Thursday, April 24, 2014

Heirloom Plant Varieties Inherit More Than a Good Harvest

Home Gardeners Chose Plants with Better Flavor & Interesting History
 
by Carol Kagan

Heirlooms provide a sense of history. The old wardrobe from Great Aunt Rose’s attic, an antique hand-carved rocking chair, and a rusty tool from a local auction carry a sense of history, of the people who used them.

This holds true for heirloom plant varieties. Many gardeners are drawn to the stories behind the names. ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’ tomato came from radiator business owner, “Charlie,” who came up with a large, meaty and productive variety that he sold during the depression. He used the money from this side business to pay off his mortgage.

“Heirloom seeds are usually more than 50 years old and have been passed down from generation to generation,” said Kathy McFarland, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.  “This means they come with fascinating stories and heritage from years past.”
‘Aunt Lou’s Underground Railroad’ tomato has been traced back to Kentucky through Ripley, Ohio. The seeds were carried by an escaping slave as he traveled the Underground Railroad. The tomato is characteristic of those grown in that era.

Aunt Lou's Underground Railroad Tomatoes (Ole Farm House)
While the stories don’t enhance flavor, shelf-life, color, or fragrance, they are a way to connect to our plant and flower heritage.  “Heirloom seeds have often been handed down as family favorites,” said Chris Mayer, Director at Wilson College’s Fulton Center for Sustainable Living.

Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated which means that, unlike hybrids, seeds you collect from one year will produce the same plants the next year. “Using heirlooms helps preserve the gene pool and assure that resilience from pests, diseases and climate are built into the system,” said Mayer.
Home gardeners, unlike commercial growers have the luxury to choose what they grow. Many choose these vegetables and flowers for taste, shape, hardiness and color not found in hybrid selections.
Bullnose Pepper
(Geo. Washington's Mount Vernon)

Originally from India, Bullnose Peppers (Capsicum annuum) have been in U.S. gardens since the mid-1870’s. Thomas Jefferson grew these sweet peppers and are still grown at Monticello. They ripen early, withstand bad weather and their thick skins make them ideal for pickling, stuffing and raw with dips. While 20 seed companies offered these over 25 years ago, today vendors are rare and seeds often “out of stock.”


Tomatoes are the one vegetable that has a wide range of shapes, colors, taste and growing habit. Cherry, slicer, beefsteak, or canning types are available as are pink, orange, white and striped varieties.
“Most heirlooms taste better than the hybrid and genetically modified produce because these have been bred and selected for generations based on how they taste,” said McFarland.
'Arbuznyi' Tomato
As evidenced in the annual Tomato Tasting Day at Penn State Extension, Franklin County, there is a wide variety of taste. While shoppers may avoid any misshapen or blemished tomato in the grocery bin, home gardeners seem content to relish the taste over the appearance.
Pennsylvania heirloom tomatoes include Brandywine, reported to be introduced in 1885 by Amish farmers in Chester County. Other Mennonite and Amish heirlooms include Hahnstown Yellow, Amish Oxheart and Eva's Amish Stripe.
Brandywine (TomatoFest)
As for heirloom flowers, they often have better fragrances and more unique shapes than the usual offerings in garden centers. Introduced in 1792, the Cup and Saucer plant (Cobaea scandens) has a floral-honey fragrance and the cup-shaped flowers open pale green and turn dark purple. The green sepals at the base form a saucer. Mayer noted that saving seeds from heirlooms allows gardeners to enjoy the same variety year after year.
Cup and Saucer plant (Cobaea scandens)
Steve Bogash, Penn State Extension horticulture educator based in Cumberland County said, "With the rapid growth in vegetable gardening, demand promises to be higher than ever, if [you want] specific varieties of vegetables … for the coming season, you may want to get your [seed] orders in early."

'Violetta Itallia' Cauliflower (Baker Creek)
The window for seed starting to transplant in mid-May has closed. Gardeners seeking heirloom or unusual varieties probably won’t find them at the local garden centers or nurseries.
Why are the Master Gardener plant sales different than others?

           Heirloom and unique varieties, most not offered at garden centers, are growing in the greenhouse. Plants such as ‘Mortgage Lifter,’ and ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes are among over 50 varieties growing. ‘Bullnose’ peppers, ‘Cup and Saucer’ flowers, ‘Violletta Itallia’ cauliflower, ‘Brunswick’ cabbage  and many more vegetable and flowers will be available
           In southern central Pennsylvania the last frost date is May 10. With the Greenhouse Sale on May 9 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and the Plant Sale on May 17 (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) customers can transplant with no need to hold plants until the last frost date.

           Locally grown plants, nurtured by Master Gardeners in their Franklin County home landscapes, have been divided out and potted up to sell.
           Master Gardeners available to offer assistance for choosing and caring for the plants offered.

