Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flour Mill Searches for Ancient Wheat

Do you know that the flour we use today is different from the flour our ancestors used in the mid-Atlantic states used?

The reason is that in times past—from colonial days until the mid-20th century—local flour mills ground locally grown wheat, and that wheat was “soft,” not “hard,” wheat. Hard wheat doesn’t grow best in this climate but has a higher gluten content so baked goods using it rise higher. For bread, think “hard” wheat. For pancakes, think “soft” wheat.

Enough of wheat/flour/baking history. If you have the slightest interest in such fascinating information, you should take five minutes to read “History grows in amber waves: To save an old mill, its owners hope to re-create what once was ground there,” by Debbie Koenig, in today’s Food Section of the Washington Post.

In short, the story tells of how the owner of Annville Flouring Mill in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, has spent seven years tracking down and experimenting historic wheat varieties that were commonly grown in the mid-Atlantic and ground into flour in the 1740s, when the mill was established. The search is zeroing in, perhaps getting close, but ….

To read this fascinating story, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stink Bug Experiment: Assembling and Hanging a Trap

Basic "Stink Bug Trap"

The trap is set. The Home & Garden Information Center asked local Master Gardeners to volunteer to try out a commercial “Stink Bug Trap” that is commonly available in stores—and to report their observations about how they work.

I unwrapped a trap yesterday afternoon, assembled it, and hung it 12 feet from our front door on fencing protecting a Knockout rose. The location is strategic. Brown marmorated stink bugs last fall found multiple ways into our home via our storm door and its retracting screen. The trap also is 16 feet from a Japanese maple that seems to be home turf for scores of stink bugs, and it’s 29 feet from a tomato plant that has scores of stink bugs sipping on the sweet juice of fruits that are damaged beyond human use.

The trap I’ve hung is a “Rescue Stink Bug Trap” by Sterling International, Inc. You’ve probably seen them on sale in neighborhood stores. List prices at one online source: $19.95 each trap and a two-week supply of lure or “Stink Bug Attractant,” a pheromone designed to entice the bugs into the trap. Replacement, seven-week lures cost $9.95 each. A blue LED “Stink Bug Light” ($17.95) is offered to help lure the insects from indoor living places during fall and winter.

Strategic location
The basic kit was simple to assemble. I took 15 minutes, most of which was my reading of all instructions so I would have a good feel for this product. Assembly directions were clear. No tools are required—just fingers. There are nine parts plus several twist-ties for hanging the trap outdoors, all clearly identified in the brochure. After you read directions, assembly shouldn’t take more than two minutes.

The two-sided brochure that comes with the trap is well designed and full of good information. Major sections include: “Summer Outdoor Use Instructions” and “Indoor Use during Fall, Winter, and Spring.” Subsections include “Initial Setup,” “Reusing the Trap,” “Empty and Reload Trap,” “Trap Placement,” and “Helpful Hints.” All information also appears in Spanish.

One of the “Trap Placement” points helped me decide where to hang it. I hung it on a fence—with the trap touching the foliage of a plant, in this case a branch of the Knockout rose. The brochure explains why such “contact” is important. Only mature stink bugs fly. The juveniles have to hike into the trap—via the fence or the rose foliage.

29 feet away...
My stink-bug experiment has begun. Periodically I’ll report what’s happening.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Waiting Out Hurricane Irene

Ready for Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene appears to be weakening a bit as she works her way up the Atlantic seaboard. Rainfall has been on-again, off-again since just after noon here at Meadow Glenn. Wind speed picks up from time to time but hasn’t yet reached the point that we’ve been concerned.
Of course we’re about as ready as we can be. We’ve operated on the theory of “better safe than sorry.”

Wednesday and Thursday were Irene Prep days in our veggie gardens. I picked a couple of buckets of Brandywine, Celebrity, Super Marzano, and Big Mama tomatoes, so their tall plants wouldn’t be top-heavy with fruit and prone to toppling in Irene’s rains and winds. I also reinforced the hills of our fall veggies, sort of a gardener’s “sandbagging” to block anticipated “surge” of water, and mowed the lawn.

And Friday afternoon late I finished up the garden work by picking a quart or so of Heritage raspberries and two colanders of small tomatoes—Sungold, Juliet, and Defiant—after Ellen and I had brought in summer-chair cushions, stacked reclining chairs, and reeled in the pool’s solar blanket off the pool and stowed it, hopefully, out of harm’s way along the split-rail fence.

