Vegetables


I have to admit I get somewhat excited when I see the first fuzzy powdery mildew spots of the season appear. It’s almost like playing the plant pathology lotto, betting when the environmental conditions (warm, dry days followed by cool, humid nights) are just right for the fungi to cause disease. This year, I saw the first spots on roses in mid-June. I had just received a photo from a client with a strange white growth on her rosemary transplant, and I initially thought it was too early for a powdery mildew diagnosis. But alas, I was wrong.

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Powdery mildew on rose. Photo by A. Beissinger.

Powdery mildew is a disease caused by several different species and genera of fungi. Though you may see powdery mildew on herbaceous perennials, vegetables, and woody ornamentals, each species of powdery mildew fungi is usually host specific. The powdery mildew on your cucumber plant is not causing powdery mildew on your maple tree. Instead, you hit the powdery mildew jackpot and happen to have more than one species in your yard. In the lab, we identify the fungus to genus based on characteristics of their chasmothecia, or overwintering structures.

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Black chasmothecia, overwintering structures on English oak. Photo by A. Beissinger

 

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Powdery mildews are identified based on the morphology of chasmothecia. Pictured here is Microsphaera sp. Photo by A. Beissinger.

One of the most common questions we get in the Home & Garden Education Center is about chemical treatments for powdery mildew. Due to the biology of powdery mildew fungi, we don’t usually recommend spraying anything for woody and herbaceous perennials and here is why: powdery mildew only causes aesthetic damage and will not jeopardize the health of your plants. The fungi are obligate parasites, meaning they require a living host plant to grow, obtain nutrients, and thrive. As such these fungi have a biological incentive to keep their host plant alive; if they kill their host plant, they would not survive. It’d be more useful for you to save money and not spray a product  into the environment that will have very little success at controlling the disease.

The answer about chemical controls is a bit different for fruit and vegetable crops such as apple, grape, and cucurbits. While powdery mildew doesn’t necessary kill the host plants, the disease can present challenges for fruit quality, consistency, yield, and taste. Fruit can be deformed, have blemishes, or other markings that render them unmarketable, and produce far less than normal. In these cases, we may recommend a sulfur, neem oil, triforine, or potassium bicarbonate product. Always read the pesticide label before applying any product, and please note that chemical controls are usually only effective when appropriate cultural controls are taken as well.

Apple (Malus spp.)-Powdery Mildew | Pacific Northwest Pest ...

Apple powdery mildew. Photo by J. Pscheidt

So, what are these cultural controls?

  • Start off with resistant cultivars. Selecting plant varieties that have resistance to powdery mildew is one of the most important strategies to help prevent infection. There are many options to choose from, and require you to plan ahead before you begin planting. Garden centers and seed catalogues can be very helpful.
  • Space plants adequately. Dense plantings can increase humidity, which can in turn increase disease development. Remove plants to improve airflow.
  • Avoid overhead watering. Using a soaker hose, drip irrigation, or watering plants only at the base can help decrease humidity in the planting.
  • Thoroughly clean up all infected plant parts at the end of the season. Many herbaceous perennials are left by gardeners to maintain fall habitat for pollinators. However, removing all infected plant parts at the end of the season will decrease the inoculum able to overwinter and infect plants the following year. Do not compost infected plants as at-home compost systems do not reach temperatures high enough to kill the fungus.

One other note about diseases in the garden: powdery mildew mycellium (a mat of fungal growth; the “fuzzy” growth you see) typically grow on the upper leaf surfaces of plants, and unlike other fungi, will not grow when a film of water is present on the leaves. Occasionally mycelium will grow on the lower leaf surface, but that is less common. If you’re seeing powdery white-grey spots only on the lower leaf surface, more than likely you’re seeing downy mildew, which is a far more serious disease. These diseases are often confused for each other because of their name and appearance. Downy mildew is caused by an oomycete rather than a fungus, and spreads when water is present. Early action is required to save your plants.

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Downy mildew on grape. Note the spores are present only on the lower leaf surface. Photo by A. Beissinger.

For more information on powdery and downy mildew, visit our website for fact sheets.

