Popular in Indonesian, Malaysian, and Philippine recipes, pandan leaves are floral, grassy, and sweet, much like vanilla beans. They create green food coloring and give basmati rice, jasmine rice, and white bread their characteristic aromas.
Unknown in the wild, the only way to create a pandan plant is through cuttings and suckers. Pandan is a wholly human-created plant that has been around since ancient times. When I say human-created, I do not mean someone was splicing genes 5,000 years ago. Instead, people cultivated pandan vegetatively for specific traits. Plants generated in this way are called cultigens.
Pandan plants are available for purchase, or you may be able to get a cutting from a friend. As always, place new plants in quarantine when you bring them home. Just in case.
Being tropical plants, pandan plants prefer moist, loose soil. They grow best with plenty of bright sunlight but can also grow in partial shade (or in your living room). When watering your pandan, keep the leaves and crown free of water. If your pandan is in a container, it is best to water from the base, filling the saucer instead of from above. The addition of a small amount of vermiculite can lighten the soil, as well as improve its moisture-holding ability. In winter, pandan plants need significantly less water. In summer, they need more to prevent sunburn.
Pandan pests and diseases
If the leaves start yellowing, it is probably due to overwatering. Allow the top 2 or 3 inches of soil to dry before adding water. Too much moisture often leads to root rot. Yellowing leaves may also indicate aphid, mealybug, or mite infestations.
Profoundly cheaper than vanilla, a pandan plant might be just what you’ve been looking for!
If you bite into a sunflower seed and find a worm, it’s probably a sunflower moth.
Sunflower moths lay their eggs in sunflower heads. When those eggs hatch, tiny caterpillars begin feeding on developing seedheads and burrow into the seeds to feed. In doing so, they create wounds that allow diseases, such as Rhizopus head rot, to get in. And who wants to bite into a worm, even if it is tiny?
Each moth only lives for 7-10 days, but females quickly begin laying eggs on the underside of sunflower heads and the inner bracts. Larvae go through five instars as they feed on developing sunflower seeds. Then they fall to the ground, burrow into the soil, and overwinter in a cocoon. There are several sunflower moth species, but they are all prolific and destructive.
American sunflower moths
American sunflower moths (Homoeosoma electellum) are also found in South America. They have a ¾” wingspan and off-white, feathered wings with dark spots scattered along the forward and outer edges. American sunflower moth caterpillars feed extensively on canola and sunflowers. They also feed on cotton, orange blossoms, and yacón.
Banded sunflower moths
Banded sunflower moths (Cochylis hospes) are tiny, pale moths with a ½” wingspan. Those wings are tan with a dark triangular band on the forewings. Larva are off-white when they hatch but turn red or green as they grow. Their heads are dark. These moths are found in the eastern United States.
Cuban sunflower moths
Less is known about Cuban sunflower moths (Heterocampa cubana), which are also found in Florida. These stocky moths have dark forewings decorated with lines and patterns and lighter underwings. Cuban sunflower moth caterpillars are solid green with a yellow, red, or purple stripe along the top and pinhole dots on the sides. These caterpillars feed on sunflowers, mangrove flowers, and probably other plants.
Eurasian sunflower moths
Currently found in Anatolia, Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and West Africa, Eurasian sunflower moths (Homoeosoma nebulella) are darker and slightly larger than their American counterparts. They have wingspans of up to one inch. Eurasian moth caterpillars are gray with three stripes on top. Their heads are yellow. They feed heavily on sunflowers, ox-eye daisies, tansy, and thistle.
Larval feeding interferes with pollination as well as destroys your crop. You may see webbing on affected sunflower seedheads.
You can use pheromone traps to determine if these pests are present, but the traps will not eliminate the problem. One way to reduce the risk of sunflower moth damage is to delay planting sunflowers until slightly later in the season. This makes life more difficult for the moths, who will look elsewhere for egg-laying sites. Beneficial insects should also be encouraged with a variety of flowering plants. These predators and parasites will reduce the damage done by sunflower moths. Research is currently underway for resistant varieties of sunflowers, so be on the lookout.
If the caterpillars on your sunflowers are dark and have spines, it’s probably checkerspots.
Minerals are in that category of things you feel pretty sure you know what they are until you start digging.
What are minerals?
In my mind’s eye, I always thought of minerals as tiny rocks, but I was only partly correct. Rocks are relatively homogenous, solid geologic materials. Rocks may consist of one mineral or be an aggregate of several minerals. According to the dictionary, minerals are “solid inorganic substances of natural occurrence” which coincides nicely with my rock theory. More accurate definitions describe minerals as well-defined chemical compositions with specific, naturally occurring crystal structures. My tiny rock theory is okay up to this point, but this is where it starts getting tricky.
