, but a recent post by University of Rhode Island Extension got me excited to plan early this year. In collaboration with Ocean State Job Lot, Burpee, and URI Master Gardeners, URI receives an annual donation of expired and unsold seed packs that they offer up to individuals, non-profits, schools, and more, to those living in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

URI Free Seeds

The stock of free seeds include a large variety of herbs, flowers, and vegetables—you just pay the cost of shipping ($0.25 per seed packet). To learn more about the free seed program, click here, and for the order form click here. All orders must be received by January 13th, 2020, and URI Master Gardeners will fill orders on a first-come, first-served basis.

A few things to consider once you receive your seeds:

  1. While early garden planning is fun, planting your seeds too early will leave your seedlings leggy and weak. They will be unlikely to rebound and recover when the time comes to plant seedlings outside. Pay close attention to your seed packet on when it recommends starting seeds inside based on your location’s last frost. You may find this planting calendar handy when selecting the date to start seeds inside.

Seed Packet

Photo adapted from Gardenerspath.com

  1. Since you won’t be planting your seeds for at least a few months, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator to increase their shelf life. Check out this Lady Bug article for more seed storage tips.

seed jar

Photo by Tenth Acre Farm

  1. When it is time to seed, select trays or containers that are 2-3 inches deep and have a drainage hole to allow for excess water to move through. If you plan to reuse containers from a previous season, make sure to sanitize them in a 1:10 dilute bleach solution to prevent the spread of disease causing agents (pathogens).

seed tray

Photo by DIY.com

  1. Select a soil-less media made for seed starting—not your average potting mix or soil from your backyard. The seed starting mix usually contains a combination of peat moss, vermiculite, and some fertilizers that provide ideal conditions for seed germination.

 

  1. Without adequate light, robust seedlings can be difficult to produce. Supplemental light is often needed. Refer to this fact sheet for more indoor seed growing tips and suggestions for lighting setups.

lighting setup

Photo by Thea & Bob Fry

 

Hopefully these free seeds will perk up those winter blues, and have you thinking about planning your 2020 garden early too.

 

–Abby Beissinger

Each region of the country has its own unique collection of sights, sounds and fragrances. Late fall and winter in New England brings to mind the scents of sweet, decomposing leaves, aromatic arborvitae boughs cut for greens and mildly fragrant, piney-like bayberries. To me, the smell of bayberries is akin with family gatherings, pumpkin pie, and other pleasant holiday associations. We always had a bayberry candle, or two, burning and its soft, woodsy fragrance slowly migrated throughout the house.

bayberry candles 1 - 2 CQ

Bayberry candles. Photo by Carol Quish, 2019

Little did I realize that these commercially produced candles were not made from locally grown bayberries like they were during Colonial times. Apparently, 1 bushel of the tiny, waxy fruits only yields 4 pounds of wax. Candles sold nowadays are either made from more productive species grown in South America or Europe, or are artificially scented.

Several species of bayberry call the east coast region, from southern Canada through the Great Lakes Region and down into Florida and Texas, home. Myrica pensylcanica, is the most northern bayberry species with its southern most range somewhere around North Carolina. The evergreen bayberry, M. heterophylla, and the wax myrtle, M. cerifera, grow from New Jersey south. All bayberry species have resin glands on their stems, leaves, fruits and catkins. I always give this plant a few strokes when passing it by.

bayberry 2

Lustrous, scented green leaves of bayberry during the growing season. Photo by dmp.

While some bayberry plants further south mature at 35-feet, here in Connecticut, the northern bayberry typically attains a mature height of 3 to 8-feet depending on site conditions. It most often is found growing in sandy coastal areas or around inland lakes. Around here, the bayberry generally exhibits deciduous tendencies although mine keeps its leaves quite a while most years taking on a lovely bronze winter color.