-Abby Beissinger

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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-Carol Quish

 

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Some milkweeds are still blooming. Look for butterflies, like these great spangled fritillaries , on the flowers

Taking a walk around the yard, garden and woods, we are never at a loss of finding interesting, and sometimes annoying, plants and insects. Below are a few favorite and fun things that we found last week.

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Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, are non-native plants with edible fruit.

Wineberry is native to China and Japan and is a relative of raspberry and blackberry. It was originally brought to this country in 1890 as breeding stock. Today it is classified as invasive due to its aggressive tendencies. https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/invasive-plants/wineberry

Tobacco hornworms shown above are actively feeding on tomato plants. If you find a stem of your tomato plant with few or no leaves, scout for this caterpillar. Remove and dispose of as you see fit.

Hibiscus border

This hibiscus border is colorful in August

Many plants can make a suitable border, as seen above on this property featuring a hibiscus border. Perennial hibiscus Hibiscus moscheutos is easy to grow and gives a tropical, colorful look in the summer.

Check undersides of squash leaves for the egg rafts of the squash bugs. If, found, you can crush or use the sticky side of tape to remove them from the leaf. Dispose of tape in the garbage.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia and red spotted purple butterfly

 CLethra alnifoilia is a native shrub often found on edges of ponds, streams or in other places where soils are wet. Flowers are very fragrant and attract many pollinators and butterflies.

 

juvenile red- tailed hawk on rock wall late summer

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

This juvenile red-tailed hawk has found an ideal spot on top of a stone wall to wait for prey like chipmunks, voles and squirrels. Young red-tails have blue eyes.

grapevine beetle 2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Grapevine beetle resting on a grape leaf

The grapevine beetle, Pelidnota punctata, is often found on or near wild or cultivated grape. The beetle is attracted to lights and is frequently found in swimming pools where lights are on for part of the night. Although it feeds on grape leaves, it is not considered a pest. Larvae feed on organic matter.

 

In the spirit of ” gung ho” (Gung ho!, motto (interpreted as meaning “work together”)  Carol Quish and  Pamm Cooper did this blog together

The gorgeous flowers of the  horse chestnut are blooming this week. Aesculus hippocastanum is commonly called European Horsechestnut or Common Horsechestnut. The massive trees are fast growers and need plenty of room to spread out and reach high. Never plant one near or under power lines. The panicle flowers are normally white with parts of pink and yellow. There is another variety with pink flowers as shown below. Horsechestnut fruit is not edible for humans and are called conkers. The shiny nuts look nice displayed in a dish for nature lovers, just don’t try to crack and eat them!
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Red Horsechestnut Flower

Luna moth sighting have been reported around the state this week. They are a strikingly large and beautiful, with only a brief seven days of life in its adult stage. They are nocturnal spending the night seeking a mate with females laying eggs for next year’s generation. Occasionally they will fly towards a light even landing on a screen door with lights on inside. Host trees providing leaves for caterpillars to eat are walnut, hickory, sweet gum, and paper birch.

Luna moth A.Saalfrankphoto 6-4-2017 - Copy

Luna Moth

In the vegetable garden asparagus beetles are very active, feeding, mating and laying eggs. As can be seen in the lower photo, eggs are laid on on point sticking horizontally at a 90 degree angle to the stem and off of the flower bud stem. Crush all eggs by running you hand up and down each stalk. Catch adults beetles and crush or drop into a container of soapy water to rid them from the asparagus patch.

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Asparagus Beetle

asparagus beetle eggs May 20 2019

Asparagus Beetle Eggs

Another oddity was sent to my office this week. This is an Apple Oak Gall produce by a developing tiny, cynipid wasp. The adult female wasp injects the egg and a chemical into leaf tissue, causing the leaf to distort and makes a home and food for the newly hatched larva. Once the larva is big enough, it pupates inside the gall, only coming out once the gall is empty and dry. There are not enough wasp and galls to cause harm to the tree, so they are only considered cosmetic not a pest.

apple oak gall 2, RZilinski photo

Apple Oak Gall

Another gall I found this week was the Wool Sower Gall on a white oak tree.  The gall is caused by secretions from the developing wasp larva, secretions of , (Callirhytis seminator). These galls and wasp damage are also not harmful to the tree. The wasps are not dangerous to humans as they do not sting.