Here’s my completed Hurricane Irene checklist:
1. Tomatoes and raspberries picked.
2. Veggies hilled, several tilting tomato cages reinforced, and lawn mowed.
3. Last-minute groceries bought, and lawn furniture and pool cover stowed.
4. Cell phone charged and two electric lanterns dusted and tested and extra batteries dug out of my study closet. New batteries put into FM radio.
5. Early this afternoon we drew 2½ gallons of water in three large pitchers.

TV and Internet updates show Irene continues her slow decline but is slowly working her way up the coast as a potentially dangerous storm. We don’t expect the kind of damage being forecast for homes and businesses along the coast because we’re 75 miles inland. We expect lots of rain and wind and won’t be surprised if trees somewhere topple and take out our electricity.

Our home, like many in the area, is 100% electric-powered. No electric means no lights, no heating/air-conditioning, no water from our deep-well pump, no TV and Internet. And, of course, no electric means no stove or appliances for preparing food.

But we do have a can opener and will have our pitchers of water. We’ve bought a bag of ice to keep some milk cold for a day or so in an insulated chest.

What will we eat?

I (note the first person singular) have a few ideas.

At the first flicker of the lights, I’ll first rescue the mint chocolate chip Klondike ice cream bars in the garage freezer. Then there’s one large carton of Turkey Hill Choco Mint Chip ice cream in the freezer section of the kitchen fridge. Once I’ve rescued those basic, essential dairy foods from spoilage, I’ll probably will turn to basic veggies/fruits—Brandywine and Celebrity tomatoes, which will make great sandwiches. I can always bring in a can of Bush’s Baked Beans from the storage rack in the garage if I think we need an upscale side dish. Our can opener is manual, so that won’t be a worry. Fresh-picked raspberries will make a grand dessert.

By then perhaps the lights will come back on. Irene will have passed to the northeast, the sun will shine again, and I’ll go out to see what’s happened during the storm in our gardens and landscape.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Damrosch: Are Veggie Gardeners Snobbish, Elitist, Unkind?

Barbara Damrosch, the Washington Post’s “A Cook’s Garden” columnist is at her best when she’s ranting, and her latest column is a glorious rant. Three cheers—two thumbs up—for Barbara Damrosch!

Example: “I don’t care how much you earn, how fine a car you drive or what college your child attends. If you eat flavorless food, low in nutrients, grown in lifeless soil, you are poor….”

To enjoy her seven paragraphs, CLICK HERE.

Note to the Washington Post: Please tell the editor who wrote the headline for Damrosch’s column, “Jejune produce in August,” to throw away those flashcards for “1,000 Words to Dumbfound Your Readers.”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tomato Patch: Getting Ready for Hurricane Irene

Ready for Irene
Just how much trauma can the Tomato Patch take in one week—a 5.9 earthquake on Tuesday and a brush with Hurricane Irene on Friday or Saturday?

The earthquake had no visible effect on the Patch. I haven’t found one tomato that I think the quake shook from a vine. But I am concerned about the effect the passing hurricane may have this weekend.

In recent years, August has been a relatively dry month with our lawn of crabgrass reduced to stubble and me dreaming of late-afternoon showers of relief for our gardens. But this August is different. Our lawn is bright green, and the official weather data reported in the Washington Post indicates that BWI, our nearest airport, has recorded 5.30” of rain so far this month, compared to the normal 2.49”.

Now the weather news is about Hurricane Irene and what her effect may be on the mid-Atlantic states. The latest computer models indicate Irene most likely will parallel the coast as it moves north and possibly give eastern portions of our area “damaging winds” and “flooding rain.”

The Tomato Patch already has good moisture from recent summer downpours. Several more inches of “flooding rain” combined with “damaging winds” could topple some of my less-protected tomato cages, especially those with tall, indeterminate vines now top-heavy with late-season fruit. Softened soil plus top-heavy tomato plants plus wind gusts easily can topple tomato cages.

Wednesday morning I picked two buckets of break-stage tomatoes—Brandwine, Virginia Sweets, Super Marzano, and Big Mama. Moving their weight from the top of their vines to a counter in our garage should help keep my tomato cages upright if Irene’s rains and winds come our way.