Did you know that there are different mineral species and varieties? I didn’t, either. One tiny difference in the composition of a mineral changes it completely. Common quartz becomes amethyst when impurities turn it purple.
Other minerals are biogenic. Biogenic refers to materials made from or by living things. Calcite of chalk and limestone fame is a biogenic mineral consisting of the bodies of tiny algae, fairy shrimp, oyster shells, and other marine organisms.
The rules about mineral classification are not set in stone, however. Opals and obsidian seem to meet the mineral criteria but don’t quite make the cut. They are mineraloids. I have no idea why.
Other minerals are classified chemically as organic compounds. These minerals are organic in the sense of being related to living material. For example, mellite is a mineral made from plant material. And the carbon that makes up all life on Earth is also in this category. The carbon cycle transforms inorganic compounds into organic ones. Of course, scientists are still debating about where the line between organic and inorganic lies, but we’ll leave that line in the sand to them.
Garden variety minerals
Plants use minerals as food. When they use relatively large amounts, we call them macronutrients. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are the Big Three macronutrients but plants also use large amounts of calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). Plants also consume tiny amounts of micronutrients such as boron (B), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), and zinc (ZN). These minerals naturally occur in the soil. And there’s only one way to find out what’s in yours. That’s with a lab-based soil test. These tests are inexpensive. They provide the information you need to feed your plants correctly. Unfortunately, those cute plastic test kits from your local garden store are not yet accurate enough to be useful.
Too much fertilizer can cause some minerals to reach toxic levels, creating more harm than good, especially with boron, chlorine, iron, and manganese. Soil can also contain high levels of aluminum (Al) and sodium (Na) which interferes with plant growth.
As of November 2020, the International Mineralogical Association (IMA) recognized 5,863 unique minerals on Earth. Of those, nearly 500 minerals came from somewhere else.
Now you know.
Imagine your landscape in tune with natural cycles and rhythms, filled with a balance of plants, animals, and other organisms that allow it to thrive with little help on your part.
Regenerative gardening can make that dream come true.
Regenerative gardening and biodiversity
You can plant rows of hybrids and install invasive box store specials. Or, you can create an environment that supports biodiversity, reduces pests and diseases, increases pollination rates, sequesters carbon, and creates a nurturing space in your backyard.
You can make regenerative gardening a part of your landscape with these simple tasks:
While some birds, such as jays, will damage your tomato and fruit crops, many others, including chickadees, phoebes, and wrens, will take a big bite out of your insect population.
Composting your kitchen and garden waste adds plant nutrients, improves soil structure, and feeds helpful soil microorganisms, and composting is free.
Cut the chemicals
Natural cycles keep pests and diseases in check. Chemical herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides interrupt those natural cycles, while most organic gardening products do not. Integrated pest management (IPM) can help you win those battles without nuking your yard.
During the dormant season, plant cover crops and green manures to feed beneficial soil bacteria, reduce erosion, and minimize weeds. Clovers, blackeyed peas, and other legumes make excellent cover crops as they add nitrogen to the surrounding soil. And sturdy fava bean roots make short work of compacted soil.
Herbs and flowers
Diversify your landscape by adding herbs and flowers. Intersperse your ornamental plants and edible crops with flowers of various colors, sizes, and shapes. Dill, marigolds, rosemary, sweet alyssum, thyme, and other herbs and flowers attract beneficial insects, such as honey bees and hoverflies. These garden helpers reduce the number of pests in your garden while increasing your harvest. And fresh herbs are always good to have on hand!
A thick layer of clean mulch stabilizes soil temperatures, retains moisture, reduces weeds, and improves soil structure. You can often get mulch for free from local tree trimmers. Just be sure to keep it away from tree trunks.
Nab those natives
Native plants already know how to live successfully in your region. Adding them to your landscape provides food for beneficial insects and reduces your workload.
Paths for peds
Walking on the soil compacts it, making life more difficult for delicate plant roots. A simple path can protect plants, microorganisms, earthworms, and other aspects of your regenerated garden.
Digging the soil damages the fungal networks that feed our plants. After harvesting, let an area go fallow for a season to rest and recover. And replace that lawn with a self-sustaining meadow.
Take the test
You need to know what is in your soil before adding anything. Over-fertilizing is expensive, destructive, and hard to correct. An inexpensive soil test tells you exactly what is in your soil, what is needed, and what has reached toxic levels. Just Google “soil test” to find a lab near you, or use the University of Massachusetts soil test lab. Sadly, those pretty plastic tubes you see in garden centers are not (yet) accurate enough to be helpful.
We cannot fix everything overnight, but we can all take small steps that move us in the right direction. Regenerative gardening is one of those steps.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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