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Wool Sower Gall on white oak.

Other galls we have seen in past made by insects are the grape tube gallmaker galls on grape leaves, (Schizomyia viticola). Grape tube gallmaker is a species of mite that forms a gall on New World grape leaves. Larvae feed inside the tubes and are free from predators as they feed on the deformed plant tissue. Again only cosmetic to the plant.

grape tubemaker gall

Grape Tube Galls on grape leaf.

Finger galls form on a cherry leaf below. Eriophyid mites are the gall makers here. They are microscopic mites developing inside the raised, malformed tissue. Mites can be identified by the structures they create on their host plant.

finger galls on small cherry

Finger Galls on a cherry leaf.

Velvetleaf galls on sweet birch develop from the feeding of the  velvet eriophyid gall mite.  Reddish-patches are called an erinea, can also occur on silver maple. (JLaughman photo).

velvet gall on birch,Jean Laughman photo, 6-8-18

The soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, can cause galls, tumors in this case, on the crown, roots and sometimes branches of susceptible host plants. Euonymus is commonly infected. The bacterium can enter a plant via any tissue damage that normally happens during pruning or transplanting. Agrobacterium tumefaciens is also used as a tool in the laboratory in genetic engineering to introduce genes into plants in a natural way.

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Crown Gall, Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

-Carol Quish

A few weeks ago I took off for New York City to spend a few nights with my recently married friend and his wife. Going to the city a few years ago to visit him before he was married was much different than the weekend I just spent with the newly-weds. We spent most of the morning walking around different shops, getting brunch, then trying out a few different vegan ice creams. After walking off a few scoops of ice-cream, we ended up at Chelsea Market, an “enclosed urban food court, shopping mall, office building and television production facility”. My friend and his wife told me about this restaurant they dined at while on their honeymoon in Paris called Miznon. There were four Miznons located throughout the world in Tel Aviv, Paris, Vienna, and Melbourne. In 2018 a much awaited fifth Miznon was opened in the US, at Chelsea Market. Apparently, Miznon sells a world-famous cauliflower dish, that according to my friend’s wife I just HAD to try. Now up until recently I have had a very limited pallet, and had only just started eating cauliflower, and wasn’t a big fan. I expressed my disinterested to them about broccoli’s even less appealing, pale knockoff. However, they just wouldn’t let me leave without trying it. We went into Miznon, ordered, and took a seat and people-watched all the characters passing through the market. Our waitress dropped off what appeared to me to be a deflated basketball. The couple I was with could barely contain their excitement. Upon further inspection, I realized that this was not in-fact a basketball, but a head of cauliflower wrapped in parchment paper. My friend slowly unwrapped the cauliflower when I first caught a glimpse of the actual dish. When I had tried to prepare cauliflower myself, it always came out either completely burnt, or very watery. This dish was golden brown and smelt like no cauliflower I had ever smelled before.

Cflower

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the picture I took of the dish myself, so this will have to do. Image provided by: https://static.domain.com.au/twr/production/uploads/2017/08/22230751/Roasted-Cauliflower-1950.jpg

I took my fork and was caught off guard by how easily the cauliflower peeled off from the stem. After my first bite I was hooked. The consistency was so smooth, the flavors were so established; a far cry from the usual tasteless dishes I had tried before. Before we had even finished our first head we had ordered another, and I was frantically searching on my phone for the recipe. Luckily my friend’s wife already had it saved and sent it to me, which I can now share with you! Here is a link to the recipe: https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/miznons-whole-roasted-cauliflower; and here’s a cool video of the chef preparing the dish:

Once we had our fill of cauliflower we left Chelsea Market and stumbled across the High Line, an old elevated freight line that was repurposed as a large, unique city park. The High Line runs over a mile and a half through NYC, and is filled with garden, artwork, and venues for community outreach programs. Now unfortunately I was visiting in early March, and the weather wasn’t favorable. It was cold and rainy, so we didn’t have much time to explore, and the gardens were barren. However, the little time we spent walking the converted tracks through the city was an awesome experience, and has me waiting for warmer weather to go back. More information about the High Line can be found on their website: https://www.thehighline.org/.