More links:
Seed Catalogs -Tomatoes 2012
Early Veggie Harvest
2011 Tomato Day Results
Time to Pick Your Tomatoes for 2014
Baker Creek Seeds
Wilson College Fulton Farm




 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

4-H Garden Club Plants Radishes and Learns About Black Walnut Trees

Here's an entry by Emmalee from our 4-H Garden Club. As the year goes on, she may contribute more to the blog. Welcome, Emmalee.

In the 4-H Garden Club we can't wait to start planting and learning more about growing vegetables!

Last week we planted radishes and got to take them home. The radishes I planted have already sprouted.
Radishes have sprouted since last Thursday's planting
When I was  small child I remember having a garden and planting plants and seeds and having such a successful garden.

Then the third year the black walnut tree killed our garden. We found out about what killed our garden at home through the  4-H Garden Club.

I can't wait to dig a new garden at home this year and I look forward to getting support through the 4-H Garden Club.

____________________

As Emmalee notes, black walnut trees can be a problem.

Black Walnut Tree (Courtesy Penn State)
Mary Ann Ryan is the Extension Consumer Horticulture Educator serving Adams County shares this information from a Hanover Evening Sun article:

“Black walnut trees contain juglone, which is a chemical substance that may be harmful to some plants if they are grown under or near the trees. Plants that are susceptible to juglone suffer from deformities and slow or stunted growth.

A large variety of vegetable crops are unable to tolerate the juglone exuded by the black walnut. You can successfully grow carrots, snap beans, beets, parsnips, onions, corn and lima beans in the soil around or near black walnut trees as long as they receive a sufficient amount of sun light each day. Squash and melons will also thrive when planted close to a black walnut.”
Check out these links for more information:

Penn State Black Walnut Trees
http://extension.psu.edu/cumberland/news/2013/black-walnut-trees

Penn State Extension: Black Walnut Trees Are a Valuable Resource
http://www.eveningsun.com/ci_23828260/penn-state-extension-black-walnut-trees-are-valuable

Black Walnut Tolerant Plants
http://www.ehow.com/list_7365291_black-walnut-tolerant-plants.html

Monday, April 14, 2014

BLOOD MOON - Lunar Eclipse- April 14 & 15

by Carol Kagan

Blood Moon 2011 (Courtesy: Bullit Marquez/AP)

Conditions may not be optimal in Franklin County tonight or tomorrow night to see the lunar eclipse of 2014, an orange-red color Blood Moon. The light comes from all of Earth's sunrises and sunsets, projected onto the shadowed moon. Monday night's 'blood moon' eclipse will be the first total lunar eclipse since Dec. 10, 2011.
Lunar Planting? (Zahid)

You may not be able to watch the whole 6-hour event but if you are a night owl and there’s a break in the clouds, rain and whatever this whack-a-doodle Central PA weather is going to give us, you might see something. Well, there’s always broadcast and Internet coverage.


Check out these Creative Moon Pictures from Zahid

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Winter Damage - Blue Atlas Cedar



Blue Atlas Cedar - MG Debra Schaeffer's Landscape

Master Gardener Debra Schaeffer asked on Facebook whether or not her Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca') was dead or alive, posting this picture from her landscape in Shippensburg.


Apparently Debra is not alone in asking, since our friends at Snavely's Garden Center added that they've been getting a lot of calls about them lately as well. 

Sandy Feather, horticulture educator for Allegheny county wrote about the subject recently.  Here's Sandy.

Blue atlas cedar is rated as hardy to USDA Zone 6. Much of Allegheny County is listed as Zone 6a, with low winter temperatures ranging from minus-5 to minus-10 degrees, but the City of Pittsburgh is rated as Zone 6b, with winter lows from 0 to minus-5 degrees.

Whether they live or not depends in part on where you live. If you are in an urban area, where buildings and pavement hold more heat than suburban and rural areas, the foliage may just be burned and they will survive. If you live in the suburbs, especially the northern suburbs, they may not.

It also depends on how long they have been growing -- established plants have a better chance of surviving extremes than those that are newly planted. Likewise, plants that go into winter well hydrated and healthy will fare better than those that are stressed by drought or insect and disease problems.

In addition to brutally cold temperatures, strong winds play a role. While needled evergreens usually have a waxy coating on their needles that helps minimize moisture loss, blue atlas cedar needles are not as heavily waxed as many spruce and pines. Strong winds pull moisture through the stomata (pores) in the needles, but plants cannot take up additional moisture from frozen ground to make up for the loss. The result is the browning you see on the foliage of your blue atlas cedars. This type of damage is very evident on broadleaved evergreens such as English ivy, euonymus, pachysandra and rhododendron.