Bayberry winter color 2

Bayberries hold their leaves through much of the winter and take on a nice bronzy color. Photo by dmp, 2019

Plants are usually dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. Inconspicuous, pale yellow flowers open in March and April. They have neither petals nor sepals and are often missed unless you go searching for the small catkins. Female catkins are roundish while male ones are elongated. The narrow leaves are a handsome, dark green; slightly serrated and tapered at both ends; they range from 1 to 4-inches in length. If pollinated, the female flowers produce light grey nutlets covered with a waxy coating, which the early Colonists made into candles.

bayberries by Mark Brand 2

Grey, waxy coated drupes of bayberry. Photo by Mark Brand, UConn

To make the wax, the fruits were boiled. The wax floated to the top and was collected when it cooled and hardened. It is sometimes used to scent soaps and ointments.

Historically, the bayberry plant was used for medicinal purposes. In the South, the Choctaw Indians drank a decoction of the boiled leaves to treat fevers. Settlers in Louisiana looked to the wax liquefied in hot water as a cure for serious cases of dysentery. New England herbalist, Samuel A. Thomson, popularized bayberry in the nineteenth century believing it would cure colds, flu, diarrhea, fever and other infectious diseases. Poultices were made from the root bark and reputed to heal cuts, bruises and insect bites.

With the advent of newer technologies an analysis of the substances present in bayberry was made in the recent past and some testing done to determine its benefits and/or toxicity. Aromatic bayberry contains a number of compounds including flavenoids such as myricitrin, an antibiotic, triterpenes, tannins, phenols, resins and gums. One study found that bayberry bark extracts could cause malignant tumors in rats, however, so it is probably wiser to use this plant as a wonderfully fragrant ornamental and go visit a physician when ill.

While probably not something that we should eat, a good many song and game birds feed on the waxy fruits. As they grow along the Eastern seaboard, a major bird migration route, they serve as an important food source to many species including one type of swallow that is especially dependent on the energy produced by these berries to power their journey south.

In the home landscape, bayberries would work well on sunny sites in foundation plantings, mixed shrub borders or even as hedges. Because of their salt tolerance, these plants are recommended for coastal areas. They are fairly easy to grow and also to maintain needing water for initial establishment and then during prolonged dry periods, and the occasional removal of wayward branches. The only issue I have with my mature plant it that it suckers a bit more than I would like. The offshoots can be transplanted to other areas of the yard, shared with friends, or regularly clipped back before they become firmly established.

Bayberry suckering 2

Bayberry plants have a habit of suckering, once established. Photo by dmp, 2019

In the wild, bayberries are found either on peaty soils in full sun or along inland lakes. Mix in some peat moss or other low nutrient organic matter into the soil on hot, dry sites. They prefer our native, acidic soils so limestone applications are typically not necessary. A slow release fertilizer applied once a year or every other year is generally sufficient to meet nutritional needs.

Check out bayberries when looking for native plants to add to your yard. I find these plants irresistible and I bet you do too.

Bayberry in window box 2

Bayberry foliage is a useful addition to any winter greens arrangement. Photo by dmp, 2019

Dawn P.

Pointsettias pink and cream Peterstar marble variety-1

Did you receive a plant during this holiday season? Poinsettia, holiday cactus and rosemary trees are filling the shelves in greenhouses, grocery stores and even big box stores appealing to the giver to gift a plant lover on their list. While they are beautiful plants, they will need the correct care to keep them that way and in good health.

The familiar red foliage of the poinsettia plant are modified leaves called bracts. They surround the actual small, yellow flower at the center of the red bracts. Once the pollen from the flowers are shed, the bracts are dropped from the plant. Chose plants with little to no pollen for the bracts to be retained for a longer length of time. Plant breeders are developing different colored bracts, including variegated, offering many options than just red.