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The High Line. Photo by J. Croze

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The High Line. Photo by J. Croze

There is not a slower time in the garden than January when the ground is frozen, often under a blanket of snow, plants have died off or lay dormant, and most insects and small animals are snug underground.

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Among the animals that may hibernate from October to April are slugs and snails, happy to find a site that doesn’t go below 0°F. Their eggs are also capable of withstanding freezing temperatures. So even though we can’t see them right now, they are out there, just waiting for the ground to warm up in the Spring when they can return to our gardens and feed on our new plants!

Slow moving slugs and snails are primordial gastropod mollusks (or molluscs) in the class Gastropoda and are invertebrates that may be found in salt or fresh water or on land. Gastropod is derived from the ancient Greek words ‘gastér’ for stomach and ‘podos’ for foot, their literal means of locomotion. Some land and freshwater snails and slugs have a simple lung from which they breathe while other freshwater snails such as this zebra nerite (Neritina zebra) breathe through gills. This video shows not only how quickly a marine snail can move around on its single foot but also its mouth as it feeds on the algae in this water garden tank.

This grove snail, Cepaea nemoralis, is a pulmonate land snail, meaning that it breathes through a simple lung which is somewhat visible through its translucent shell. A snail is born with a very soft shell and they need to consume large amounts of calcium early on in order for it to harden, starting by consuming the shell of the egg that it hatched from. This tiny newborn shell becomes the center of the coiled spiral that forms as the snail grows.

cepaea_nemoralis

Some shells form into elongated spiral shapes such as the tree snail of the Drymaeus species below on the left and the garden snail, Cornu aspersum on the right.

And then there is the ultimate example of recycling where hermit crabs will occupy marine snail shells whose occupants have died. This fellow was filmed in the Bahamas:

The shell-less gastropods, or slugs, that are common to Connecticut gardens include the netted or grey garden slug, Deroceras reticulatum. It is a major pest which loves to feed on leaves, seedlings, and young fruit such as the developing cucumber shown below. The cucumber is shiny with the slug’s slime.

These small slugs actually thrive in cultivated areas such as our gardens and landscapes, feeding at night and sheltering under stones or litter during the day. An interesting aspect of ‘slug watching’ is seeing their bodies lengthen and thin out and then contract and grow bulbous again as they move along. They almost seem to be formed a of a thickly viscous fluid as they drape over a plant or rock.

Also familiar to the Connecticut gardener is the slug Limax maximus, shown below, so called as it can grow to 5” in length. It is a nocturnal slug that returns to a particular crevice under stones or fallen trees after foraging in lawns, gardens, cellars, or damp areas. Also known as the great grey slug or the leopard slug due to the dark blotches that stand out against the lighter background of its upper body, it is a detrivore, meaning that it feeds on detritus such as dead plants and fungi although it can be a major pest in a garden where it can consume young plants. It will pursue and consume other slugs if it feels threatened.

The black slug, Arion ater, is rarely a pest in gardens, preferring terrestrial areas. This slug will contract into a spherical shape when threatened but can reach up to 4.5” when expanded to its full length.

large black slug, arion ater

Slugs and snails both produce a layer of protective mucus that is a combination of lubricant and glue from their foot which is useful in both movement and in securing the creature to surfaces. Another type of mucus coats the body to prevent desiccation, aid in healing, and protect soft body parts. Snail slime is currently an ingredient in many cosmetics where those same properties are desired, so land snails are bred on farms for the cosmetic industry. Snail farming is known as heliculture or heliciculture which derives its name from the family Helicidae to which snails belong. These farms also grow snails for consumption such as in the traditional French dish escargot or the eggs are eaten in a fashion similar to caviar.

snail damage

If slugs and snails are pests in your garden, eating and damaging plants, then check out our fact sheet Slugs and Snails for information on control options.

 

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

It’s that time of the year again: the Christmas holidays are days away. If you are looking for last-minute gifts for the gardener in your life then here are some ideas, including some new trends.

