I discovered a new insect in my garden: the cuckoo wasp.
I was busy planting seeds and placing them in a sunny location, on my pumpkin ladder, when a flash of metallic green caught my eye. I looked for it and couldn’t find it, at first. But I knew I had seen it and I knew that metallic green either meant an insect or some plastic trash had flown in. In either case, I had to find it.
Finally, there it was! An insect I had never seen before. It was probably no more than 1/4” long with an oblong body, a largish, rectangular head, and jointed, fringed antennae. The wings were as long as the body and when the sunlight hit it, the bright green really was beautiful. But I didn’t yet know if this was a good bug or a pest, so I captured it.
Once I had it in a container, I could see that the underside of this new insect was just as bright green as the top. But I still didn’t know what it was.
I looked in my field guide, but couldn’t find it. I could have asked my entomologist friend in Colorado, but I already owed him a batch of brownies for my last ID request, so I went to social media and asked the hive mind. In no time at all, I had several friends telling me that my new guest was a mostly beneficial insect, called a cuckoo wasp.
I say mostly beneficial because cuckoo wasps kill the larvae of other insects. Some of those other insects are pests and some of them are beneficial pollinators.
There are over 3,000 different cuckoo wasps in the world and 166 species in California. They are also known as emerald wasps, jewel wasps, ruby wasps, and gold wasps, depending on the color. These wasps don’t look anything like the yellow jackets or paper wasps most of us see each summer. They look more like harmless beetles. There is debate about whether or not these insects can sting. I didn’t see any sign of aggression in my visitor, by your experience may vary.
Cuckoo wasps get their name because they lay their eggs in the nests of other solitary bees and wasps. Laying eggs in a bee’s burrow is no mean trick. Female cuckoo wasps watch sawflies and other solitary bees and wasps as they drag paralyzed spiders and other insects into their burrows, stocking up a larder for their offspring. The female cuckoo waits until the host flies off before sneaking inside to lay her eggs. Research has shown that cuckoo wasps are able to mimic the smell of their hosts, rendering them invisible within the darkness of a burrow. Particularly brazen cuckoo wasps will catch a ride on the paralyzed prey, carefully staying out of sight. This is dangerous business.
Luckily for the cuckoo, if she is spotted, her brightly colored, heavily pitted exoskeleton is able to protect her from bites and stings. She is also able to curl up into a ball the same way a sowbug or an armadillo might. If she curls up inside an angry host’s burrow, the host has no other choice but to throw it outside unharmed. If you happen to spot one curled up, it may simply be taking a nap.
Some cuckoo wasps are murderers and some of them are thieves. Parasitic cuckoos eat the offspring of solitary bees, wasps, hornets, sawflies, silk moths, and stick insects. The kleptomaniac cuckoos steal the food left for the host’s offspring.
It ends up that cuckoo wasps have very specific needs, as far as habitat goes. Adults feed on nectar from flowers in the carrot family, the sunflower family, and the spurge family. Cuckoo wasps are secretive and they move very quickly, which explains why I’ve never seen one before. But I hope I see them again!
Ever since learning how easy it is to grow edibles at home, I keep finding foods that make my landscape look more interesting and my meals more delicious. I decided to see if I could grow my own paprika. It ends up I can and so can you!
You may be surprised to learn, as I was, that the paprika we buy in stores is simply dried and ground up sweet peppers (Capsicum annuum). In some cases, the peppers are smoked over oak wood or roasted. Tomato peppers (Capsicum annuum var. annuum) are the most commonly used, but pretty much any pepper can be used.
Types of paprika
Paprika is classified as ‘sweet’ or ‘hot’. Sweet paprika is made from the flesh, or pericarp, and only half of the seeds of sweet peppers. Hot paprika includes some of the seeds, stems, white part (placenta), and calyces (flower sepals) of sweet peppers along with chili peppers and cayenne peppers, for extra flavor and heat.
Most of the paprika you buy in the store is a Hungarian sweet recipe, but cooks and aficionados take paprika more seriously than that. According to The Complete Book on Spices & Condiments With Cultivation, Processing and Uses, there are several grades of Hungarian paprika:
Spanish paprika (pimentón) is classified as mild (pimentón dulce), mildly spicy (pimentón agridulce) and spicy (pimentón picante). My dear friend gifted me with some delicious Turkish paprika - thank you, Steve!
How about we create a new set of categories: store-bought and homegrown?
While practically any peppers can be used to make paprika, Hungarian and Spanish varieties are the most commonly used. Hungarian peppers tend to be 2 to 5” long, oblong to pointy, and thin-walled. These peppers are mostly mild with only a few exceptions. Spanish peppers are larger, ranging 5 to 9” long, are thick-walled and more susceptible to disease. Personally, I love these bell-shaped peppers. [Does anyone know where I can get seeds?]
How to grow paprika peppers
Paprika peppers are perennials in Central America but they are grown as annuals everywhere else. Paprika peppers are grown the same way as other peppers, which means they need time, heat, and lots of sun exposure. You can grow them in the ground, in raised beds, or in large containers. But don’t try starting peppers until temperatures are well above 50°F. Plants should be spaced 12” apart. Like other peppers, paprika peppers need steady moisture but cannot tolerate soggy soil. Mulching around your pepper plants will help retain that moisture and stabilize soil temperatures, which will give you a bigger crop.
Paprika pepper pests and diseases
Aphids, flea beetles, and hornworms may attack your pepper plants, but row covers can provide good protection. Diseases include leaf blight, leaf spot, wilt diseases, and viral diseases, such as mosaic, are common. Too much direct sunlight can cause sunscald on the fruit and irregular irrigation can lead to blossom end rot.
Your paprika peppers are ready to harvest when they develop full color. Since different varieties are different colors, you need to read that seed packet or plant label. And don’t let the colors fool you. Reddish paprika peppers are more mild, while the brown and yellow paprikas are hotter.
Preparing your paprika
Depending on whether you prefer sweet or hot paprika, you may want to incorporate those other, hotter peppers, or remove most of the seeds and pith for a sweeter paprika. In either case, the peppers must be thoroughly dried. You can use a thread and needle to string your paprika peppers up to dry.
Did you know that paprika peppers contain more Vitamin C than lemon juice and that their flavor improves when heated?
Now you know.
If you have a large, lovely, and productive avocado tree, you will want to be sure to prevent avocado root rot. This disease is commonly caused by overwatering and it is usually fatal to the tree. [By the way, removing large trees is expensive and dangerous.]
Avocado root rot is perhaps the most common disease of California’s avocado orchards, but nearly all fruit and nut trees are susceptible, as are azaleas, blueberries, boxwood, camellias, cinnamon trees, conifers, cycads, ferns, lilies, mosses, pineapples, and roses. Avocado root rot also threatens California’s rare endemic Ione manzanita (Arctostaphylos myrtifolia).
What causes avocado root rot?
Large trees and shrubs use a lot of water. Adding too much water creates habitat for tiny water molds, called oomycetes. Oomycetes are responsible for Phytophthora [Fie-TOF-ther-uh] root and crown rot diseases. This is one of those. The oomycete responsible for avocado root rot is called Phytophthora cinnamomi. The Global Invasive Species Database includes Phytophthora cinnamomi in its list of "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species". These water molds were originally found only in tropical and subtropical countries. They are now found around the world.