And today I plan to reinforce three cages that recent summer storms have tilted a bit and, if the soil is dry enough, I’ll do a little extra hilling around my young fall vegetables—rutabagas, turnips, beets, and lettuce—to help them resist the downpours that probably will come this weekend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Time for Multiplying by Dividing

Time to divide bearded iris
August is a good time for dividing irises and daylilies, Joel M. Lerner reminds us in his Green Scene column in the Washington Post. Lerner gives practical tips for dividing daylilies and bearded and Siberian irises.

Of course, when you divide your plants, you end up with extra new plants. Sharing them with other neighbors and friends is a great way to multiply your gardening friends.

If you’re concerned about when to divide plant varieties, the University of Maryland Master Gardener Handbook gives this rule of thumb: “In Maryland, divide spring and summer bloomers after they bloom, either in late summer or fall as the foliage dies down. Fall-blooming herbaceous perennials are usually divided in early spring, giving the plants and entire growing season to recover.” Many public libraries in Maryland have a copy of the Handbook in their Reserve sections.

Lerner also suggests adding some biennials to complement your irises and lists good candidates for both partial shade and sunny gardens. To read his column, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tomato Patch: Coping with Stink Bugs

What's that on the window?
“Where are the stink bugs this year?” friends asked in May and June.

“Outside breeding so we’ll have a generous supply trying to figure out how to get into our homes in September and October,” I usually replied. It’s late August now, and the brown marmorated stink bugs have started to show up on our windows and sunning themselves on the western sides of our homes in late afternoon.

I’ve seen them all summer, of course, in our gardens. Their favorite foods at Meadow Glenn include tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, green beans, cucumbers, and squash.

Stink bugs dining on Virginia Sweets tomato
In the Tomato Patch, the stink bugs seemed especially attracted to two large-fruited varieties, Virginia Sweets and Brandywine Red. Virginia Sweets is a large yellow tomato with reddish blush. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the stink bugs like the big yellow because researchers have found the bugs have some preference for that color. I haven’t figured out why the bugs preferred the Brandywine Red to the nearby Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain) fruit.

The small Sungolds seem untouched, though I haven’t used a magnifying glass to verify that fact. The larger red Juliets showed minimal damage, though I think my picking at “breaker stage” this year helped minimize the bug attacks.

Brandywine with stink-bug "pinpricks"
In mid-June, when I saw the carnage the stink bugs were starting on our berries and tomatoes and realized my daily attempts to control the bugs by drowning them into soapy water was not going to be effective, I balanced the risks and began periodic spraying with a commonly available garden spray, Ortho Max Lawn & Garden Insect Killer (bifenthrin), which lists stink bugs among the insects it kills. I strictly followed directions and the more stringent California “days to harvest” after each spray. My decision to use a pesticide was difficult because I have had an essentially organic garden for at least 10 years.

Within 10 days the number of stink bugs went from “impossibly high” to “seldom seen.” Last year we harvested few raspberries, and those we did were usually stink-bug damaged. This year we harvested many quarts of beautiful berries. Last year we threw away many of our large tomatoes because of stink-bug damage. This year we have eaten most.

I've turned off the night light
Before dawn Sunday morning I found evidence of the stink bug hordes that soon will be seeking ways into our homes for protection from cold weather. As I stepped out of the garage to walk to our mailbox to get the Sunday Post, something caused me to glance up at the overhead night light. Scores of stink bugs swarmed around the light. Sunday night for the first time in 15 years I turned off the light.

Scientists from multiple disciplines are studying brown marmorated stink bugs and how they may be managed. I posted earlier about the EPA’s approval of pesticides for stone and pome fruits and for organic growers and about USDA experiments with tiny, parasitic wasps. An excellent overview of what’s happening is the University of Maryland Extension’s Entomology Bulletin, which details symptoms of the insect’s damage on crops and ornamentals and includes outstanding photographs. To link to the bulletin, CLICK HERE.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Defeat of the Downpour Demons

Finally--fall lettuce
Our fall lettuce—at least some of it—finally is growing in our garden.

The Downpour Demons this year frustrated me twice. In mid-July I planted a row of Simpsons Curled and Red Sails lettuce seeds for fall harvest. Several days later a series of downpours either drowned the seeds or floated them from our terraced, hillside gardens toward the general direction of the Patuxent River and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. I planted a second short row a few days later, and within 48 hours the Downpour Demons struck again.

