Home Gardener Headlines - Fall 2011
Dear Home Gardener,
What's next in our weather future? In recent weeks we've had drought, temperatures over 100 degrees, an earthquake, and a hurricane. Our poor plants are not only stressed, but surely confused! It's been a dreadful year for tomatoes, as witnessed by the volume of calls to the office this summer. Some of the answers to the many tomato queries are contained within.
But when all is added up, we in Berks County are numbered among the fortunate. We still have our homes, our roads, and our schools. Our farms are struggling, but fields are intact for another year. And our home gardens? Ahhhh, it's only three months till the seed catalogs will set us dreaming of the perfect season!
Master Gardener Coordinator
Visit the Master Gardeners at These Upcoming Events!
Master Gardener Plant Sale With a Difference - September 9-10
Chili Pepper Festival - Sept. 9-10, Bowers, PA
Old Dry Road Farm Festival - Sept. 25, Lower Heidelberg Township
Heritage Days - Oct. 1-2, Berks County Heritage Center
Did you know that these gardening resources are available to you at the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office?
Free Home Horticulture Call-In Line
Call 610-378-1327 any weekday to get answers to your home gardening, lawn, landscape, and houseplant questions. Master Gardeners will help you keep your plants thriving.
Free Horticulture Literature
Free fact sheets and brochures on hundreds of horticultural topics, researched by Penn State's College of Ag Sciences.
Free Diagnosis of Plant Diseases and Insect Damage
If our volunteers are not able to identify a plant problem on the phone, you may bring a sample to the office for diagnosis. If our staff is unable to pinpoint the problem, we will send the sample to the experts at Penn State's Plant Disease Clinic.
Books for Purchase
Are you serious about growing fruit? Avid about vegetables? Passionate about herbs? Check extension's bookshelf for additions to your gardening library.
Soil Test Kits
Soil test kits are available at the extension office for $9 each. Most garden problems begin in the soil. Penn State's soil analysis and prescriptions can enhance the health of your garden, lawn, and landscape.
Blossom-End Rot of tomato, Pepper, and Eggplant
Blossom-end rot is a serious disorder of tomato, pepper, and eggplant. Growers often are distressed to notice that a dry sunken decay has developed on the blossom end (opposite the stem) of many fruit, especially the first fruit of the season. This nonparasitic disorder can be very damaging, with losses of 50% or more in some years.
On tomato and eggplant, blossom-end rot usually begins as a small water-soaked area at the blossom end of the fruit. This may appear while the fruit is green or during ripening. As the lesion develops, it enlarges, becomes sunken and turns black and leathery. In severe cases, it may completely cover the lower half of the fruit, becoming flat or concave. Secondary pathogens commonly invade the lesion, often resulting in complete destruction of the infected fruit. On peppers, the affected area appears tan and is sometimes mistaken for sunscald, which is white. Secondary molds often colonize the affected area, resulting in a dark brown or black appearance. Blossom-end rot also occurs on the sides of pepper fruit near the blossom end.
Blossom-end rot is not caused by a parasitic organism but is a physiologic disorder associated with a low concentration of calcium in the fruit. Calcium is required in relatively large concentrations for normal cell growth. When a rapidly growing fruit is deprived of necessary calcium, the tissues break down, leaving the characteristic dry, sunken lesion at the blossom end. Blossom-end rot is inducted when demand for calcium exceeds supply. This may result from low calcium levels or high amounts of competitive cations in the soil, drought stress, or excessive soil moisture fluctuation which reduce uptake and movement of calcium into the plant, or rapid vegetative growth due to excessive nitrogen fertilization.
1. Maintain the soil pH around 6.5. Liming will supply calcium and will increase the ratio of calcium ions to other competitive ions in the soil.
2. Use nitrate nitrogen as the fertilizer nitrogen source. Ammoniacal nitrogen may increase blossom-end rot as excess ammonium ions reduce calcium uptake. Avoid over-fertilization as side dressings during early fruiting, especially with ammoniacal forms of nitrogen.