Water molds fall between fungi and algae. They fly through the air and exist in waterways and the soil. Normally, they are not a problem. Until environmental conditions are suitable, the oomycetes that cause avocado root rot mostly remain dormant in the soil. Add too much water and spores germinate, producing mycelia or hyphae (tiny vegetative threads) and sporangia (reproductive parts). The sporangia release spores that are small enough to enter a root through the root tip. Once they enter the root, they start absorbing nutrients and carbohydrates, breaking down the root structure and preventing the plant from absorbing water and nutrients.
Symptoms of avocado root rot
The most common symptom of avocado root rot, or Phytophthora dieback, is wilting. This is a problem because many people respond to plant wilting by adding more water, which is what caused the problem in the first place. Other symptoms include brown edges on leaves, chlorosis (yellowing), collar rot, darkened patches of bark and root tissue, gumming, leaf curl, reduced fruit size, stem cankers, and young shoot dieback. Flagging may also be seen. Flagging refers to the way dead leaves are retained by the plant, rather than allowed to fall.
Preventing avocado root rot
Proper tree planting depth is the best thing you can do to keep your trees healthy. Other preventive measures include:
Commercial orchards infected with avocado root rot may inject or spray affected trees with fungicides, or resort to soil solarization. These are extreme measures that should be avoided by the home gardener unless absolutely necessary. One thing you can do is cover the area with composted mulch, which suppresses the oomycetes that cause the disease and prevent healthy trees from becoming infected. Or, you can get a load of free arborist chips which will, eventually, compost themselves, preventing disease and improving soil structure.
When we bought our place back in 2012, there was a lovely old apricot tree in the backyard. She wasn’t performing very well, however. Upon closer inspection, the tree seemed a little “loose” in the ground. When I gave it a shove, the whole thing fell over! The root system was practically gone. Luckily, the tree had been kept at a manageable size and no one was hurt. I decided to use the trunk to create a stumpery and plant a new apricot tree. We later learned that the sprinkler system was pointed directly at the tree, creating a recipe for disaster.
While you may not be able to eliminate the oomycetes that cause avocado root rot from your property, you can control the conditions that allow them to cause harm.
Foliar feeding refers to feeding plants by spraying nutrients on leaves and fruit.
Normally, plants absorb their mineral nutrients from the surrounding soil through the root system. Nutrients can also be absorbed through the stomata, tiny holes used for gas and moisture regulation, found on leaves and fruit.
Foliar feeding claims
Advertisements claim that foliar feeding is many times more efficient than soil feeding, that it cannot be used incorrectly, it promotes larger, sweeter crops, boosts a plant’s tolerance for heat and cold, increases pest and disease resistance, and even improves a plant’s internal circulation. Wouldn’t that be something? The number and diversity of these claims should raise a warning flag, and with good reason. Most of the claims about foliar feeding are false, but there are situations where foliar feeding is useful.
Foliar feeding research
The claims made about foliar feeding are based on research published in 1957 in which leaves and fruit were shown to be very efficient at absorbing tiny amounts of mineral nutrients in a lab setting. You can read the full report here.
Unlike nutrients absorbed through the root system and transported through the xylem, nutrients absorbed through leaf stomata are more likely to remain in nearby plant tissue. This is especially true for the ‘immobile’ nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium. According to the study, “Phosphorus, choline, sulfur, zinc, copper, manganese, iron, and molybdenum were intermediate [with regards to absorption] with decreasing mobility in the order given.” Potassium and sodium were shown to be the most readily absorbed and highly mobile nutrients.
Again, this research was conducted under laboratory conditions, not out in someone’s garden. As one might expect, results are very different in the field. There are, however, some cases where foliar feeding is a good thing.
Foliar feeding and alkaline soil
Nutrient absorption is helped or hindered by soil chemistry and electrical charges in the soil. One aspect of that chemistry is soil pH. Acidic soil has a pH of less than 7.0 and alkaline soil has a pH greater than 7.0. This is important because alkaline soil is slower to release metallic nutrients, such as iron and manganese. If your soil is deficient in these nutrients, foliar feeding can help in the short-term while you make long-term adjustments to your soil.
The downside to foliar feeding
Simply spraying fertilizer on your plants’ leaves is a good way to burn them. There are too many variables to make foliar feeding something you would want to do all the time with all your plants. Environmental conditions, species characteristics, developmental stages of the plants, varying thicknesses of plant cuticles, and the likelihood of stomata being open or not all contribute to a lot of wasted fertilizer and the potential for harm.
Foliar feeding case in point
For those of you who have been reading The Daily Garden for a while now, you may recall reading about how my first soil test, in 2015, reported extraordinary numbers for all nutrients except iron. This was due to over-fertilizing done by the previous owner. That imbalance made those abundant nutrients largely unavailable to my plants. Also, my soil pH at that time was 7.7 and the soil was badly compacted. Truth be told, it looked and felt like concrete.
At that time, nearly all the plants in my landscape were being damaged by fungal diseases (partly due to badly aimed sprinklers), aphids, borers, scale insects, and what looked like nutrient deficiencies. Of course, the automatic (and incorrect) response would have been to add more fertilizer. Thanks to my lab-based soil test, I had the information I needed to make better decisions.
Measles on fruit, leaves, or stems can mean many different things, but it is definitely not the human measles virus.
If it looks as though your grapes have the measles, it may be black measles, also known as esca or Spanish measles. Grapes infected with black measles develop small, reddish-brown spots on the fruit. These spots may appear at any time during the growing season and will ultimately cover the fruit, causing it to turn black and shrivel up. If you were to eat these grapes, they would taste bitter. Leaves develop a characteristics ‘tiger stripe’ pattern in which the veins of white grapes remain green, haloed with yellow, and surrounded with dead, brown tissue, while red or purple cultivars develop a reddish area, instead of yellow. Other symptoms include shoot tip dieback and complete defoliation. Also, cut wood tends to ooze a dark sap and cross-sections show dark streaking in the xylem. Infected plants are highly susceptible to other fungal diseases, particularly rots.
Measles on plants can indicate fungal diseases that may look like anthracnose. Measles can also indicate nutrient toxicities or an overabundance of irrigation water.
Black measles are caused by a collection of fungi: Phaeoacremonium aleophilum and other subspecies, Phaeomoniella chlamydospora, and Fomitiporia mediterranea. Fungal spores enter plants through pruning wounds and natural cracks in the bark.
Symptoms do not appear every year and seem to be worse in years with heavy rains. When a particularly bad measles infection occurs, it is called an ‘apoplexy’. Apoplexy is nearly always fatal. There are no effective treatments against esca, other than removing infected fruit and crossing your fingers. Otherwise, remove the plant and start over. While there are no immunizations against plant measles, providing good air flow and making sure that your cutting tools are clean and sanitized will go a long way toward protecting your plants against measles. Also, make sure you get your bare root stock and/or scions from reputable sources.
Measles as a symptom of nutrient toxicity
Measles can also indicate a nutrient toxicity. Brown freckles on apple or pear fruit may simply be a characteristic of the cultivar, or it may indicate that there are toxic levels of manganese in the soil. Apple measles on tree bark looks like round to oval concentric circles or lesions. The only way to know if there are toxic levels of nutrients (or heavy metals) in your soil is with a lab-based soil test.