However, the Downpour Demons didn’t win the fall lettuce battle. On July 31 I abandoned hope in starting lettuce in the garden and planted seeds in sterile starting soil in cups, kept them well watered but not floating, and protected them from downpours by rushing them onto our front porch whenever I saw a particularly ugly gray cloud approaching.

Finally—on Thursday—eighteen days after I planted the seeds in the cups, I set the six transplants out in a sunny spot in the corner of a garden near our row of Brandywine Red tomatoes. I watered them deeply, tucked some of the straw mulch around them, and will keep an eye on them and my favorite bottle of balsamic as I fantasize about the great salads they will make.

Have the Downpour Demons taught me anything? Yes, I think it’s much more efficient to start fall lettuce seeds in cups for later transplanting. I think next year I’ll start the process with cups, hopefully frustrating the Downpour Demons and saving me time, work, and disappointment.

And maybe I should start a few more cups of lettuce plants to extend our salad harvest well into October.

Grow It. Eat It.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tomato Patch: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Yellow Plum tomatoes ready for preserving

This is a progress report on two of my trial tomato varieties for 2011, Yellow Plum and Super Marzano, seeds of which I bought from Tomato Growers Supply Co.

For a generation I’ve been growing small yellow tomatoes—usually Yellow Pear or Yellow Plum—for the primary purpose of making a family heirloom recipe, Yellow Tomato Preserves. I’ve learned over the years to choose Yellow Plum if I have a choice, because the Yellow Plums a slightly larger and meatier than the Yellow Pears, which means less preparation and cooking time.

This year I spotted Yellow Plum seeds in the Tomato Growers Supply catalog, and I have been delighted with the fruit. They are, on average, an inch and a quarter in diameter, meaty, about one ounce each, with little green in their cores (which tends to discolor the preserves over time), and somewhat more resistant to splitting after rain than the Yellow Pears I’ve grown in recent years.

8 ounces of heirloom gold
Monday afternoon and evening I made my annual batch of Yellow Tomato Preserves using a recipe very similar to the one my great-grandmother used. (For that story, see the link below to a posting I made last year. It includes a link to an online recipe.) That recipe calls for five pounds of tomatoes and five pounds of sugar, plus lemon (and I add pectin), and this week yielded eight eight-ounce jars and six four-ounce jars of preserves, plus a little left over for the preserve maker, of course, to enjoy on toast or English muffins the next few mornings.

The Yellow Plum tomatoes I prepared and cooked this week were the best batch that I can remember processing. For that, Yellow Plum tomato seeds from Tomato Growers Supply Co. get my “Thumbs Up.”

I intended to order San Marzano paste-tomato seeds but spotted Super Marzano VFNT hybrid seeds in the Tomato Growers catalog. Hey, why not? They have good resistance (VFNT) and the description sounded great: “average 5-inch long fruit … high in pectin, giving sauce and paste natural thickness.”

Half bucket of stunted Super Marzano tomatoes
But Super Marzano has been a disappointment. I’ve picked scores of fruit off three plants, and only three or four have been 5-inches long. Almost every fruit has been stunted because of blossom-end rot, as the photo indicates. Yes, I added some pulverized lime and water, as I do when I plant all my tomato varieties. A Big Mama plant between two Super Marzano plants has no blossom-end rot, and neither do two rows of Brandywines in front of the Super Marzanos.

I will try to salvage some of the fruit that seems least affected, but Super Marzano has been a super disappointment. I think it’s prone to blossom-end rot. For that, Super Marzano seeds from Tomato Growers Supply Co. get my “Thumbs Down.”

Comments posted earlier this growing season indicate that many tomato-growers are having major blossom-end rot problems with their paste-type tomatoes. If you’re growing a variety that has been relatively rot free, please post a Comment and tell us what it is—and add any special tip you have to prevent the problem.

To read my posting of August 2010 about why and how I make Yellow Tomato Preserves, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tomato Patch: A dozen recipes

And the winner is: Tomato Kimchi-Chi!

Today’s Food Section of the Washington Post is its annual “tomato special” and contains a dozen recipes selected as “winningly diverse” entries in its recipe contest, “Top Tomato 2011.”