The bottom-line with your blue atlas cedars: Wait until they should start showing new growth as temperatures warm in spring. The brown needles will drop and new growth will start covering those bare branches if the foliage was just burned. If that does not happen, then they did not survive the polar vortex.

The revised USDA Hardiness Zone map and climate change have many gardeners pushing hardiness zones with plants that are marginally hardy for us, including crapemyrtle, camellia and photinia. That is fine, as long as losing these tender gems to a harsh winter doesn't break the bank. Again, some of these plants might die to the ground and come back from the roots, so do not be in hurry to dig them up. Give spring a chance to finally arrive and see if they show any signs of life, especially crapemyrtle -- it is very slow to come to life in spring.

Even plants that are generally hardy to Zone 5 may show dieback or other signs of damage when spring arrives. Spring-bloomers such as forsythia, big-leaf hydrangea and evergreen azaleas may only bloom close to the ground, where flower buds were protected by snow cover. Be patient and see what spring brings.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

4-H Garden Club Tours the Franklin County Demonstration Gardens

by Carol Kagan

On Thursday, April 10, the newly formed Franklin County 4-H Garden Club, and many of their parents, toured the demonstration gardens and various working areas at the Penn State Extension Ag Heritage Center on Franklin Farm Road in Chambersburg.
They met at the Clubhouse, an area adjoining the barn, saying the Pledge of Allegiance and the 4-H Pledge as they start every meeting. Club Secretary Emily took attendance and ran out of room on her membership chart which had 15 lines. We had 18 members in attendance!

The group began their tour with leader Jess Kaufmann and Master Gardener Barb Petrucci providing narrative.

What did they see?

Travelling through the Pollinator Garden
The Pollinator Garden, recently tidied up looks great. The Drought-tolerant Garden has a few evergreens showing and needed a bit of an explanation. The Perennial Garden, also recently cleaned up, has a few crocus showing. The Herb Garden remains neat from last fall. The 10 raised bed themes were highlighted by the fragrance bed with tall stands of overwintered lavender and the rose trellis.
Learning about the Perennial Garden
The group was awed by the size of the area designated for their club garden (as yet unnamed). Even with a group of 18, and no doubt many grown-up helpers, preliminary plans are to use just a portion.
View of the future Garden Club garden site
The Holding Area and Greenhouse (just a peek inside) was particularly of interest to the parents who not only didn't realize all these gardens were here but didn't know that our plant sale is different than many others; ours offering plants grown by Master Gardeners and not ordered in.
At the Pergola in the Wildlife Area
The Wildlife Area provided a leisurely stroll with lots of evergreens and some new shoots popping up. There were questions and interest in the Certified Wildlife Habitat designation. The compost area and, last but not least, the Victory Garden where the overwintering sunflower stalks will make an appearance on next week's scavenger hunt.

Radishes waiting to be planted! (Carol Kagan)
The tour ended back at the Clubhouse where the gardeners planted radish seeds to take home and nurture. They were provided with a copy of the seed packet to review planting depth, germination, maturity date and other information.

Learning about planting depth before planting their radishes.
Next week: Let's see if they can remember what they saw and where as teams go on a scavenger hunt, recording their finds as digital pictures.

Unless noted, all photos courtesy of gardener Abby Pugh.

And here's Abby's radishes as of Monday morning





Friday, April 11, 2014

And You Thought It Would Never Get Here!

Spring is springing all over, slowly but surely.  Which is okay with me - just recovering from some minor surgery so haven't been able to get out much.  But today was too nice to stay inside, so I inspected the progress toward that inevitable time when my estate will demand a lot more of my time.

There is lots to see, so get out and start looking around - I find these tiny buds and blooms even more interesting than the leafed-out plant.

First off, the rose by the front door decided to go green in the past two days:

Rose - Apr 11


Then we have my elm tree, that is rather anxious to show you some leaves pretty soon:
Liberty elm - Apr 11














The forsythia, as could be expected, is all ready to burst into its yellow extravaganza:

Forsythia - Apr 11















I have lots of different viburnums (viburnae?), but this is the most interesting bud I saw:

Mohawk viburnum - Apr 11
My weeping Katsura is enjoying its place in the sun:

Weeping Katsura - Apr 11














The sedum, with its warm spot next to the brick wall, seems to be further along than most things:

Sedum - Apr 11














The cherry trees are getting ready to get all pink; my cherry blossom festival is a week or so away yet, I think:

Cherry - Apr 11

And last, but not least, my red maple is working very hard to get ahead of the rest of his fellow trees:

Red maple - Apr 11














My apologies to the purists who would like to see the latin names for all these, but I would rather you just enjoy the mysterious re-creation of all these plants in the spring!  To coin a phrase - What's in your garden?