Measles and irrigation
Smooth-skinned cucurbits, such as crookneck squash, cucumbers, summer squash, melons, and pumpkins are all susceptible to an entirely different set of measles. Small brown spots, similar to those seen on grapes infected with esca, may be seen scattered over the surface, but this discoloration does not penetrate the fruit. These spots may also occur on leaves and stems. Unlike the viral infections and nutritional toxicities mentioned above, cucurbit measles are a physiological response to high soil moisture. When plants absorb too much water, they ‘sweat’ it out in a process called guttation. Guttation often carries salts along with water. Those salts collect where the guttation droplets are deposited. The salts burn the epidermis of the plant, causing a discoloration known as measles. Cucurbit measles can be avoided by watering less often and more deeply, especially as fruits reach maturity.
If you see measles in your garden, take a closer look to see if it is something you can fix.
Cherimoya, or custard apple, is a creamy, tropical fruit that you may be able to grow for yourself.
According to Mark Twain, cherimoya is “the pride of the [Hawaiian] islands, the most delicious fruit known to men.” He went on to explain that cherimoya has a soft pulp that is eaten with a spoon. Many describe the fruit as tasting similar to pears, but creamier and better. These fruits do not ship or store well, which is why you rarely, if ever, see them in stores. Cherimoya are often considered one of the three best fruits in the world.
Cherimoya is a fast-growing, dense tropical tree or shrub with a relatively small root system. Trees range from 16 to 30 feet in height. Grown outside of their traditional range of the Andes, Bolivia, and Peru, these evergreen trees may become briefly deciduous. Leaves are dark green and glossy with large veins and can be up to 9” long. Stems and young branches are covered with rust-colored hairs. Leaves may also have these hairs.
The small, fleshy green and occasionally pink flowers are unique in that they bloom first as female flowers and a second time as male, lasting only two days. The petals of female flowers are held tightly together, while male flower petals open widely. Cherimoya seeds are black, glossy, bean-like, and poisonous, so don’t eat them.
Cherimoya fruits average 1 to 2 pounds, but they can weigh 5 pounds or more.They may be oval, conical, or somewhat heart-shaped and up to 8” across. The flesh is white, fragrant, and delicious.
The skin of a cherimoya fruit may be green our brown when ripe. Ripe green-skinned cherimoya are described as having a texture similar to pears or papayas. Ripe brown-skinned cherimoya have a texture and flavor similar to custard. The problem is, brown skin can also mean the fruit has gone bad and started to rot, or that it spent too much time in the refrigerator.
Cherimoyas are classified according to the degree of skin irregularity. Many varieties exhibit scale-like structures, called areoles:
How to grow cherimoya
Cherimoya (Annona cherimola) can be grown in U.S. Hardiness Zones 9-11, as well as Sunset zones 18 through 24. These trees prefer higher elevations, hot, sunny days and cool, moist nights. Cherimoya trees grow best in acidic soil with a pH of 5.0 to 6.5 and good drainage. You should place your cherimoya tree where it will be protected from strong winds and scorching summer days.
Most cherimoya trees are purchased as grafted bare root stock. A hole should be dug wide enough for the roots to spread out, but no deeper than is needed to cover those roots. Proper tree planting depth keeps the graft and crown above ground. Do not tamp down the soil. Instead, mud in your new tree to get rid of air pockets and to provide the water it needs.
As your cherimoya tree is actively growing, it should be watered regularly. Do not irrigate your cherimoya while it is dormant. Cherimoya trees perform best if they receive a balanced fertilizer, such as 8-8-8, every three months, starting in the middle of winter.
Cherimoya fruit is heavy, so it is important to train your cherimoya tree to have strong branches. Each year, two-thirds of the previous year’s growth should be removed, along with any dead, diseased, or rubbing branches. Generally speaking, only those branches that emerge at a 60° angle from the trunk are retained. These fast-growing trees can easily be espaliered.
Like avocados, the flowers are hermaphroditic. They open as females on the first morning, close up for the night, and reopen later the second day as male. Because cherimoya trees are native to South America, most of our northern pollinators do not recognize cherimoya blossoms. It is believed that a certain tiny beetle pollinates native cherimoya flowers. Cherimoya flowers also have mechanisms that prevent self-pollination. This means you may need to hand-pollinate your cherimoya flowers to obtain any fruit. Don’t worry, hand-pollinating is easy. Simply take a male flower and touch its anther to the pistil of a female flower. This may need to be done several times but, for a 5-pound fruit, it sounds like a good trade!
Cherimoya pests and diseases
Cherimoya is generally disease-free, though it can become infected with Armillaria root rot, Verticillium wilt, and crown rot. Ants and mealybugs will cause the most problems, followed by Abbot’s bagworm moth (Oiketicus kubeyi), Conchaspis angraeci scale, fruit flies, hairstreak butterfly caterpillars (Thecla), leaf miners, seed borers, and thrips. Seeds are often infested with weevils.
If you live where a cherimoya tree can grow, you owe it to yourself and your family to give it a try.
Creating a sun map of your yard may surprise you. And your plants will thank you.
Sun-loving tomatoes will never produce abundant fruit if they don’t get enough sunlight, while tender lettuces may bolt before producing much in the way of salad greens if they get too much sunlight. Without enough sunlight, plants die. Without the right type of sunlight, plants fail to thrive.
Just as a soil map can help you take better care of your plants, creating a sun map of your yard will help you see where different types of sun exposure occur at different times of the year. This will help you place plants where they can grow and thrive.
How to make a sun map
Making a sun map of your yard is not hard, but it does take some time - a full year, in fact. That’s because the angle of the sun changes from season to season and you will need information from each season to make an accurate sun map. The easiest way to create a sun map is to start by taking photos in the morning, midday, afternoon, and early evening in each of the four seasons. To make this job easy to remember, you might want to set aside the spring and autumn equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices for this task. If you aren’t that motivated, you can do it in spring and summer.
Select viewpoints that give you the widest perspective on your property. You might want to position a lawn chair, plant stake, or other marker at each of your shooting spots so that they remain consistent, but this isn’t necessary. The important thing is to get out there and take the photos.
To put those photos to work, you can use graphics layering software (beyond me), you can draw a sketch of your property, or use a printed Google Maps screenshot of a terrain view of your property. I start with the terrain view and then trace the image. These images are very handy, I keep copies in my file cabinet. The next step is to decide on a key for each type of sun exposure.
Morning sunlight and afternoon sunlight are different. Sunlight in summer and winter are different, too. Sun exposure is classified this way:
These terms do not give you a ton of information, but they give you enough to make better decisions about where you grow your plants.
Your key will use different symbols to indicate different types of sun exposure. For example, your key may use dots for full sun, dashes for partial sun, slashes for partial shade, and tiny triangles for full shade.
Take your property map and your photos and pencil in the different sun exposures, using your key. For more helpful information, use different colored pencils for each season. This will help you see how things change over the course of the year. Or, you may prefer creating a different sun map for each season and saving the colored pencils for the different sun exposures. How you do it doesn't matter. That you do it does matter.
Why map the sun?