I may smile and skip most of the recipes—such as Vermillion Red Beer and GreenTomato Mint Sorbet—but I just may try the Summer Spaghetti and the Cardamon-Stewed Tomatoes with Bread Bits and Cheese.

Name your poison—oops, sorry, choose a recipe. To go to the listing, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Basil Bouquet for a Friend

Vivian and her basil bouquet
I posted a link on my Facebook page to my recent posting about pruning basil, and a friend added a Comment that her basil had died in the drought, the neighborhood farm stand was fresh out of the herb, and would I consider selling her a few sprigs. I also learned on Facebook that our friend had taken a spill while weeding her garden on Friday.

I gave Vivian a call Saturday night. Yes, she’s doing fine, she insisted--no bones broken. “I was lucky to tumble into some weeds and not onto the edge of the sidewalk,” she explained. “I was tugging on a clump of ‘wire grass’ when it decided to give up.” She said she was grateful that she didn’t land on the concrete on her hip that hasn’t done well since joint replacement several years ago.

“Well, Vivian,” I said. “I don’t sell my veggies. Will you be home Sunday morning so I can bring you some basil?” She said she and her husband, Curt, would be there and that she would love some to make some pesto. Sunday morning Curt welcomed me to their “down-sized bungalow,” as Vivian calls it, when I drove up in my pickup. Vivian came down the steps from the kitchen to join us in the shade of a backyard tree.

“Here, a bouquet just for you,” I said as I handed Vivian the basil I had cut that morning. She seemed so appreciative, so happy, as she admired her bouquet.

“And here’s something for Curt,” I added, handing him a bowl of red raspberries I had picked that morning. “And some Sungold and Juliet tomatoes for snacking—and several large Brandywines and a Virginia Sweets that most farm stands don’t have for sale.”

We chatted for a bit and I took my leave with many thanks—their thanks for the basil, raspberries, and tomatoes and my thanks for friends like Vivian and Curt, who are four score plus in years and continue to tend their garden of flowers and herbs and care for their lawn.

If you have extra produce, give some to a friend, a neighbor, an organization that accepts produce on behalf of those in need. If you live in Maryland or the District of Columbia, CLICK HERE for some ideas of where you might donate to an organization. If you live in another state, perhaps the link will give you an idea for sharing in your town or city.

Grow It, Eat It, Give It.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Stink Bug Update: EPA Approves Insecticides on Emergency Basis

The brown marmorated stink bug invasion made page one of today’s Washington Post, where the headline proclaims: “With a stink bug boom, harvests could go bust: Entomologists weight ways to squash pest’s propagation, migration.”

The story by Darryl Fears tells of the devastation the stink bugs are doing to crops, the threat they pose as they expand across the nation, and research the USDA is conducting in Delaware on a natural predator, a minute Asian wasp that the Post describes as “not much bigger than the period at the end of a sentence.”

Those things aren’t news to those who’ve been reading Stink Bug Updates here, but buried deep in the Post series is some genuine news: “The EPA has approved two insecticides, including dinotefuran, sold under the names Venom and Scorpion, for emergency use. The poison is effective, farmers said, but has a major downside.” The downside, of course, is that the insecticide kills beneficial insects too, leaving growers dependent on expensive chemicals.

The Post article, however, did not mention several points of the EPA announcement: (1) The approval of dinotefuran covers only the states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. (2) The approval is for use on stone and pome fruits, such as peaches, plums, cherries, apples, and pears. (3) The EPA earlier had approved dinotefuran for use on a variety of crops, such as leafy vegetables, grapes, and potatoes.

The biggest unreported news, I think, is that when the EPA approved dinotefuran, it also approved an insecticide that organic farmers may use, a product that “contains azadirachtin and pyrethrins, which are derived from botanical ingredients.” The EPA announcement says the organic insecticide may be used in “organic production systems” and is “now approved for use on many crops where stink bug management is needed.”

The bottom line is that fruit growers in the mid-Atlantic states now have approved insecticides to combat stink bugs this growing season. If you’re buying “regular” tree fruits, they probably were sprayed with a chemical insecticide, and if you’re buying “organic” fruits or vegetables, they may have been sprayed with a “botanical” insecticide.

To read the EPA announcement, CLICK HERE.