3. Avoid drought stress and wide fluctuation in soil moisture by using mulches and/or irrigation. Plants generally need about one inch of moisture per week from rain or irrigation for proper growth and development.
4. Foliar applications of calcium, which are often advocated, are of little value because of poor absorption and movement to fruit where it is needed.
Source: Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet #HYG-3117-96
Summer Tomato Disorders
Blotchy ripening/yellow shoulder
Blotchy ripening/yellow shoulders of tomatoes is characterized by areas of the fruit that fail to ripen or do so after the rest of the fruit is ripe. White or yellow blotches can also appear on the surface of ripening fruit while the tissue inside remains hard. The affected area is usually on the upper portion of the fruit. This problem is more prevalent in cool, wet, often cloudy conditions. Soils high in nitrogen and/or low in potassium will increase its severity.
Blotchy ripening appears more frequently on older cultivars. Studies at UC-Davis demonstrate that for uniform color development more available potassium than is necessary for yield alone is needed. Their studies show the incidence of yellow shoulder was lower in fields with a high potassium status of both soil and plant. Foliar application of potassium, however, were not effective in relieving this disorder.
Work in the Great Lakes Region has suggested the importance of soil organic matter and pH. Tomatoes grown on soils containing greater than 3.5% organic matter produced fruit with a low incidence of blotchy ripening/yellow shoulder while tomatoes grown on soils with organic matter below 2.5% produced fruit with a high incidence of the disorder.
Tomatoes produced on soils at a pH of 6.4 had a low incidence of yellow shoulder while tomatoes grown on soils in excess of 6.7 pH had a high incidence.
Internal white tissue
Internal white tissue is a disorder where the affected fruit rarely shows any external symptoms. However, when ripe fruits are cut, white hard areas are present in the outer walls. High temperatures during the ripening period seem to trigger the symptoms. Maintaining sufficient potassium fertilization (a soil exchangeable K+ level of 130 ppm in sandy loams) can reduce symptoms but may not eliminate them. As is common with many of these fruit problems, some varieties are more prone to the disorder than others.
Adapted from University of Maryland 2007; http://extension.umd.edu/agriculture/IPMmdIPM/network/pest/Net/reports/pestNetReport
How to Know Families of Herbs
The great majority of herbs commonly grown belong to five large plant families--mint, composite, parsley (or carrot), borage, and mustard families. Each of these contains many members which differ from one another, yet all the members of any one family show certain "family resemblances" by which they can be easily recognized. The following brief descriptions and drawings point out the most important characteristics of those five families.
The Mint Family
(Lubiatae) with square stems and mostly irregular, two-lipped flowers having four stamens. The fruit is small, with four nutlets ("seeds"). Here we find mint, basil, sage, ajuga, teucrium, rosemary, lavender, horehound, nepeta, agastache, lamium and thyme.
The Composite Family
(Compositae), sunlovers with two kinds of flowers, ray and disk, combined into heads. Fruits are dry and hard, known botanically as aschenes; they often have plumes of hair to aid in wind dispersal. here are elecampane, chicory, coltsfoot, chrysanthemum, tansy, Artemisia, santolina, calendula, and eupatorium.
The Parsley Family
(Umbelliferae), often with hollow stems, flowers in flat-topped clusters called umbels. In this group are caraway, chervil, coriander, dill, fennel, cumin, lovage, pimpernel, myrrh, wild carrot, parsley, angelica, goutweed, skirret.
The Borage Family
(Boraginaceae), with tubular flowers mostly in curved racemes and having five stamens attached to the tube. The ovary is superior, usually forming a fruit composed of four nutlets. Among the members of this family are borage, cynoglossum, forget-me-not, mertensia, pulmonaria, symphytum, anchusa, brunnera, echium, and true heliotrope.
The Mustard Family
(Cruciferae), has flowers with four petals forming a square cross, four long stamens and two short ones, and superior ovary. Here are woad, mustard, pepper-grass, honesty, upland cress, dentaria, stock, and watercress.