The most important benefit of a sun map is that it helps you position plants, raised beds, and structures, such as garden sheds, properly in the first place. If everything is already in place, a sun map will help you select the best locations for annual plants. A sun map can also help you figure out why fungal diseases may keep occurring in certain areas. Locating plants prone to fungal disease in areas where they will receive morning’s first light will help dry leaves as quickly as possible. And if your summers are like mine, you can reduce the afternoon scorch by locating plants where they will receive some protection in the afternoon.
Retailers are happy to sell you a physical sunlight calculator and apps for your phone, but these are not useful. You can see for yourself if an area is shaded or not. Much like OTC soil tests, the information these products provide is not detailed enough to actually mean anything.
It is all too easy to forget about the effect of seasons on sun exposure. As neighboring trees leaf out or drop their leaves, nearby plants can find themselves in a completely new environment in a short period of time.
Creating a sun map may also give you a better view on how your plant population changes over the seasons. It's pretty amazing stuff!
You’ve seen the words, but what do partial sun and partial shade mean? Are they the same thing? Sun exposure is an important part of knowing where to put your plants.
Without sunlight, most plants can’t grow. Plant labels and plant descriptions often give you information about the amount and intensity of sunlight a plant needs, but the terms can be a little confusing.
Some yards receive more sunlight than others. Knowing how much sunlight an area gets can help you select the right plants for that space. Keep in mind that some plants can grow in more than one type of sun exposure.
Full sun means 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. Full sun is usually found on the south side of your house (assuming you live in the northern hemisphere). Full sun plants are your go-getters. Most summer crops prefer full sun. Artichokes, cucumbers, eggplant, fruit and nut trees, peppers, squash, tomatoes, and most herbs need 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight each day. Plants with silver or gray foliage also prefer full sun.
Partial sun means 3 to 6 hours of sunlight in the afternoon. Partial sun is usually found on the west side of your house. We can call these the late sleepers of the plant world. They need time to wake up and may not be ready to deal with sunlight until later in the day. Artichokes, asparagus, beans, beets, blackberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chives, leeks, cilantro, garlic, kale, lettuce, melons, mint, onions, oregano, peas, potatoes, radishes, raspberries, rutabagas, Swiss chard, and turnips can be grown in partial sun.
Partial shade means 3 to 6 hours of morning sun with protection from more intense midday and afternoon sun. These are your early risers. Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beans, blackberries, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, endive, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, radishes, raspberries, spinach, and Swiss chard grow well in partial shade.
Before you start sticking plants in the ground, you should probably create a sun map of your yard. This will tell you how much sunlight each area actually gets. And remember, those areas change with the seasons. Also, the plants themselves can create different degrees of shade or exposure for other plants. I grow chives under my artichoke plant. This is a form of companion planting, or intercropping.
If you have a garden with traditional rows, your plants will get the most sun exposure if your rows are oriented in north-south directions and your tallest plants are at the northern end of your garden plot.
Native to boreal and arctic forests, lingonberries are close cousins to cranberries.
Used to make jam, syrup, and sauce, lingonberries are very tart, tasting like a cross between cranberries and raspberries.
Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are also known as cowberries, mountain cranberries, partridgeberries, cougarberries, beaverberries, and several other animal-berry combinations, depending on where they are found.
Lingonberries are tough, short evergreen shrubs. They rarely grow more than 18” in height. Plants produce white to pink bell-shaped flowers and bright red edible berries. Broad, oval leaves grow alternately along rounded stems. Unlike most broadleaf plants, lingonberries retain their leaves all year. Fruit is bitter early in the season but sweetens somewhat through winter. Even at its sweetest, lingonberries are very tart.
Plants spread out using underground stems, called rhizomes. Lingonberry plants are self-pollinating, but crops are larger and ripen earlier when more than one plant is nearby. Each plant blooms twice a year, creating the potential for two crops. Flowers are not frost-hardy, so the first crop is often lost to a late frost, but these tiny shrubs are very prolific.
There are two regional subspecies of lingonberry. The Eurasian lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea subsp. vitis-idaea) has larger leaves that can be more than 1” long. The North American lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea var. minus) has much smaller leaves, usually less than 1/2” long.
Sadly, some North American populations and subspecies of lingonberry are now in trouble. Specifically, the Michigan lingonberry is endangered and the Connecticut lingonberry is believed to be extinct.
How to grow lingonberries
Lingonberry plants need cold weather and good drainage. They can tolerate temperatures as low as -40°F but cannot grow well in areas with hot summers. Lingonberries grow best in moist, acidic soils (pH 4.2-5.2) under the type of shade one would find under a forest canopy. [That certainly rules out my yard.]
If you live in U.S. Hardiness Zones 3-8, you can grow your own lingonberries. Most people start with potted seedlings from a reputable supplier. You can also grow lingonberries from cuttings or divided roots. Just remember to place live plants in quarantine before adding them to your landscape.
At planting time, dig a hole that is large enough to allow the roots to spread out, making sure that the planting depth remains the same. You don’t want to bury the crown or stem. Plants should be spaced 12” apart. Do not tamp down the soil. Instead, mud in your new plants. This will protect the delicate root hairs that plants need to take up water and nutrients.
Weeds are the biggest threat to your lingonberry plants. A thick mulch of wood chips around the plants can reduce that problem and improve soil structure, help retain moisture, and eventually add nutrients to the soil. Your lingonberries will not require much in the way of fertilizer. In fact, adding too much nitrogen increases the odds of your plant dying in winter. A better choice would be to top dress around your lingonberry plants with a little bit of aged compost or fish emulsion and leave them be. You can also use a complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-5 each spring.
Lingonberries perform well in raised beds and containers. You should protect your lingonberry plants from severe winds. Lingonberry plants are sensitive to chlorides, which means your need to keep them away from chlorinated pool water, de-icing salts, and fertilizers containing potassium chloride.
Lingonberry pests and diseases
Birds, bears, and foxes love lingonberries. So do aphids, armyworms, mealybugs, and whiteflies. Bacterial leaf spot and grey mold may occur, but these diseases can often be prevented by not watering from above. Instead, use soaker hoses or furrow irrigation to keep water off the leaves.
Not everyone lives where lingonberries grow. If you do, you owe it to yourself to give them a try.
Native to Europe, gooseberries are now commonly found in North America. Cousin to currants and jostaberries (a cross between currants and gooseberries), gooseberries can be eaten fresh or used to make delicious pies, jams, and jellies. Gooseberry flowers also attract many pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa also R. grossularia) grow on bushes that can reach 5 feet in height and width. These shrubs have spiny branches and stems that can make working with them a little tricky. Berries can be hairy or smooth, much like peaches and nectarines. They are usually green, but can also be white, yellow, or a reddish-purple. Gooseberries are categorized as culinary or dessert varieties.
How to grow gooseberries
Gooseberries grow best in U.S. Hardiness Zones 3 to 8, but can be grown in shaded areas in regions with warmer summers. Gooseberries are self-pollinating, so you only need one. Gooseberries can be propagated from seed or cuttings. You may also find them available as bare root stock. Gooseberries can be planted from late fall through early spring.
Caring for gooseberries
Gooseberries perform best when pruned for good airflow. This is best done in winter, while the plant is dormant. Gooseberries can be trained along a fence or up a trellis. This also makes it easier on your arms when harvesting. They can also be grown in large containers. When pruning gooseberries, start by removing any dead, diseased, or rubbing branches and any suckers. Then prune to reduce crowding. Finally, prune back any remaining growth by one-half. Lateral branches should also be cut back, leaving one to three buds.