To read the Washington Post article, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Deer Country: New Systemic Repellent Tablet

Repellex Systemic tablets
(Photo: Repellex USA, Inc.)
Have you ever dreamed of giving your hostas browse-control pills once a year and then having never to worry about deer chowing down on the plants?

Can’t you imagine saying to your hostas, “Take two pills and call me next spring. Deer and other browsers won’t bother you again this year.”

You dreams have just come true.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on January 31, 2011, issued a Notice of Pesticide Registration for “Repellex Systemic Tablet.” The EPA Registration Number is 85493-2. On May 3, 2011, the EPA published the text that will be on the product labels for both commercial and residential uses of the systemic tablets.

Enough of the gobbledygook—oops, sorry, legalese. Here are the high points stated in the registration documents for the new plant tablets:

Not just for deer
(Logo supplied by Repellex USA, Inc.)
The tablets protect ornamental plants from these browsing animals: deer, rabbits, voles, moles, gophers, groundhogs, feral hogs, dogs, and cats. Active ingredient (0.3% or 0.213 g per tablet) is capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, or as you might say in the garden, the stuff that makes hot peppers hot. The tablets don’t repel birds and insects.

How do the tablets work? “Water dissolves this product in soil, where it is absorbed by roots and moves up through the plant. Once absorbed, rain or watering cannot wash off this internal protection. Even new growth is protected against animal browsing for the entire growing season. For complete results, the repellent must distribute throughout the plant. Depending on the size and health of the plant, this may take one week to one month (for very large plants). To protect plants during uptake, treat with a foliar spray such as Repellex® Deer & Rabbit Repellent.”

Note that there are two products mentioned in this paragraph, the new systemic tablets and a traditional spray-on repellent. This posting is about the systemic tablets, not the spray, which must be reapplied periodically to your plant leaves over the growing season.

Obviously the new tablets can’t be used in your veggie garden or fruit orchard: “Avoid contact of pesticide with roots, foliage, stems, and fruit of all crops intended for consumption because unpleasant taste will result.”

Application: “Place tablets in soil or growing medium of plant. Position 2-3 inches away from root crown, and push 1-3 inches below the soil surface. When more than one tablet is applied at once, evenly space them around the plant. Activate the application with irrigation or natural rainfall. Do not over water. For containerized plants, use enough water to wet the potting soil thoroughly without causing water to flush out from the bottom of the container.”

Application rate is based on the sum of the height and width of a plant. A plant that’s 3-feet wide and 3-feet tall would need six tablets. The label explains that fast-growing plants may need more than one application per year.

Cost: The company website currently lists several size bottles of tablets (30, 150, 300). Prices range from 40¢ a tablet in the smallest bottle to 33.3¢ a tablet in the larger sizes, with even larger bottles to be added later to the product line. If you have large numbers of plants, the cost may be considerable but the convenience and effectiveness irresistible.

This posting is your notice that this new type of deer repellent—a systemic tablet—is now in the market place.  It's likely we'll hear and read a lot about this new repellent tablet between now and Gardening Year 2012.

By following the links below, you’ll see (1) the EPA Registration Notice, (2) the EPA document that includes the text that will be on the product label, and (3) the Repellex USA, Inc.’s website, where you can see what the company says about its new product, which was developed at the University of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute. The tablets are a derivative of technology used in human and animal medical treatments.

To see the January 31, 2011, EPA Notice of Pesticide Registration, CLICK HERE.

To access the EPA May 3, 2011, document that includes the Master Labels for Repellex Systemic Tablets for both commercial and residential uses, CLICK HERE. Note: You’ll have to skim several pages into the document before you get to the good stuff.

To access the Repellex USA, Inc., website, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tomato Patch: An Ugly Problem

Early signs of blossom-end rot on Super Marzano fruit
“What’s this?” asked my friend Karnik, holding out a small red tomato and pointing to its black tip. “Is it some kind of disease?”

“No, it’s blossom-end rot,” I said. “But it’s rare on small, cherry tomatoes like that.”

“This isn’t a cherry. This is a Roma,” he replied.

“It’s not a disease,” I said. “It’s caused by calcium deficiency.”

