Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer Crops

Fig. 1    Plums (Prunus domestica 'Santa Rosa')

Summer seems like a paradoxical blessing for the gardener.  While it is the time when the sun-induced plants put on their best performances to wow the gardener, it is also the time when the gardener finds time to leave the garden in search of a refreshing break from the work in his own garden.  It is the time when the gardener reaps the rewards of his labor.  It is also the time when fruits and vegetables are so cheap at the stores - it makes one wonder if it was ever worth the effort to grow them.  

This summer, the number of days we spent at home was less than that which we spent away from home. Whenever we came back from our trips, I was always trying to squeeze in some time to garden but then there was a huge mountain of laundry to work on. Then there were fruits to harvest and eat that we could not keep up with. So then there were fruits to can. As a result there was even less time to garden and zero time to blog.  But as the masters of the garden, we ought to choose the things we need to do. 
Fig. 2    Grapes (Vitis vinifera 'Pinot Nior')

Plums.  Compared to previous years, the plums (Fig.1) were late this year.  However, with our busy summer schedule, timing was perfect - the fruits were ready during a two- week-period that we were home.  So we harvested them and gave some to our friends.  I canned plum sauce - a family favorite as pancake topping. 

Grapes.  The main purpose of my grapevines is to provide shade.  In other words,  they are grown primarily for the foliage and not the fruits.  Nonetheless, we get enough fruits to make at least four quarts of jelly annually from the two Pinot noir.  We get more if we do not wait for the larger birds (blue jays and robins) to get them first.  I have one Zinfandel grapevine but it did not have fruits this year probably because it is now shaded by the ornamental pear that is planted next to it.  In spite of that, it still gives a lot of shade. 

Fig. 3   Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris 'Rainbow Chard')

As summer approaches it end, the Swiss chards continue to  grow without any sign of bolting (flowering). They have taken a great deal of heat during the summer and I admit that I left most of the watering to the sprinkler system.  This would be totally alright but in our place there are days when the temperatures just get so hot - supplemental watering becomes necessary.  As the plants put on larger canopies,  the sprinklers need adjusting so that the water still gets to the right place.   Swiss chards proved to be tough in this climate and in my garden.  However, the leaves are decreasing in size and showing slight sign of chlorosis or yellowing (Fig.3).  I will try to prolong their production time by adding a little bit of nitrogen fertilizer.  I am curious to see which factor will stop them from growing - whether temperature, or flowering. 

Fig. 4    Radishes  (Raphanis sativus ' French Breakfast')

Radishes.  Unfortunately, we got to eat only a few radishes.  They were overgrown by the time that we had time to consume them.  I left some plants to flower just to encourage the pollinators to stick around and to allow the plants to produce their seeds for the next crop.

Fig. 5   Pears (Pyrus communis 'Bartlett')

 Pears.  We have a good crop of pears this year.  Coddling moth infestation still managed to leave  signs of their presence in some fruits but the infestation is dramatically reduced compared to that of last year.  This could be attributed to the insect trap I used in the early spring.  I believe that it would have been more effective if I had installed more than one trap per tree.  Recently, I learned that it is a good idea to have moth traps from April to September and replacing them as necessary.  I'll try that next year.   

Most of the branches are bent severely downward (Fig. 5) because of the heavy fruits.  Fortunately, the branches are pliable.  Another to-do-item is pruning the tree this fall.  So far, jars of pear butter line one of the counter tops in the kitchen - and yet we still have so many fruits hanging on the tree up to this time.

Fig. 6   Heirloom Tomato

Fig. 7    Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Tomatoes.  My tomatoes are late this year.  They are at the peak of their production now and yet autumn is here.    The heirloom tomatoes (Fig. 6)  are very sensitive to heat.  The plants basically stopped setting fruits during the hot months and are just starting to fruit again.  At this rate, there will be green tomatoes in the Thanksgiving menu. 

Apples.  The Fuji apples are almost ready.  The crabapple fruits are abscising (falling off) from the tree but I do not know what to do with them.  They are so tiny to make into anything of consequence - or am I wrong? 

Pomegranate. The pomegranate tree did not produce any fruits yet.  It's been a year since I brought it into my garden.  It flowered in early spring but the fruits did not set. 

Grow your food in the neighborhood of your kitchen. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ivy Geranium

Ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum)

At this time of the year, when summer is about to give in to autumn, ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum) is one of the last plants with vibrant flowers in my garden.  Geraniums are attractive, very easy to care for, and a container-gem.  There are a few things to consider when growing ivy geraniums:

1. Water moderately.  Watering once or twice a week is sufficient.  Too much water can cause the tissues to burst and die resulting in the appearance of corky brown spots of the semi-succulent leaves.  This case is called edema.  The plant takes up more water than it can release through transpiration.  Unlike some plants such as grasses that can push the water out through specialized openings on the leaves (called hydathodes), ivy geranium succumb to breakage of its 'bloated' tissues.  

2.  Fertilize moderately.  It has been my observation that small amounts of soluble complete fertilizer can be added every two weeks during watering.  Under this climatic region, ivy geranium remains green throughout the year but I stop fertilizing in late fall to force my plants to go into pseudo-dormancy in preparation for a bigger show in early spring. 

3.  Balance sunlight against temperature.  Ivy geraniums are sun-loving plants and yet they also enjoy moderate temperatures.  The optimum number of hours of sunlight depends on the prevailing climatic condition. I have noticed that ivy geranium bloom happily in hanging baskets along the streets of London, Toronto, San Francisco, and Seattle where they get sunlight all day.  Climate in these cities are generally mild as influenced by the coastal breeze.  On the contrary, in places (like mine) where summers are very hot and dry, some afternoon shade benefits the ivy geraniums a tremendously. 