Being native to alpine regions and other areas with poor soil, providing gooseberry plants with extra nitrogen often results in too much vegetative growth. This means you get less berries and more spindly branches. Gooseberries should be given a top dressing of aged compost at the end of each winter to help them grow in spring. Mulching around gooseberry plants will also help reduce weeds and stabilize soil temperatures.
Both because of the spines and the need for significant pruning, heavily laden branches should be removed completely, once the fruit is ripe. This allows light to reach new growth next year.
Gooseberry pests and diseases
Gooseberry plants are susceptible to several fungal diseases, such as American gooseberry mildew, anthracnose, currant cane blight, grey mold, and septoria leaf spot, so avoid overhead watering and be sure to provide good drainage.
In North America, gooseberry sawflies (Nematus ribesii), also known as currant sawflies and imported currantworms, are the most common pest. Aphids, brown marmorated stink bugs, currant borers, gooseberry fruitworms, and clearwing moths may also cause problems. And birds.
Note: If you live in New Hampshire, North Carolina, or West Virginia, you are not allowed to grow gooseberries or other Ribes plants. If you live in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island or Delaware, you’ll need a permit. These bans are in place because Ribes can carry white pine blister, an imported Asian rust fungus that has devastated high elevation pine forests.
Thanks to reader Carol Peck, I learned that California hosts several native edible gooseberry varieties. These include canyon gooseberry (Ribes menziesii), flowering gooseberry (R. speciosum), hillside gooseberry (R. californicum), Santa Lucia gooseberry (R. sericeum), Sierra gooseberry (R. roeslii), spreading gooseberry (R. divaricatum), and yellow gooseberry (R. quercetorum). Thanks to Carol Peck for the information!
If you are lucky enough to live where you can grow gooseberries, give them a try. These shrubs are very prolific and the fruit is delicious!
Mizuna is a tasty Asian green that you can grow in containers, on a windowsill, or in your garden.
With its slightly peppery flavor, similar to arugula, it should come as no surprise that mizuna is part of the cabbage family. Young leaves are used raw, in salads, and mature leaves are lightly cooked in stir-fry and soups. Flowering stems can also be cooked the same ways you might cook broccoli. In Japan, mizuna is also pickled.
Mizuna (Brassica rapa var. niposinica), also known as Japanese mustard, water greens, or spider mustard, is cousin to bok choy, mustard, Napa cabbage, ruby streaks, and turnips. Mizuna is a great addition to salad gardens and stir-fry gardens. It can be grown outdoors in U.S. Hardiness Zones 4 to 9.
This cool season crop looks as good as it tastes. Mizuna grows in a mounding rosette that can be up to 9” high and 18” across. The glossy green leaves are feathery and serrated. Stems are pale green to white. Some specialty varieties even have purple stems! Mizuna flowers look like those of most other cruciferous plants with four yellow petals. Mizuna is a biennial, which means it generally goes to seed in its second year.
How to grow mizuna
Mizuna grows easily from seed. You can start seeds in pots and then transplant seedlings, or sow seeds directly in the ground. In either case, seeds should be covered with 1/4” of soil or vermiculite.
Plants grown to be used while young should be spaced 4” to 6” apart, plants grown for “cut and come again” harvesting should be planted 8” apart, and plants destined to be harvested when mature should be spaced 12” to 16” apart. Keep the soil moist until germination occurs and then water frequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
Mizuna plants can be grown in full sun or partial shade, as long as they get at least 3 to 4 hours of sunlight each day. They prefer loose, nutrient-rich soil, so you may want to band the area with aged manure or compost at planting time and top dress with fish emulsion or more compost throughout the growing season. Banding refers to incorporating fertilizer or other nutrient sources into the soil on either side of seeds at planting time. Mizuna grows best in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5.
Succession planting can extend your harvest throughout the cooler months. Mizuna will bolt as temperatures rise. If you allow it to go to seed, you will be providing local pollinators and other beneficial insects with pollen and nectar, plus you will get seeds for future crops.
Mizuna pests and diseases
Flea beetles and slugs and snails will pose the biggest threat to your mizuna crop. Aphids and whiteflies may also try feeding on your mizuna. Mizuna is not disease-prone.
Did you know that mizuna is being grown aboard the International Space Station?
Now you know.
Salad burnet leaves may look like parsley or celery, but this cucumber-flavored perennial is actually a member of the rose family, along with nectarines and blackberries.
If that weren’t surprising enough, its edible young leaves make great additions to salads, sandwiches, dressings, eggs, soups, iced tea, and Bloody Mary’s. This fragrant, mounding, evergreen herb produces stunning red to purple apetalous* flowers in summer. And it is practically pest- and disease-free! I don’t know why we don’t see salad burnet in stores, but we can grow our own at home.
*Apetalous means 'without petals'.
How salad burnet grows
Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), also known as garden burnet, salad burnet, small burnet, or simply burnet is a drought- and frost-tolerant plant that grows best in U.S. Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. It has a low-growing rosette shape that may reach 6” to 18” in height. Salad burnet is a short-lived perennial that is often grown as an annual. Leaves are pinnate and toothed.
How to grow salad burnet
Salad burnet grows best in loose soil with good drainage. It prefers a soil pH of 6.8, though it is a tolerant plant. In most regions, salad burnet should be planted in full sun. In hot regions, dappled sun is better. Start seeds in pots filled loosely with potting soil. Only lightly cover seeds with soil (no more than 1/8”) and keep the soil moist until germination occurs. This should take 1 to 2 weeks. [Note: to prevent seeds from being flooded into a corner of the pot, thoroughly water the soil before planting, then cover seeds with vermiculite or just a little soil and then use a mister to keep the soil moist.]
Salad burnet prefers moist soil, so you may want to consider planting it near a hose spigot or next to a rain gutter. Mulching around plants will help reduce weeds, retain moisture, and stabilize soil temperatures. Top dressing every 6 weeks or so with aged compost or feeding with fish emulsion will help keep your salad burnet plant productive and healthy. You may want to remove flowering stems to encourage more leaf growth, but the apetalous flowers really are stunning.
Harvesting salad burnet
Dried salad burnet does not retain its flavor, so you will want to snip off young leaves as they are needed. The more you take the more the plant will produce, as long as you don’t take more than one-third of the plant at a time. You can also freeze leaves in ice cubes for later use in beverages or hot dishes. Older leaves tend to taste bitter so should be tossed to the compost pile.
Salad burnet is predominantly pest-free. The only disease I could find that affects salad burnet is leaf spot. Add salad burnet to your herb garden, storybook garden, or grow it on your windowsill.
Yellow crookneck squash offers a sweet, buttery harvest and they are easy to grow
Yellow crookneck is an annual summer squash, close cousin to zucchini, straightneck, and scallop squash.
Yellow crookneck squash plants
Yellow crookneck squash plants have very large leaves with bristles on the underside. The stems are tubular and also have bristles. Each plant may take up 3 to 4 square feet. The fruit is bright yellow (making it easy to find, come harvest time) with thin skin that may be smooth or bumpy and a hook at the stem end. Yellow squashes without the hook are called straightneck.
