Thursday, August 22, 2013

Twists and Turns in the Zinnia Bed

~ Jessica S. Herwick

I will admit, I have never been a huge fan of flowers, and I primarily plant them to bring the honeybees  I scatter several pollinator friendly flowers throughout my garden areas every year.  I prefer the most natural flower garden, to watch them emerge, bloom, and remain; letting their seeds drop to the ground in hopes of volunteers sprouting up next spring.  But, today I had to do it.  I picked one of my zinnias.  I couldn’t help myself.  

At first I noticed this particular flower while watering.  From the front, it seemed like an ordinary cut-and-come-again.  I passed it dozens of times.  But as I reached behind the leaves, I discovered the severe curving and turning of its stem – and it was such a striking example of the phototropic reactions in my Zinnia bed I couldn’t resist.  I was so delighted with the shape, I impulsively clipped it and brought it inside to photograph. 

As I sprayed it down with water to wash the dust off the petals and leaves, my zinnia disclosed yet another surprise.  The most unusual little bug emerged, scurrying back and forth along the curled stem like a miniature rollercoaster.  It was very small, barely noticeable to the naked eye.  I have never seen a bug like this before (and I stop to look at a lot of bugs).  Since he was trapped in the loops of the zinnia stem, I had time to use a close-up lens and capture the image.  See the close-up here.  I have yet to identify this little guy, but I have a call into the Hort-Hotline! 

My experience with the Zinnia bed this year has reminded me that sometimes gardening can be silly and fun.  Sometimes it’s not about perfection, but the surprises that emerge when we stop trying to force our flowers to grow straight, leave them as they are, and allow the bugs to land.

So – What exactly happened to the stems of my Zinnias? 

The curved stems were caused by the perfect storm of plant biology, my lazy gardening and some hard falling rain.  I was too busy to stake the flowers earlier in the season, and then my gardening habits were interrupted by several days of heavy winds and thunderstorms.  When the rains passed, I returned to my garden duties to find the Zinnias had tripled in size and become top-heavy - laying down from the weight.  Buds were already forming, so I left things as they were, undisturbed for several weeks.  Shortly after the blooms began, I was forced to lift the flowers up from ground level, after an unsuccessful battle with a community of snails.  The results of staking the flowers so late resulted in some interesting twists and turns within the flowering stalks.

About Phototropism

- The word tropism comes from the Greek ‘tropos’ which literally means, “a turning”.  Scientifically, a tropism refers to the growth or turning movement of a biological organism in response to external stimuli.  In the case of phototropism, the biological organism is the zinnia and the external stimulus is the light of the sun. 
- A phototropic reaction occurs when the growth chemical auxin within the plant-part reacts in response to the plant-parts desire to be closer or further from the light.  Auxin is responsible for reshaping the cell wall to help the plant move itself towards the light (as with the positive phototropism of the flowering stems of a plant reaching for the sun), or away from the light (as with the negative phototropism of the roots of a plant burrowing into the ground).
- Phototropism is the reason behind the lucky bamboo you may have seen twisted into various shapes such as a spiral or a heart.  You can manipulate the growth of many plants by controlling the amount and direction of the light source.  Of course, in my flowerbed the turned stems and twisted stalks were unintentional, but equally as fascinating.

Fun Facts About Zinnias

- Zinnias were originally cultivated by the Aztecs, and remain most diverse in their native lands of Mexico.  

- They prefer well-drained soil and full sun, and have spread throughout the Southwestern United States to South America. 

- These lovely and diverse flowers were not named until the 18th century, when botanist Carl Linnaeus of Sweden named the Zinnia to honor his German colleague, Botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn, who was the first botanist to study them scientifically.