Photo 1 shows you what blossom-end rot might look like when you first spot it in your Tomato Patch. The young fruit in the photo are Super Marzano, a Roma-type tomato I’m trying for the first time this year. I haven’t counted the number of defective fruit that I’ve thrown away, but I estimate I’ve lost 15%.
More advanced stage of "rot"

Here’s what the Plant Diagnostics tab at the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center says about the problem: “Blossom-end rot is a common nutritional disorder of tomato, pepper, eggplant, pumpkin, squash and watermelon that is caused by a shortage of calcium in enlarging fruits. Calcium is taken up constantly by plant roots as a dissolved nutrient and travels first to the growing points—new leaves and shoots. Fruits may experience a shortage of calcium if water becomes less available to plant roots (drought).

“This nutritional disorder typically occurs when plants are growing rapidly and the first fruits are developing,” the University of Maryland Extension resource continues. “As fruit cells breakdown due to a lack of calcium, dark blemishes appear on the blossom-end of affected fruits. These may enlarge until the entire bottom of the fruit becomes dark, shrunken and leathery. Factors that encourage blossom-end rot include low soil pH and low levels of calcium, inconsistent watering, shallow watering or droughty conditions, and excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers. Symptoms are rarely seen in cherry tomatoes and are most often seen in large plum or paste-type tomato cultivars and long pepper fruits.”

All sizes of fruit may be affected
I will add a symptom that often helps me spot young fruit with blossom-end rot: premature coloring of a fruit while other fruit on the same truss (fruiting stem) remain green and continue to grow.

How can gardeners prevent blossom-end rot?

The Extension suggests the following steps: “(1) Maintain soil pH in the 6.3-6.8 range. (2) Mix in a handful of ground limestone with the soil from each planting hole prior to transplanting. (3) Keep plants well mulched and watered through the growing season. Water deeply at least once per week if rainfall is lacking. A mature tomato plant may require 2-3 gallons of water per week. (4) Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers like ammonium nitrate.”

And if your tomatoes show symptoms? “Remove fruits immediately. Spraying affected plants with a calcium chloride solution may offer some temporary relief. Regular, deep watering will alleviate the problem if calcium levels in the soil are adequate,” the Extension advises.

Karnik’s problem tomato was a Roma. Mine are Super Marzano. Both are paste-type varieties, which the Extension’s posting indicates are especially receptive. If you remember my earlier posting about setting out the transplants, you’ll remember that I put a little pulverized limestone in each planting hole to try to prevent blossom-end rot, as recommended by the Extension.

Sometimes: Grow Them, Throw Them
I’ll still harvest lots of Super Marzano tomatoes because as the weeks pass and calcium/moisture balances adjust and later settings of fruit get the calcium they need, the problem, I think, will disappear from the Tomato Patch.

Do all paste-type tomatoes develop blossom-end rot? I have one Big Mama, another paste-type tomato, set between two Super Marzano plants, and the Big Mama—planted the same day and with the same small amounts of both lime and fertilizer—shows no sign of the problem. Several years ago I tried a European heirloom variety, Nyagous, with “black” plum-type fruit, and it had nearly 100% loss to blossom-end rot early in the season.

If your tomatoes show signs of blossom-end rot, pick and discard all affected fruit. Chances are good that fruit settings later in the season will not be affected. Next year try adding a little lime when you set out your plants. Avoid varieties that seem especially susceptible. And you might try a calcium spray, as the Extension suggested, which may be available at a good local nursery near you or by catalog or on the Internet, though I don’t know of a tomato grower who has tried it.

If you’re a gardener in a mid-Atlantic state or in a state with climate similar to that of Maryland’s and haven’t browsed the great resource postings at the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center, you need to take a detour to check out this valuable online site. Let me show you the way: CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Deer Country: Repellent Spray Experiment Update

Doe eating with Brow and Zer
Spray, spray, spray, to keep the deer away. Oh that sprays would work, I always thought. I first posted about this year’s experiment in early April, when I announced that I was using a new mint-based spray, Deer Out, on several plants deer at Meadow Glenn love to browse: hosta, heuchera, viburnum, and tomato.

I have sprayed periodically through the summer, especially after heavy downpours, to refresh the spray on the plant leaves. About a month ago, I used the last of the ready-to-use bottle that I had bought late last winter and ordered a bottle of concentrate, which I’m now using. The concentrate costs more initially but, after dilution, is much cheaper per application than the ready-to-use variety.