Poinsettias should be treated as houseplants as they are native to Mexico and will not tolerate cold temperatures. Keep the plants out of the way of drafts and not near cold windows. They prefer six hours of indirect light daily, and inside temps of 60 to 70 degrees F during the day, with night temps a little cooler. Water when the soil is dry, then drain excess from saucer or foil wrapping. Remove the foil wrapping to increase airflow to roots. Continuously wet soil will invite root rot, a common killer of poinsettia. Fertilizer once per month whenever the plant is not in bloom. Plants can be moved outside for a ‘summer vacation’ as long as they are located in dappled shade. Bring them back inside before frost in the fall. To coax the plant to flower and produce red bracts again the following year, put the plant into a dark room or closet for 12 hours at time for at five to six days in a row. Provide bright light during the other 12 hours of the day. This light/dark cycle triggers the photoperiodism mechanism within the plant to flower.

christmas cactus Dawn light pink1-1

Christmas cactus is another favorite holiday plant that can live for many years if properly care is given. They commonly come in shades of pink, white and even yellow. Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) bloom around the end of December, and Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) bloom about a month earlier.  In their native environment, they live in the crotches of trees up in the forests in Central America. Known as epiphytes, they root in decomposing organic matter (leaves) which catch in tree branches. Both require the same care and dislike being overwatered. Provide well-draining potting mix such as cactus mix, and allow soil to feel dry on the surface before watering. Clay pots are a good choice for holiday cactus, and both flower better when slightly root bound.

Holiday cactus needs full sun in spring and fall, and can be placed outside in dappled shade during the summer. Fertilize with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer once every two weeks during the summer growing season. Bring in plants before first frost and never let them be in temperatures below 50 degrees F. They will need a rest of reduced watering after flowering, usually during the winter months. Shortened days and longer nights of fall trigger the plants to set flower buds. Cooler temperatures below 68 degrees F also help buds to form. Household lights turned on can interrupt the 12 hours of darkness needed, resulting in reduced bud formation. A cool, spare room not used at night is the perfect location to initiate flower buds.

rosemary plant photo from University of Georgia

Rosemary tree. photo from University of GA

Rosemary plants pruned into the shape of an evergreen tree are popular and useful gift. The leaves are a culinary herb used in cooking. It is a tender perennial, grown outside in the summer and can be brought in for the winter treating as a houseplant. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean area, giving a clue to its needs for good drainage, warm temperatures and good airflow. It does better in a terra cotta or clay pot rather than a plastic one. Clay allows the soil to dry out more. Set the potted plant in a south or west window to receive six to eight hours of sun each day during its inside time during the winter. I summer, sink the pot and all in hole in the garden making it easy to bring inside next fall before first frost. Repot once a year in either spring or fall as they easily become root bound. Prune whenever you need to harvest the leaves for cooking.

The biggest problem with growing rosemary indoors is powdery mildew, a whitish/grey fungal disease. Fungicides are not recommended since the plant is edible. Neem oil is the exception and can be used on light infections, then washed well before eating. Locate the plant in a spot where the plant will have lots of airflow, not be crowded, and let the soil dry out completely before watering. If the air in your home is too dry, the needled leaves will dry out. With too much humidity, powdery mildew can develop.  Fertilize in the late spring when moving the plant back outside.  Herbs don’t need much fertilizing and will produce better on a lean soil. Over-fertilized plants are more prone to powdery mildew infections.

-Carol Quish

christmas cactus Dawn 2-1

P1000305II

The fabulous Luna moth

Thus hath the candle singed the moth.

-William Shakespeare

Anyone who has lived in New England and been around outdoor lights in May or June may have encountered some of our giant silkworm moths which  .are members of the Saturniidae moths. The diminutive slug moths, Limacodiae, are perhaps not as well known, but they are commonly attracted to lights as well. Both are natives here in Connecticut and are spectacular in their own way.

luna moth puparium

Luna moth puparium inside the leaf shelter made by the caterpillar

The Cecropia moth and its caterpillar are likely the champs, the Goliaths of their peers. The  moth may be as large as a man’s hand, and the caterpillar comes close to the same size, at least in length. Late instar caterpillars can be heavy enough to cause small branches to droop. Caterpillars feed on locally preferred plants, especially cherry, ash and apple, but also other woody plants. Cocoons are made of leaves tied tightly together lengthwise along twigs or small branches, where they may remain all winter. Pupation takes place inside this structure.

cecropia on elderberry 7-11-16

Cecropia caterpillar is over three inches long in the final instar

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13 - Copy

Female Cecropia moth

 

Luna moths are probably the most recognized giant silkworm moth with their light green color and a pair of long tails streaming from the hind wings. Polyphemus are another species that have beautiful blue and yellow eye spots on the hind wings. Late instar Polyphemus caterpillars have striking white dots along their body that shimmer with silver at certain angles in bright sunlight.