Unlike squashes and melons that spread vines around above ground, yellow crookneck squash are bushes that do their spreading in the soil. They have taproots, which may go down 30”, but the overall root systems are shallow and may spread out 2 to 4 feet in all directions.
Squash plants produce both male and female flowers. The males flowers emerge first. Scientists believe this is to attract pollinators. Squash is not self-pollinating, so you will want bees, wasps, and other pollinators to come visit. You can boost those odds by planting shallow, bright white, yellow, or blue flowers, such as borage, lavender, nasturtiums, pot marigold, salvia, sweet alyssum, or zinnias nearby.
How to grow yellow crookneck squash
Like other cucurbits, yellow crookneck squash prefers a sunny location with loose, well-drained soil and a soil pH of 5.8 to 6.8. If you are like me, the only one of those available in abundance is summer sunlight. Over time, you can acidify alkaline soil and improve soil structure with a mulch of arborist chips, but these things take time. If you’d rather not wait that long, raised beds or large containers are good options.
Once temperatures stay at or above 60°F, seeds can be planted 2” deep and 3 to 4 feet apart, if planting in rows. Another option is to create hills that are 6” to 12” tall and 20” across. In each hill, plant 4 or 5 seeds, spread 3” apart, and keep only the best seedling for each hill, snipping off the others at soil level. In arid regions, you can use inverted hills, or shallow areas. This makes watering easier, but it may increase problems with pests and fungal disease.
Fruit production should start 60 days after planting. If your plants are not producing, use a moisture meter to make sure they are getting enough water. Those big leaves may droop in the afternoon, but if they haven’t perked up by morning, they need more water. You can protect fruits from pests and disease by placing straw around the plant. This keeps fruit off the ground, preventing a case of measles, and it helps stabilize soil temperatures.
Squash plants are heavy feeders. You can help them stay healthy and productive by top dressing around plants with aged compost or fish emulsion. Avoid applying extra nitrogen. Nitrogen stimulates leaf growth, not fruit.
Harvesting yellow crookneck squash
Fruits are produced near the base of the plant and should be harvested when they are 4” to 7” long and 2” in diameter. Like other summer squashes, yellow crookneck squash will get tough is allowed to grow too large. Harvesting frequently also spurs the plant to produce more fruit. Just be sure to cut fruit from the plant with a clean knife. Do not twist fruit off as this can damage the plant, making it easier for pests and diseases to get inside.
While male squash flowers are edible, they are commonly battered and deep-fried, harvesting the flowers can significantly reduce your crop.
If you keep harvesting, these plants will keep producing. Squash can be cubed or spiralized, blanched, and frozen for later use, or used in chutney and relishes. Because squash is a low-acid food, it cannot be safely canned on its own. Even using a pressure canner to preserve summer squash is no longer considered adequate.
Yellow crookneck squash pests and diseases
If you see a small hole in the stem of your squash plant, slit the stem open further to see if the problem is squash vine borers. Borers can be removed by hand and then the stem laid on the ground and covered with soil. If you’re lucky, new roots will develop at the cut. Other pests include armyworms, cabbage loopers, crickets and grasshoppers, cucumber beetles, cutworms, darkling beetles, dried fruit beetles, earwigs, false chinch bugs, flea beetles, green peach aphids, leafhoppers, leaf miners, melon aphids, seed corn maggots, spider mites, squash bugs, stink bugs, thrips, whiteflies, and wireworms. If you live in the southeastern U.S., melonworm moths and pickleworms may also be a problem.
Irregular irrigation can reduce fruit production and lead to blossom end rot. Fungal diseases, such as anthracnose, charcoal rot, damping-off, downy mildews, Fusarium crown and foot rot, Fusarium wilt, Phytophthora fruit and crown rot, powdery mildew, sudden wilt, and Verticillium wilt. Bacterial diseases of summer squash include angular leafspot, bacterial leaf blotch, and bacterial wilt. Squash plants are also susceptible to viral diseases, such as cucumber mosaic, cucurbit aphid-borne yellows, cucurbit yellow stunting disorder, curly top, potyviruses, and squash mosaic virus.
Most of these diseases can be prevented by installing clean, disease-free seed, selecting resistant varieties, spacing plants for good airflow, and by avoiding overhead watering. If you keep leaves dry and do not handle plants while they are wet, the spread of pathogens is significantly reduced. Diseased plants should be removed and discarded. Despite all those threats, yellow crookneck squash plants are impressive and productive. You probably only need two of these plants to keep your family supplied.
If all that weren’t enough, molybdenum deficiencies can cause a condition known as yellows. Yellows eliminates squash fruit set and generally kills the plant. [What does your soil test say about molybdenum in your garden?]
As the growing season nears its end, leave one fruit to complete its life life cycle. You won’t want to eat it, but the seeds can be used for next year’s crop. And your chickens will be happy to take care of the scraps. Just be sure to keep different types of summer squashes away from each other. Cross-pollination doesn’t always result in desirable offspring.
Grow burr gherkins for your own tiny pickles!
Burr gherkins (Cucumis anguria) are an African cousin to the common cucumber (C. sativus).
Burr gherkin description
Smaller than cucumbers, burr gherkins go by several other names: cackrey, West Indian gherkin, and West Indian gourd. Whatever you call them, these heat-loving plants produce vines that can reach 9’ in length. The fruits are oblong and usually less than 2” long. They get the name burr because fruits are covered with tiny spines or warts.
While the vines and flowers of burr gherkins look a lot like cucamelons (Melothria scabra), the two are only distantly related and the fruits are very different.
These are also not the longer French gherkins, which are pickled in vinegar and tarragon and called cornichons.
How to grow burr gherkins
As a cucurbit, burr gherkins prefer warm temperatures, loose soil, and something to climb. Burr gherkins can also be allowed to sprawl across the ground, though a bed of straw will help reduce pest and disease damage. Six to eight seeds are planted in 12” hills with 18-24” spaces between hills. Once seedlings emerge, snip off all but the best three in each hill at soil level. Water as needed, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
Burr gherkin pests and diseases
Burr gherkins are particularly susceptible to aphids and cucumber beetles. Fungal diseases, such as damping-off, downy mildews, powdery mildew and verticillium wilt are also possible, as are viral diseases, such as mosaics and various yellows. Row covers can be used to protect against some insects, just make sure you don’t trap any pests under the cloth.
Preserving burr gherkins
These are very productive plants, but you will want to harvest fruits while they are young. This keeps the plant producing fruit, plus mature fruits are tough. Fruits should start appearing 60-65 days after planting. While burr gherkins can certainly be eaten raw or cooked like zucchini, they are most commonly brined or pickled.
Because of their unusual fruit, burr gherkins are a great addition to children’s gardens. And, just so you know, most of the pickles sold in markets today as “gherkins” are actually just baby cucumbers, not gherkins.
Now you know.
Edaphology is the science of how soil impacts living things. It also looks at the ways we use soil and how that use alters a soil’s ability to support life.
There’s no denying that a lot is going on under our feet. Within the soil, one might find worms, spiders, tiny beetle eggs, or a colony of ground-dwelling bees or ants. You might also find billions of bacteria and trillions of fungi and other microorganisms. But it is the condition of the soil that makes life possible for all those living things.