Source: Handout from Penn State Cooperative Extension in Berks County
Hanging Tomatoes and Other Adventures
What's the story on those intriguing hanging tomato systems that promise bushels of red ripe fruits and no gardening mess?
If you like experimenting or helping your kids with a new hobby, this may be for you. But a search of user responses show that it's often not so simple as it seems.
First, it can be messy and frustrating to set up. But that's a one-time (per year) effort. Besides, any kind of gardening can get messy. Onward!
Second, any hanging plant container requires lots of watering, and tomatoes in August are among the thirstiest of all plants. If you're not willing to babysit and provide frequent drinks, perhaps multiple doses daily, consider traditional tomato plantings instead.
Third, tomatoes are very "hungry" for fertilizers, and all that watering through a small container will wash out nutrients. Be prepared to supply food as well as water, and often.
Fourth, the completed hanger--with soil, enlarging plant, all that luscious fruit, and the necessary water--comprises a lot of weight. Many users have found the hooks supplied with the kits to be too small to hold them safely. If you use these systems, invest in a very sturdy hook, and be sure that the overhead supports are up to the job.
Does the plant produce? Yes, if supplied with enough water and nutrients, it can work. but when all is said and done, it's one plant. For a project, an experiment, or a family "pet," these can be a fun and attractive novelty. For significant tomato production, or if time and attention are limited, stick with in-ground tomatoes.
Written by Beth Finlay, Master Gardener Coordinator
Certify Your Pollinator Friendly Garden with the Penn State Master Gardeners
What do pollinators do?
Pollination, the transfer of pollen from the anthers of a flower to the stigma of the same flower or of another flower, is vital to our food supply. Insects and other animals are a key element in facilitating this transfer. In fact, one of every three bites of food comes to us by pollinators!
Penn State Master Gardeners take action to help pollinators.
Pollinators need our help. Both native bees and domestic bee populations are declining, affected by habitat loss, disease, and contact with pesticides. Penn State Extension Master Gardeners are taking action to protect pollinators by planting pollinator-friendly gardens and providing education for the gardening public. You can join this effort by providing food and habitat for native insects/animals. Pollinators will, in turn, provide the pollination needed to protect our plant diversity and food sources. Certifying your property as "Pollinator Friendly" will help support a healthy ecosystem for our community and our future.
Certifying your garden.
Does your property already qualify? Fill out the application at http://ento.psu.edu/publications/Pollinator%20Certification.pdf/view?searchterm=Pollinator and send it with a non-refundable $10 application fee. If you qualify, you will receive a certificate verifying that your landscape is pollinator friendly. You will then be eligible for the Penn State Master Gardener Pollinator Friendly Garden sign for $30. Both the certificate and the sign show your commitment to conserving pollinator habitat. Your donation also helps support Penn State Master Gardeners continue their quest of educating the public about the importance of providing habitat for pollinators.
No, it's not a contest or a reality show. But it is a reality! On September 1, 30 volunteers gathered at the Berks County Ag Center to install a 150-foot by 12-foot landscape garden. Among the workers were Master Gardeners, Berks County Conservation District staff, Penn State Extension staff, and County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt.
At 9:00 a.m., the soil was bare and the workers clean and fresh. Five hours later, 260 trees, shrubs, and perennials had been carefully planted, watered and mulched. The workers were "muddied but unbowed," as someone noted. The new garden is behind the block knee wall on the front plaza of the Ag Center, where it will become the newest addition to the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden. All plants will be labeled and indexed so that visitors can admire and learn about them.
This garden was made possible through a Conservation District-acquired grant with additional funding from Penn State Master Gardeners. It is a wonderful demonstration of how cooperating agencies, the county, and dedicated volunteers can pull together to make magic happen!
The garden is handicap accessible, and is open to the public at all times.
Written by Beth Finlay, Master Gardener Coordinator