 

polyphemus just out

Polyphemus moth just after emerging from its cocoon

Promethea moths have a strong preference for spicebush, sassafras and cherry for caterpillar host plants. Along with Io moths, their caterpillars follow each other in the very early instars, forming a train-like procession as they travel over a leaf. Both species also feed together for much of their life as a caterpillar.

promethea cats

Promethea caterpillars still hanging out together

Promethea moth female 2010 raised from egg found on sassafrass Belding

promethea moth cocoon

Cocoon of the Promethea moth is inside this leaf tied to the host plant

All silkworm moths lack fully developed mouths and cannot feed. They mate soon after emerging from their cocoons, as their life span as a moth is short. All overwinter as pupa and most emerge mid- May and onward the following year. Eggs are large and smooth. Somewhat flattened, and may be laid singly or in small to large rafts, depending upon species.

On the opposite side of the spectrum as far as size goes are the slug moths and their caterpillars which may be only one centimeter in size. Often found in late summer or early fall, the caterpillars often resemble galls or something else of uncaterpillar-like. They have medial suckers instead of legs and they glide along like slugs.

Red-eyed Button slug september 13, 2009 on small black cherry 12 tee GHills

Red-eyed button slug caterpillar

Always be careful not to touch caterpillars of the slug moth as many have spines that can inflict a painful sting that feels like being stabbed with dozens of hot hypodermic needles. One of the worst stings is from the aptly named saddleback, which has both its rear and tail ends covered with stinging spines. This year, green briar was a preferred host in the north central part of Connecticut, but they can be found on a variety of other plants including oaks, cherry, blueberry and sometimes herbaceous perennials.

saddleback on green briar a favorite host plant in 2019

Saddleback is aptly named

Slug moths are attracted to lights, and if identified, a search of larval host plants nearby may yield some caterpillars. Feeding takes place along leaf edges, and sometimes a shiny trail is left where they have glided along the leaf. Adult sightings peak in midsummer, with caterpillars found from June- October. Like the giant silkworms, adult slug moths do not eat.

smaller parasa caterpillar

Smaller Parasa slug moth caterpillar

 

The smaller parasa reminds me of a Shar-Pei. They have retractable spines, but they are mostly hidden inside warts along the back. When threatened, spines protrude in small clusters from the warts. I have found these most often on oaks, but they will feed on other woody plants also.

Smaller Parasa attracted to light

Smaller parasa moth

 

Skiff moth caterpillars have steep sides and have a short, sharp tail on the rear. Various brown markings help them blend in with dead plant tissue, so they may be hard to find. This slug cat is often found on the upper sides on leaves, though, rather than the undersides where other slug caterpillars are found. Moths can be found early in the night around outdoor lights near woods.

skiff moth back deck July 25, 2009

Skiff moth

skiffy
Skiff moth caterpillar

spiny oak slug caterpillar

Spiny oak slug caterpillar

crown slug on oak ruby fenton 10-2-11

crown slug

Next year, be on the alert for our native slug moths and giant silkworm moths. Check around outdoor lights in May- June for the moths, and look on specific host plants for  the different species of these interesting caterpillars. The excitement never ends…

 

Pamm Cooper

As we head into the short, cold days of the winter solstice is there any food that so evokes thoughts of warm and sunny climes as well as citrus does? As a species, citrus has been cultivated since 3000 BCE and may originated in the area of the Himalayas more than 5 million years ago. Grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges, and tangerines are among the domesticated sweet-tart fruits of the genus Citrus that we know and love. Most of them are descended from Citrus medica, also known as citron, a large, fragrant citrus fruit. The lemon is a hybrid of citron and bitter orange (Citrus x aurantium), and the many varieties of limes are hybrids of citron, pomelo, mandarin orange and micrantha (a slow-growing, unpalatable species from tropical Asia).