Edaphology is the study of how soil is used in agriculture (agrology) and how soil impacts the local environment (environmental soil science). As gardeners, we are all amateur edaphologists, to one degree or another.
By studying soil biology, physics, and chemistry, edaphologists have learned a lot about how soil can be used and improved for growing food and other plants. Soil chemistry refers to the mineral nutrients found in the soil that are used by plants as food. Levels of these nutrients, and their availability, often dictate which plants can be grown and how they will perform, as well as what needs to be added or reduced. It also refers to the presence of toxins, such as lead. Only a lab-based soil test can give you that information.
Drainage and irrigation
Agricultural edaphology also looks at irrigation and drainage. Different soils hold and release different amounts of water at different rates. While sand holds very little water, drainage is excellent. Clay holds tightly to a significant amount of water, but drainage tends to be poor. For plants to really thrive, a middle ground is ideal.
Edaphology studies ways to reduce erosion and soil degradation. Bare earth is vulnerable to erosion. Ask anyone who lived through the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Wind, water, animals, tools and equipment can all degrade or erode soil, one way or another. Soil degradation also refers to the depletion of water-soluble nutrients used by plants. Climate and vegetation play major roles in soil degradation. As temperatures rise (or fall), different sets of plants, microorganisms, and other life forms thrive or suffer, impacting your soil.
Edaphology has found ways to improve soil fertility and structure, along with its cation exchange capacity and its water holding capacity by adding soil amendments. Soil amendments include fertilizers and soil conditioners. Soil conditioners are used to improve or rebuild damaged soil. Bone meal, blood meal, coffee grounds, compost, manure, and vermiculite are just a few of the soil amendments used to improve soil quality. These materials help reduce soil compaction and improve nutrient levels and accessibility. Adding organic materials, such as aged compost, can significantly improve water retention and drainage.
Edaphologists have researched the various properties of soil in relation to plant production. Their research has taught us better soil husbandry methods. Soil husbandry is the art and science of caring for soil so that it can continue to be used to grow the plants we want. Soil husbandry includes protecting soil from erosion and degradation with mulch and cover crops, improving soil with soil amendments, and employing green manures and crop rotation to keep soil healthy. Whatever is growing on top of a soil has a profound impact on the health, structure, and fertility of that soil.
The bottom line for gardeners is that edaphology teaches us how healthy soil creates healthy plants and healthy plants help maintain healthy soil.
Now we know.
Those deliciously crisp snow peas in your stir fry can be grown at home.
The story behind pea evolution is fascinating. Even more intriguing is why more people don’t grow their own snow peas at home.
Snow pea plants
Snow peas are flat-podded peas that are eaten whole while unripe. Like sugar peas, snow peas are indehiscent, which means the ripe pods do not open on their own. Shelling peas, which are grown to be dried and used in cooking, have a much tougher pod that is dehiscent.
All pea plants are legumes, which means they play host to beneficial rhizobia bacteria in their roots. These bacteria help plants fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can use.
How to grow snow peas
Like fat-podded sugar peas and shelling peas, snow peas are a cool season crop. In fact, that’s how snow peas got their name, being grown in winter. Seeds should be planted 1-2” deep and 5” apart in loose, nutrient-rich soil. Snow peas use tendrils to climb supports, such as stock panels and trellising.
Harvest pods as they form to make the vines keep producing. Once plants sense that they have completed their reproductive cycle, pod production stops.
Snow peas are so easy to grow.!You can add them to your stir fry garden, salad garden, or just grow them! Did you know that the immature leaves and stems are also edible?
Now you know!
There is a reason why Belgian endive [on-DEEV] is so expensive in the stores. But odds are pretty good that you can grow your own.
Belgian endive, and its cousins radicchio, escarole, curly endive, and sugarloaf, are all members of the chicory family. Chicory has a slightly more bitter taste than lettuce, but its nutty flavor adds a lot to salads and appetizers. I love to combine diced pear, feta cheese, some lemon juice and just a touch of olive oil, salt, and coriander and place dollops of the mixture into endive leaves. It's delicious! The harvestable head is called a chicon.
A manipulated chicory
If you have ever tried growing a plant in a room without enough sunlight, you have seen etiolation. Etiolation describes the way plants become leggy as they reach for inadequate sunlight. They also tend to be pale and delicate. The whiteness of Belgian endive is achieved in a similar way by blanching.
Blanching is a method of growing in which seedlings are covered with soil or other materials to block photosynthesis.. Belgian endive is grown commercially in dark rooms. The lack of chlorophyll in the leaves makes them white. It also gives them a more delicate flavor and tender texture. Blanching is also used on asparagus and celery. To grow your own Belgian endive, you need to learn a few tricks.
How to grow Belgian endive
Belgian endive is one of the few crops that is grown twice. First you grow the root and then you grow the head. If you simply put a Belgian endive seed in the ground and water it, you will get what looks like several other green chicory plants. In the case of Belgian endive, a seed is planted and allowed to grow normally. Then the top portion is removed, the root is refrigerated [vernalized] and then replanted, and grown in the dark. This “forces” the plant to believe it has gone through a winter and the head it produces is very tightly wrapped, pale, and tender.
To grow your own nutty, crunchy, slightly bitter winter greens, follow these steps:
Three to four weeks later, you will have your very own Belgian endive crop. Simply snap the head off and there you have it!
Problems associated with growing Belgian endive
If you plant seeds too early, bolting may occur. While that’s a great way to get seeds for next year, you won’t have any harvestable heads. And if too much nitrogen is present, your plants will focus on leafy growth rather than root development. And you need healthy roots to get harvestable heads.
Each root only produces one head, so the old root can be fed to your chickens or added to the compost pile.
Sugarloaf chicory is a surprising leafy green perennial.
Cousin to radicchio and Belgian endive, and similar in appearance to Romaine lettuce, sugarloaf chicories (Cichorium intybus) mature into football-shaped heads that can be grown and cut, year after year.
Like other chicories, sugarloaf chicory, also known as sugarloaf borca and green radicchio, is more bitter than most salad greens. These loaves of green are often braised or grilled before eating, to reduce the bitterness and to bring out more of their sweetness.
How to grow sugarloaf chicory
Sugarloaf chicory can be grown from seed, or you can let it self-seed and go a little wild. Ultimately, you can also propagate these greens using division. Seeds should be planted 1/4” deep and thinned to 12 to 18” between plants.
In most parts of the country, sugarloaf chicories are planted in late spring and early summer for autumn and early winter harvests. Here in California, sugarloaf chicory is an excellent winter crop, as long as the soil does not stay soggy. Sugarloaf chicories are very drought tolerant plants. They grow best in loose soil with good drainage, making them an excellent choice for raised beds. Plants mature in 80 days, on average.
Sugarloaf chicory can be harvested on a leaf-by-leaf, as needed basis, or the head can be allowed to mature and then cut the whole thing off just above the soil. The plant will, in most cases, regrow. Sugarloaf chicory can also be forced and blanched the same way Belgian endive is managed.
Sugarloaf chicory pests and diseases
Aphids, darkling beetles, flea beetles, leaf miners, loopers, and thrips are the most common pests, along with slugs and snails. Fungal diseases, such as anthracnose, bottom rot, downy mildews, fusarium wilt, septoria blight, and white mold can often be avoided by ensuring proper drainage and good spacing between plants. Damping-off disease and bacterial soft rot may also occur.