4.  Prune regularly.  Maintain the size and shape of ivy geraniums by pruning regularly. Freshen up the plants by removing old and woody stems.   This will encourage the growth of more branches and thus more flowers.  Spent flowers fall off naturally after a while.  However, if you are someone with Type A personality - by all means, dead-head.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Adventitious Roots and Shoots on Kalanchoe panamensis

Fig. 1  Adventitious roots on Kalanchoe panamensis

Kalanchoe panamensis is a very interesting plant.  Depending on the surrounding moisture conditions, roots freely come out from the upper parts of their stems (Fig. 1).  Once these roots reach the ground they function as a regular root (for absorption) and as stilt roots (for plant support).  As the stem lodges, the plant anchors to the ground with these roots allowing each node to be anchored and independent.  This prepares each section of the plant for any eventual separation from the main stem.  This is what I call 'life insurance plan'. 

From the leaves, new shoots grow to become new plants (Fig. 2).  This is a common occurrence on the leaves that have fallen off the plant.  Even without gardener's intervention, the residual soil moisture underneath the leaves is sufficient to get the new sprouts get established.  With these characteristics, this plant has one mission - to clone itself for self-preservation.
Fig. 2   Adventitious shoots growing on a detached leaf  (Kalanchoe panamensis).

Adventitious Roots. The standard root system of a plant originates from the radicle in the seed. The radicle grows to become the primary root. From the primary roots grow lateral roots. As a general sequence, lateral roots always grow from roots. Roots beget roots. However, there is a specialized type of roots called adventitious roots that originates from unusual and unexpected parts on the plant. Adventitious roots form on stem or leaf-derived tissues.

Adventitious Shoots. The first shoot from a seed originates from the plumule which eventually grows into the primary stem. Then lateral buds grow from this main stem. However there is a shoot formation that takes place on root and leaf tissues (Fig. 2). This is called adventitious shoot formation because the shoot or buds grow where they are not expected to.

Adventitious root and shoot formation is the key phenomenon that leads to regeneration.  It is the same phenomenon makes tissue culture possible.  When a plant is stressed or injured or detached from the plant, the natural response of the plant cells is to start life all over again.  Where would cloning or asexual propagation be without these roots and buds that grow from unexpected origins?   It is unimaginable how we could have two plants that are genetically the same if plants were not capable of growing adventitious roots.

Many succulent plants clone themselves naturally like Kalanchoe panamensis. Some grow roots at the base of the leaves instead of the edges of the leaf blade such as Echeveria 'Black Prince' in Fig.3. You can probably name a few species that does exactly the same thing. The fact is that succulents thrive on less water. Some of them originated from places where environmental conditions may not permit the completion of their life cycle - meaning from seed to seed. However, they have been equipped (by the Creator) with the ability to reproduce themselves apart from the seeds. This ability is backed by adventitious root and adventitious shoot formation. As a result, we can get plants that are genetically identical over and over again. We can design gardens and plan on the exact full size, color, and flowering time of every plant we put in the ground - all because of adventitious roots and adventitious shoots.

Fig. 3  Adventitious roots on leaves of Echeveria 'Black Prince'.

Kalanchoe panamensis is just a visual aid to demonstrate what we often take for granted - the adventitious root and shoot formation. 

Can you name some plant species in your garden that clone themselves naturally?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Haworthia reinwardtii: Discovering a Problem

Fig. 1    Haworthia reinwardtii

A year ago during our trip to Southern California, we visited some friends in Oxnard. They gave me this interesting plant (Haworthia reinwardtii) (Fig. 1) already with five offsets. I thought that I'd wait for it to grow some more before repotting. Flowers (Fig. 2) came out on long spindly spikes twice during that time. A few leaves grew on top of the neatly stacked arrangement - adding more height to the offsets. For plants like this, production means the appearance of new plants in the form of offsets. However, no new offsets appeared. The plant was moved to different places in the yard to compare how it would perform under different conditions. The plant grew minimally regardless of the location. 

Fig. 2  Flowers of Haworthia reinwardtii

Observations.  The color of the leaves (Fig. 3) changed with light intensity and soil moisture levels. When exposed to more sunlight the leaves turned reddish and when the plant was in the shade the leaves turned back to green.  The leaves also developed a yellowish tint when water was withheld for an extended period of time.  The lack of moisture generally slows down photosynthesis which consequently results in reduced chlorophyll production.

The leaves (Fig. 3) of this plant are very hard and crusty - they remind me of armadillos.

Fig. 3    Leaves

Shocking Observations. I've waited too long - I could not wait for a substantial growth to happen on this plant anymore. So I decided to do a deeper investigation into this potted plant. It was surprising to find out that the plant was growing in pure sand (Fig. 4). If there was any other material in the pot it was only a few dead roots. The poor plant was living in an almost inert material. It appears to me that whoever planted this plant was more concerned about drainage than nutrition. One thing became very obvious - the plant can withstand extremely poor soil conditions. However, for optimum growth, the essential elements have to be provided to the plant. This is probably the reason why the plant failed to multiply.
Fig. 4  Sand

Solution to Problem.  The plants were repotted into five individual plants.  New potting soil with considerable amount of organic matter was used.  They are currently being held under the shade of a tree while recovering from the transplant shock.

Expected Outcome.  In the new potting soil, it is expected that the plants will respond to the nutrients present in the soil.  New offsets might begin to appear at the base of each plant.  Dividing the plant allows more room to for each plant to grow. 

When plants are not growing normally it it likely that it is deprived of something - soil nutrients, water, sunlight, or air.
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