To Learn More

Philadelphia Master Gardener Related Link – Annuals from Seed… Zinnia

PSU Cooperative Extension Selecting and Growing Zinnias for Cut Flowers

Penn State Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet on Plant Diseases Specific to Zinnia

North Carolina Cooperative Extension Fun Science Project (Kid Friendly)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The J.B.Kelly School Project

Michele K. Koskinen
Earlier this year, I met with the science teacher and a community leader to help determine if we could help get the vegetable gardens up and running with a few lessons for the students. I looked at the beds already built and overrun by weeds and the beginning of trees and said with help you can do anything. So we started with       help from a few community men and students from Penn Charter volunteering at the school.

Below is the visual story of our small successes at this school. It was fun and hard work and provided the kindergarden and some of the older students with an enjoyable experience. The Master Gardener program will continue this year to help with planning a fall garden and harvesting some Pumpkins and Sunflower Seeds for the returning students. Classes in growing from seed and other topics will be used in the classroom and a spring garden planted. For more information on the 2013 school year plans, interested volunteers should contact Michele Koskinen the Master Gardener working with Ms Carter and Kelly Green.

A new leafy green they liked. Arugula

Snap peas, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers

Harvesting Arugula

Looking toward the Sunflowers and Pumpkins with Loofah on the fence.
Harvesting for community members

Beauty as well as function

My Magicicada Experience

~ Jessica S. Herwick

I forgot they were coming.  17 years ago, small eggs hatched along tree branches, and tiny larva dropped to the ground, burying themselves deep within the roots and earth to grow in preparation for their 2013 debut.  The scheduled emergence of Magicicada broods along the East Coast did not come to mind until mid-May, when I found this little guy sitting on the windshield of my car in the parking lot of a New Jersey hotel the day my cousin got married.  I was so excited to have seen one, an actual magicicada, or any cicada for that matter.  I didn’t consider what hundreds of them might look like, or sound like.  But I was about to find out just a few weeks later.

At the end of the month, while visiting family in Fredericksburg, Virginia over the Memorial Day weekend, the Spotsylvania County area was completely over run with these fascinating, and unusually friendly insects.  When I first crossed the county line, I heard them singing.  The sound was so loud and so foreign to my ears, I dismissed it as a fire alarm in the distance.  Then, one at a time, these husky insects began charging at my windshield, and I could feel them under the wheels of my tires, crunching under the pressure – poor things!  Their sounds from the wooded areas grew louder as I approached the tree-lined development, and by the time I pulled in and parked along my parents shady driveway, my car was practically covered.  One even dropped onto my shoulder.  

Holes from the Magicicada emergence.

I returned to Philadelphia with maps of the last brood’s sightings, and expected emergence areas.   I waited.  I looked.  I listened.  I visited Fairmont Park and walked the Wissahickon trails, but I never saw (or heard) anything close to the giant brood that hatched in Spotsylvania County. 

All the Etymologists say that if you haven’t seen a magicicada by July, then you’ll most likely have to wait for another 17 years.  As I write to you now, I have still only heard faint calls of Magicicadas through the trees in the denser wooded areas of Philly, but the real show this year remains for me the Virginia brood.  So, for my friends in Philadelphia who may not have had the opportunity to see the Magicicadas in all their glory, I am posting video and digital images of those that I encountered.  In the video below, you can hear them in full force!

Cicadas are fascinating creatures.  Everything about their life cycle and habits is unusual and intriguing.  
I could write a dozen blogs filled with fun facts about cicadas.  For this piece, I’ll try to stick with the science, but I encourage you to check out the websites below to learn more.

There are six species of periodical cicadas, three with a 17-year cycle and three with a 13-year cycle. The three species in each life-cycle group are distinctive in size, color, and song. The 17-year cicadas are generally northern, and the 13-year cicadas southern with considerable overlap in their distribution. It is possible for both types to occur in the same forest.

For the purpose of tracking and scientific study, each brood is designated by a Roman numeral.  I through XVII are assigned to the 17-year broods.  XVIII and higher are assigned to the 13-year broods.  You may wonder what happens when the 17 year old broods reach the roman numeral XVII, being their end number.  The brood the following year starts again at Roman numeral I.  The numbering of the 17-year broods began in 1893, when the brood that year was designated as Brood I. In 1909, Brood XVII appeared, and in 1910, Brood I appeared again.