I made my latest inspection of Deer Out-sprayed plants and sprayed them again on Monday (August 1). Here’s what I found:

Browsed hostas in 2009
(No, the rabbit didn't do it)
Seven hostas—perhaps one of the most famous deer “candies”—unbrowsed. In fact, the plants have bloomed and have gone to seed, an extremely rare occurrence here at Meadow Glenn. Photo 2 shows three of the hostas on Monday. Photo 3 shows a deer-browsed specimen on July 29, 2009, almost two years earlier to the day—just before I divided and moved the hostas about 25 feet south.

One heuchera (coral bell)—unbrowsed, though in late-summer decline because I hadn’t watered it recently.

One arrowwood viburnum—unbrowsed, though it’s “twin” just two feet away shows fresh signs of browsing.

Unbrowsed hostas in 2011
One Virginia Sweets tomato—unbrowsed, except for the stem the bambits browsed before I started spraying it. I wanted to be certain the deer knew I had planted a tomato among the perennials in our front yard. Yes, they found it but haven’t browsed it again since I began spraying.

You might think deer haven’t been visiting our front gardens, but you would be wrong. Photo 1 shows a doe and her twin fawns—I call the twins Brow and Zer—chowing down about eight feet from the Deer Out-sprayed tomato plant. I regularly see deer hoofprints in the mulch near the heuchera and the hostas. I paused while I was typing this on Monday (Aug. 1) about 5 p.m. and checked our yard—and the doe and fawns were browsing on our west lawn.

Yes, we have deer aplenty at Meadow Glenn—and since spring Deer Out deer-repellent spray has kept the deer away from the test plants. I’ll probably spray at least two more times before frost—perhaps more if we have downpours. At the end of the season I’ll make a final report about Deer Out.

If Deer Out is repelling deer from our munchables, can I guarantee that it will keep deer from browsing your plants? Absolutely not! There are too many considerations, including size of the local deer population, availability of preferred foods, and the food preferences of individual deer or herds.

'Go ahead and try the Russian Sage, Zer,
but I'm warning you it will taste awful
and you might get a bellyache.'
Deer Out works for me, but a friend, Ella R., who lives about five miles away, read my April posting and bought Deer Out. She lives near a watershed with so many deer that they lounge in her yard.

Ella reported how her deer responded to the Deer Out: “Bob, I just wanted you to know I ordered the Deer Out and it came in 3 days. We sprayed the hostas. The deer thought it was salad dressing! The hostas are gone, most of them eaten down to the ground.”

And a final note: I bought both lots of Deer Out. I have not received consideration of any kind from any source for conducting this experiment.

To read my first posting about this experiment, CLICK HERE.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How to Keep Your Basil Growing

Prune that flowerhead
Raising basil here at Meadow Glenn has one objective: having its fragrant green leaves to add to a variety of tomato dishes.

One key to better coordination of basil and tomato harvests involves my timing for setting out basil transplants. This year I started seeds on May 30 and set out the tiny plants on June 14. On Sunday (July 31) I noticed several small flowers and lots of flowerheads on one of the basil plants—just when our tomatoes are maturing in significant numbers and I’m beginning to pick basil leaves.

Blooming basil is not a great threat to world peace and I’ve never seen it featured at an Outback Restaurant, but I stopped what I was doing, went to get my garden shears, and cut off all the flowerheads that I could find.

Why? If I let the flowers go to seed, the plants will think their work for 2011 is completed and will begin to die back. When I cut back the flowers to the leaves just below, the plants will start growing more leaves—and, yes, eventually more flowerheads. Hopefully I’ll keep picking the leaves to use in tomato recipes and the plants will continue to produce leaves and won’t have time to flower again until I slow down most of my leaf picking as the tomato harvest lessens in September.

A better use for prunings would have been
in a tasty tomato dish
If I have too many basil plants—and don’t tend to their pruning—I’ll lose the battle. If I let the plants flower and the seeds mature, they’ll drop in the fall, and I’ll have volunteers here and there next spring—but usually not where I want them. I often recognize a volunteer about a second after I’ve hoed it—a second too late to move it.

If you have basil and don’t pick leaves nearly every day, keep an eye on it and pinch or cut any flowerheads as soon as you see them. Your basil will grow new leaves, and you’ll extend your herb harvest into the fall.