Herb-growing kits are one of the latest trends in indoor gardening. I always bring an herb planter in at the end of October when it gets too cold at night for it to remain out of doors. It generally does very well in a southwest-facing den window for a few months but the reduced sunlight and cooler nighttime temperatures usually cause it to gradually decline in vigor.

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Unfortunately, the window in my kitchen faces northeast and therefore is the least desirable growing spot in our house. There are many herb growing kits available now that have growing lights built into the units so that if you or your gift recipient also have a kitchen with a window that gets low light (or no window at all), fresh herbs can still be within reach of your culinary efforts.

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There are more than a few lower maintenance herb kits that come in a variety of containers, one of which is sure to fit the décor of any home. Burlap or heavy paper bags come complete with all that is needed to grow flowers and herbs.

The Eggling kits would be a great gift for a young gardener who would really enjoy cracking open the top of the egg to see that it contains everything (except water) that is required to grow herbs, strawberries, or flowers. Colored glass canning jars contain everything from herbs to palm trees!

Another way to grow fresh herbs or micro-greens is a portable water garden that incorporates a fish tank and a plant bed in a unique symbiotic relationship. We gave one of these to our daughter for her birthday in April and have seen the mini-aquaponic system in action. The cut-and-come-again micro-greens that sprout and grow to harvesting size in a week to ten days include radishes, broccoli, arugula, spinach, and wheat grass.

This closed system circulates the water from the fish tank up through the rock garden that sits atop the tank. As this water is rich in fish waste it supplies fertilizer to the plant’s roots. The water that is returned to the fish tank has been cleaned by the plants.

Once the herbs have been grown, whether indoor or out, there are special containers to keep them fresh and assorted culinary tools to prepare them such as a stripper that eases the removal of small leaves from herbs such as rosemary and thyme. A larger variation of the stripper works well with larger-leafed vegetables like kale. A cactus-shaped herb infuser allows any cook to add a bouquet garni to their cooking pot and then easily remove it before serving.

If your gift designee would prefer to adorn their table with flowers rather than grow them then there are plates for every style, from bold orange, green and black tropicals to powder blue backgrounds with delicate cherry blossoms to, my favorite, the high-contrast black and cream Queen Anne’s lace.

And of course, there is the traditional and always welcomed hostess gift of a flowering plant. Poinsettias are not the only way to brighten a home during the winter. Florist’s departments are teeming with an abundance of colorful blooms. Kalanchoe is a succulent houseplant that may be found with white, red, yellow, orange, and fuchsia long-lasting flowers.

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Anthurium, with its dark green, heart-shaped leaves and a tall spike of minute flowers that sit above a brightly-colored bract that may be white, pink, or red is a lovely houseplant.

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Flowering plants in the Cyclamen species include Cyclamen persicum and C. coum, both of which bloom in the winter and C. repandum which blooms in the spring would be welcome gifts. Cyclamen have beautifully variegated leaves and up-swept flower petals that range from white to soft pink to deep red.

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But if you are looking for a flowering plant that comes in a color to match any décor than nothing can top the appeal of the dramatic Phalaenopsis orchid hybrids. As seen in the image below, they are available in a veritable rainbow of colors.

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Here’s a  suggestion that may also be a final destination for plant and herb refuse: a kitchen compost bin. Now available in many materials and sizes, these bins make composting easy and may only need to be emptied on a weekly basis, perhaps a bit more often if the household is basically vegetarian like ours is or if there is a coffee-lover filling it with used grounds.

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If your gardener is also a coffee lover, then these mugs that reflect the current succulent houseplant trend would receive a warm welcome.

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Its not too late to shop for your favorite gardener or, if one or two of these gifts happened to catch your eye, then print this off, circle your choices and leave it where Santa may find it!

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton

maple tree color

Fall has settled in finally, bringing its colors and cool weather. Some foliage colors were mediocre this year, always to due to the weather. It stayed hot for a long time and we did not get the cool night temperatures which help to trigger the trees to slow down and get ready for dormancy with the side effect of changing leaf color. Still there were some nice sights around the state. Japanese maple ‘Full Moon’ is a reliably consistent beauty sporting bright red leaves for a week or more before dropping its foliage.