IMG_20191204_131430999

From the top, a pomelo, navel orange, lime, clementine, grapefruit, and in the middle, a lemon.

The Ponderosa lemon, Citrus x pyriformis, is another hybrid of the citron, this time with a pomelo, Citrus maxima. An ever-bearing slow-growing tree with glossy leaves and large ovate fruit, it is often grown as an ornamental plant in Connecticut. Less cold-hardy than a regular lemon, can be grown outside from May to October but will need to be overwintered indoors. I acquired one of these this summer and enjoyed the lovely scent of the large, purple-tinged, blooms each time I passed by it. As of October, none of the many fruit had ripened although they were much larger than the average commercial lemon. I later learned that they can reach the size of grapefruit and that this can take up to nine months!

IMG_20190812_182736559_HDR.jpg

Ponderosa lemon tree outdoors.

Taking care of a Ponderosa lemon is easy. Keep it in a clay or other porous material container that has good drainage. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings and then give it just enough to moisten the soil without allowing it to become soggy. When the plant is outside during the warmer months it may require daily watering like other container plants. Back inside, it may benefit from being placed on, but not in, a shallow tray of pebbles and water to keep the humidity level up. A monthly dose of a liquid fertilizer while indoors will benefit it, twice monthly when it is actively growing outside. Ponderosa lemon plants may be grafted onto dwarf rootstocks to keep their size manageable. They may still need some pruning to shape them at any time of the year but keep an eye out for the abundant spines along their branches.

IMG_20191203_105505321.jpg

Spines on a Ponderosa lemon tree.

The Ponderosa lemon produces blossoms and fruit year-round. You may wonder how pollination may occur in a home environment where there aren’t any bees or other insects flying about. It is due to the fact that the flowers of the Ponderosa lemon are perfect flowers, containing both male and female reproductive parts within the same blossom. Out of doors the movement provided by a breeze is enough to transfer the pollen grains from the stamens to the stigma. In your home, simply brushing a hand lightly against the flowers can achieve the same result.

So, while the Ponderosa lemon fruit will not be ready for use for a few more months there are still many other varieties of citrus that are ready and willing to grace our holiday tables and treats. For most varieties of citrus, the harvest runs between November and April and possibly into May if the conditions are good. The satsuma, or mandarin, orange (Citrus reticulata) produces fruit from August until December and so it has always been a favorite treat for a Christmas stocking, since the 19th century. We made a Victorian-style ornament from dehydrated slices of oranges, lemons, and limes many years ago and it still graces our tree each year.

The Florida navel oranges, Citrus x sinensis, are at their best from November to January, the California navel from December to May. Using the rind of navel oranges to make candied orange peel is one of the hallmarks of the holiday season for me. Candied, or crystallized, orange peel may seem to be an old-fashioned confection but it is always a popular addition to any cookie tray at the end of a meal. Crystallizing fruit is an easy process of preservation whereby small pieces of fruit or rind are cooked in a simple sugar syrup. When I make candied orange peel for the holidays, I start with 4-5 large navel oranges that have been rinsed and dried. The first cuts remove the navel and stem ends of the fruit. Standing the fruit on one of these flat cuts, cut longitudinal slices of peel away from the inner white pith. These slices often need to be cut lengthwise again into 2 or 3 strips.

IMG_20191203_102237317

When all of the orange peel has been prepared in this way they are put into a saucepan and covered with cold water. Bring them to a boil and then simmer them for 15 minutes. Drain the peel. Repeat this process two more times. This helps to remove bitterness from the peel.

While the peel is draining for the final time, bring one cup of water and two cups of sugar to a boil in the saucepan. Add the drained peel and reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the peel to simmer until it has become translucent, up to an hour. Transfer the peel to a piece of parchment paper and allow it to cool. Toss the pieces of candied peel in superfine or confectioner’s sugar and allow it to dry overnight.

Keep it in an airtight container and use it to garnish your holiday trays or simply enjoy a few pieces with a cup of tea as you relax in front of the fireplace.

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Next Page »