Interesting to our state! 
In Pennsylvania there are Cicada broods being tracked during eight different years in different areas across the state.  All of the Pennsylvania broods require 17 years to reach maturity. Several of these broods are very small. There is very large brood known as the  "great eastern brood”.  I will begin to look out for them!  Maybe I will have more luck here in Philly in a few more years. 

Where To Learn More:
Magicicada - Remnants of Molting Phase

Magicicada Website
For a vast array of information about Cicadas – Including other species of Cicada and additional info on Magicicada brood.  Cool mapping projects here!

Penn State Entomology Periodical Cicada Fact Sheet  
Including a Timetable of expected appearances of the periodical cicada in Pennsylvania

Friday, August 9, 2013

News from the Edible Landscape Demonstration Garden

Cardoon in bloom
This past week brought the judging panel from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's City Gardens Contest to the garden. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and the garden looked splendid -- not a errant weed, nor a feasting harlequin beetle in sight! The weeks of attentive care by the Master Gardener volunteers were obvious to the four knowledgeable judges, one of whom was a retired Penn State Extension horticulture specialist. We silently chuckled when even she was unable to identify the cardoon in bloom! Winners will be notified sometime after Labor Day. Stay tuned for the update!

Black Turtle and Great White Northern Beans
The shelling bean harvest has begun -- Black Turtle, Great White Northern, Calypso, Whippoorwill -- all are at their height of production. These beans are excellent choices for freezing shelled in small freezer bags. Adding them to homemade soups in the winter adds extra flavor, texture and nutrition.

The first planting of cucumbers have finished fruiting and have made their way to the compost pile. 'Pickle Bush' is a very prolific producer. Our small number of plants produced enough cucumbers for salads, soups and a dozen or more pints of 'bread and butter' and 'spicey ginger' pickles.

The herb beds are in their glory right now. The eight different cultivars of basil are a sight to behold .Summer or winter savory combined with rosemary,sage, thyme and sweet marjoram are ready for drying and making Herbs de Provence. Please stop by after this Saturday's (August 10, 2013) workshop -- Culinary Herbs: Fragrant, Flavorful and Festive Foods -- at the Horticultural Center, N. Horticultural and Montgomery Drvie, Philadelphia, PA 19131. 9:30 am registration. The workshop begins at 10 am. $10 registration fee. For more information: 215-471-2200, ext. 116 or
e-mail at

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Yellowjackets - Love 'em or hate 'em

By Sandy Grimwade

Recently I was admiring a beautiful apricot tree in Center City loaded with soft orange apricots, but the apricots were swarming with yellowjackets. Gardeners have a love/hate relationship with yellowjackets -- they are know for their beneficial predation on many harmful insect species and their nasty habit of getting aggressive if disturbed.

What are yellowjackets and how should we, as gardeners, take advantage of their good side and avoid their dark side?

German yellowjacket (Vespula germanica)
Yellowjackets are social wasps that live in colonies of males, workers and queens -- very similar to the social arrangements of honey bees to which they are distantly related. Only the queens overwinter, and when they emerge in the spring, they establish a new colony in a small paper nest which she builds. Soon the colony starts to grow rapidly, and by the end of summer may contain 4,000 to 5,000 wasps. This is why yellowjackets become so common in late summer, and also the reason why they become more aggressive, especially as food shortages start to occur in the fall. Then yellowjackets start showing up at outdoor picnics, on garbage cans, and on fallen fruit.

There are several species of social wasps that are commonly called yellowjackets. The common wasp and the German wasp are European species that are now fully established in North America.The eastern and western yellowjacket and several others are native species. They all look quite similar and have similar habits.  The German yellowjacket especially is a recent and aggressive invader, and is overtaking the eastern yellowjacket as the dominant species in this area.

Eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons)
Yellowjackets are very beneficial insects -- they are mostly insectivorous and they feed on the larvae of blowflies, houseflies, beetles and many insects that harm ornamental and edible plants. Unless a nest is located in an inconvenient location, we should leave them alone and let them get on with helping to keep the garden free of harmful insects.

As everyone knows, yellowjackets can become aggressive if they or their nests are disturbed. They prefer not to sting but will do so if provoked.

A yellowjacket sting is unpleasant for most people and can be serious for those who are allergic. So, don't look for trouble. Don't go near suspected nests, and don't flap your arms if they start coming close. If yellowjackets become aggressive and start making trouble when you are in the garden, you may need to resort to spraying the colony. This should be a last resort in our relationship with these social and beneficial insects.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

News from the Edible Landscape Demonstration Garden

Success can come in small packages or sometimes in small bottles filled with smelly liquids. The garlic concentrate diluted with water (one part concentrate to three parts water) has been effective in deterring those pesky Japanese beetles from completely denuding the grape vines. Most of the damaged leaves have been removed and, with luck, the plants will push new growth before the end of the season. Score one for our side! Hand picking the harlequin beetles off of the curly kale seems to be keeping those critters in check. The plants are looking quite perky for this point in the season.

The cucumber harvest is well under way. We planted 'Pickle Bush' hybrid along two small trellises back in May. The resulting plants are flowering well and have produced enough cukes to make a batch or two of bread and butter pickles. A later planting of 'Marketmore 97' cucumbers are almost a foot high and should provide us with even more crunchy additions to late summer and early fall salads.

Cardoon in bloom
The dozen or so different types of beans are now in their glory. The long, red Chinese noodle beans climbing high on their tepee supports look wonderful at the back of the garden. The various shelling bean plants -- Calypso, Great Northern, Black Turtle -- are filled with pods, ready for picking. The string beans including 'Soleil', 'Masai' and 'Kentucky Wonder' are in flower. What a wealth of delicious eating awaits!

The cardoons are in full bloom at the moment. Their thistle-like flowers are bold and beautiful. It is worth considering planting this perennial for its ornamental qualities alone.

Come visit us in the garden soon! We love company!

Kitchen Herb Gardens

Michele K. Koskinen

                                                                                Herb gardens are a favorite of many who like to cook foods infused with delicate or strong flavors of herbal bouquets. The kinds of herbs you grow are often based on what you cook and your growing space. My herb garden is in containers on a deck in pots. Cutting, drying and freezing all summer I have enough for the winter soups, stews, and heavier meals of the winter months and fresh herbs for the lighter fare of the summer.

Found on my deck in containers are Thai Basil, Spicy Basil, Lemon Basil, Sweet Basil, Oregano (Greek and Italian), Dill, Tarragon, Sage, Thyme (French and Regular), Parsley (Curly and Flat), Cilantro, Marjoram, Rosemary and 3 types of mint. These are the herbs I use the most and have the room to grow in abundance in large containers. Some of them grow for several years and others are annuals. This year I planted all new plants as some were no longer producing in abundance.  So fellow gardeners and chefs........ Try growing herbs you use through the year, not just the typical basil for tomatoes and parsley.

Want to learn more about herbs? Come and hear Linda Grimwade and then visit the Demonstration Garden behind the Horticulture Center.

August 10, 2013      Culinary Herbs: Fragrant, Flavorful and Festive Foods

Linda Grimwade a Philadelphia Extension Master Gardener will show how to  grow herbs from seed and preserve them by drying or freezing. Participants will also have an opportunity to contrast and compare the fragrance and flavor of herbs, and use fresh herbs in recipes.
Fairmount Park Horticultural Center N. Horticultural and Montgomery Drive
Philadelphia, Pa.19131     9:30AM Registration 10:00 Workshop      
$10.00 Registration