Full moon Japanese Maple

Full Moon Japanese Maple

Evergreen trees also drop foliage, but not all needles at once. The newer green needles will remain on the branches for several years. Eastern white pines will shed their oldest, inner most bundles of needles each year by first turning yellow, then brown and drop. Notice the healthy, younger green needles are retained on the growing ends of the branches.

Fall is time of seed and fruit production in the cycle of life of plants. Crabapples are a great source of food for birds and animals throughout the winter. Some trees have very persistent fruit, hanging on throughout the season, ensuring feathered and fur beings a meal. Viburnum species also are in fruit as are winterberries.

Another interesting tree producing seed pods is the Japanese pagoda tree, Styphnolobium japonicum. It also goes by its other common name Chinese scholar tree due to it commonly being planted around Buddhist temples in Japan. It is native to China and Korea. Panicles of scented white flowers are produced in late summer, turning into strings of pop bead looking yellow seed pods in fall. Pods then turn brown staying on the tree though winter. Japanese pagoda tree makes a great, small specimen tree in yards and larger gardens.

Japanese pagoda tree

Japanese Pagoda Tree

Fall is a good time to gather dried seeds from annuals and perennials you wish to grow again. Many reseeding annuals drop their seed and seem to pop up as weeds. Collect the seed in paper envelopes or containers to grow them where you want them next year. Cleome, Verbena bonariensis, dill and fennel are just a few that consistently popup all over my gardens. The annual yellow and orange gloriosa daisy evens spread to my adjacent neighbors from the birds eating the seed heads I leave up for them. Some hybrid seeds will not come back the same if you save and plant the seed the following year. Every year I plant blue or blue striped forms of morning glory to climb up the gazebo. They set tons of seeds and drop to the ground to sprout and grow the next year. Unfortunately, they come back a deep purple, not the blue. If I don’t rouge out the volunteers from the new blue flowered plants I put in each year, I will have a mixed show of the blue I newly planted and purple that reseeded themselves. I consider the purple weeds, but others might disagree.

Speaking of weeds, I noticed it was a banner year for Pennsylvania smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica,   formerly called Polygonum pensyvanicum . Smartweed loves it moist and it responded well to all the rain we had this spring and summer, growing like gangbusters and producing a multitude of seed. On the positive side, songbirds love the seed and will be well fed during their time here. Too bad the prolific seed production is going to add to the seed bank in the soil for following years.

lady's thumb weed

Pennsylvania Smartweed

This year of moisture also lead to much fungal production. Tomatoes were more likely to succumb to early blight and Septoria leaf spot due to leaf wetness aiding disease development and spread. Fungicides applied before fungus hits can protect plants. So will proper spacing of plants and pruning branches to increase airflow and dry leaves. High humidity and lots of moisture ensures mildews, too. Lilacs will develop powdery mildew during mid-summer, but still come back strongly the next year. I just chose to not look at them after August.

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Lilac leaves with powdery mildew

Insects are always a part of the garden be it vegetable or perennial. We need the insects for pollination and cycle of all life. The pest ones were not too bad this year as I kept up the removal and scouting for eggs on the squash and squishing caterpillars and worms on the kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Tomato hornworms made a brief appearance, but I caught them in time before much damage was done. Thankfully the cucumber beetles were low in numbers this year and manageable with hand picking them off. I am often fascinated with the beauty and intricacies of insects. I found the delicate dragonfly dead on my breezeway and could not help but marvel at its color and patterns on its body. Dragonflies dart about the yard zigging and zagging at breakneck speed while feeding on the tornado of gnats in the very late afternoon. I call it the dance of the dragonfly and now I see they come dressed in their finery for the occasion.

Dragonfly head

 

The season wasn’t all work, nor should it be. We made time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and spaces we created, and hope did also. With summer and the main growing season are behind us, I hope it left mark on your heart and memories for your mind, until next year when we can all try again, try some new plant and find a new adventure.

-Carol Quish, all photos copyright C. Quish

boat wake trail in ocean

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