How deep do roots go? Rooting depth is dependent on a lot of different conditions. After reading this post, you may never look at your garden plants the same way again. I know I don't!
Thrive or survive?
We’ve all seen examples of tenacious, wind-battered trees growing impossibly out of rocks, but we want life for our garden plants to be better than that, don't we? We don’t want our plants to simply survive, we want them to thrive! This is where rooting depth becomes so important. Plants will make do with whatever they have available to them. By providing enough loose, healthy soil, our plants will be more productive and less likely to get sick.
How deep plant roots go depends on several variables: species, soil structure, soil health, soil moisture levels, and probably a thousand other things. Roots will go where they need to to find water and nutrients. Imagine carefully digging up specimens of your garden plants to see what their root systems really look like. Ends up, it’s already been done. Back in 1927, a couple of researchers, Weaver and Bruner, dug up a bunch of vegetable plants to examine rooting depth and structure. We can use what they learned to make sure we put our plants where they will grow best.
And that lawn, its root system is pitiful compared to native plants.
In my case, I have to assume that plants installed directly in the ground are going to have a tougher time moving around in the soil, for at least another year or two. Because of this, I try to remember to install shallow-rooted plants in those places. I generally use my 12” deep raised beds for plants with moderately deep roots and my 24” deep bed for the plants with deeper roots, though not always. Because my raised beds are open to the native soil at the bottom, rooting will get progressively deeper as the preexisting soil improves.
Strawberries are classified as shallow-rooted, but my deep bed has newly built netted panels that keep birds away, so that’s where my strawberries live. [As you read this post, you will learn that strawberries are not nearly as shallow-rooted as many, myself included, once believed.]
Listed below are categories of minimum rooting depths, under ideal conditions, for many common home gardening plants. Remember, these numbers are bare minimums, assuming nutrient-rich, loose soil. Your results may vary.
Shallow rooted plants
These plants are your best choices for containers, towers, and compacted soil. Basil, chives, cilantro, endive, escarole, ginger, lettuce, oregano, parsley, radish, scallions, spinach, summer savory, tarragon, and thyme can all be grown in less than 12” of soil. Of course, more is generally better. In one study, biologists found that “doubling plant pot size makes plants grow over 40 percent larger.” And look what happens to a lettuce plant, given its freedom to grow! [By the way, the squares in all of these illustrations are one foot by one foot.]
Slightly deeper growing plants, arugula, bok choy, celery, fennel, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, mint, onions, rosemary, shallots, strawberries, and Swiss chard need at least 12” of soil but perform better in 18” or more soil.
Moderately deep rooted plants
Your cabbage, carrots, chiles, okra, peas, beans, beets, blueberries, broccoli, collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, horseradish, kale, leeks, kohlrabi, mustard greens, Napa cabbage, peppers, potatoes, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, and turnips need at least 18" of soil to grow properly.
Artichokes, cantaloupe, cardoon, cereal grains, citrus, figs, lima beans, melons, parsnips, peaches, pumpkins, sage, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon need 24" of loose, nutrient-rich soil.
Deep rooted plants
Your asparagus, cherries, fava beans, hops, olives, pears, prunes, rhubarb, and spring wheat will ultimately go down 3 feet or more. Alfalfa, almonds, apricot, and corn may have roots that are 4 feet long, while walnut trees and winter wheat may reach 5 feet. The roots under your grape vines may be 20 feet long.
Remember what I said earlier about strawberries? Well, if you are like me, strawberry pots have never seemed to work out. Believe me, I’ve tried! Experts all say strawberry plants have a minimum rooting depth of 12”. What they don’t tell you is that mature plant roots might go down 3 feet! And what about that containerized horseradish? A 10-year old horseradish plant may have roots as deep as 14 feet!
Rooting depth depends on species, soil, and several other variables. Knowing more about rooting depth can help you select plants suited to your soil, container size, or planting beds.
I have been asked several times what I would plant in a survival garden, so here it is.
Assuming you are talking about a total social breakdown situation and not a Robinson Crusoe deserted island situation, a survival garden (like any other garden) has to be designed around your soil, microclimate, and personal tastes. On a deserted island, you would probably have to focus on fish and coconuts. In a social breakdown survival situation, you would probably want to focus on high nutrient foods that are easy to store. And you would need access to water or none of this will matter.
High nutrient, easy to store foods include legumes, such as beans, peas, peanuts, and lentils. These plants have the advantage of being able to fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can use and they can be dried for long term storage. Other good choices for a survival garden include members of the squash family, especially winter squashes, such as easy to store butternut squash and pumpkins.
Beets, carrots, fennel, onions, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables are also good choices for a survival garden.
Perennials, such as fruit and nut trees, grapes, and raspberry and blackberry canes, take longer to become productive, but they can be game changers in the long run. Other perennials to consider include asparagus and rhubarb. Cereals, such as millet, wheat, rye, and oats, might have a place in your survival garden, as well.
You can also grow many common annual (or grown as annual) edible plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, chard, garlic, spinach, sunflowers, and kale. As you harvest these crops, always leave some behind, to go to seed naturally. This allows seeds to fall where they will. Very often, these seeds will grow where they are best suited without any effort on your part.
Herbs and teas
Your food will taste better with the addition of these perennial and/or self-seeding herbs and other flavorings: chives, cilantro/coriander, dill, ginger, horseradish, lemongrass, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, summer savory, tarragon, thyme, and turmeric. Some of these aromatic plants also help keep away common garden pests. Even tender basil can be grown and allowed to go to seed.
Teas will be the hot beverage of choice in a survival situation, so you will want to add chamomile, licorice, and mint to the mix. You could also use leaves from your raspberry and blackberry plants. Since medicine is beyond my skill set, you would have to talk with someone else about medicinal plants.
Making a survival plan
Living in earthquake country, my family has a collection of supplies, just in case. A survival garden takes that possibility to an entirely different level. If you believe that a survival situation is possible, it is a good idea to get started right away, to give everything time to get established. Before you can plant any seeds, however, you need to take your soil, local climate, and sun exposure into consideration.
Your soil should be tested by a reputable lab first. Many universities offer this inexpensive and valuable service. A soil test will tell you what nutrients are present in your soil, what is needed, and what is in excess. It will also tell you the pH of your soil. Armed with this valuable information, you can amend your soil in ways that will help, rather than hinder your plants. Note: too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Your location will dictate which plants you can grow. Identify your Hardiness Zone. You will also need to determine how much sun each area of your garden gets. Most fruits and vegetables need a full day of sun. Anything less than that and you will have to choose plants based on the available sunlight. Finally, if you decide to plant fruit and nut trees, you will need to determine the number of chilling hours your property gets each winter to ensure you select varieties that will actually produce food. Depending on where you live, almond, apple, citrus, fig, and walnut trees can produce a lot of food that is easy to store. Again, you have to select plants that will grow well where you are.
Other considerations for a survival situation include chickens and bees. Horses, sheep, goats, and pigs might also come into play. You should also put some thought into how you will protect these important assets in difficult times.
Let’s hope it never comes to this. Unless it does, let’s just call all this farming.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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