Thursday, September 29, 2016

Eggplants in containers

This has been a great eggplant year. I like to grow them in containers, as  they're beautiful plants. They're not always lovely, however, because of flea beetles. But this year was a happy exception.

I'm continuing to harvest lots of Ping Tung eggplants, along with more of the two Italian-types, which had slowed flowering and fruiting in the heat and drought of late summer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Montford Bridge sunset

Walking downtown tonight to the library, for a program around waterfalls and photography, the sunset was stunning.

Sunset from the Montford Ave. bridge
Coming home, the view of the Basilica was equally lovely, although the iPhone photo doesn't do it justice!

Basilica at dusk

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fall color to come

Nudged by a email back and forth from our neighborhood newsletter editor - she'd complimented me on a previous article, after an unrelated wreath image ask -- I poked around some fall gardening and fall color posts.

Here's a revised version of an older post -- updated to our warm and dry fall so far.

We live in a region of fall color. 

 Reddening leaves of dogwood (Cornus florida) and sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) often lead the way, although droughty conditions (not uncommon) may also encourage early leaf color in maples, probably as leaves have shut down production of chlorophyll early this year. My sister (then living in Central Texas) sent me an e-mail a number of years ago, asking about what really triggered the change in color in leaves - temperature, day length, moisture, or a combination. Her dog park group wanted to know!

Well, what are sisters for, after all, especially if she's a botanist and garden educator (I’m now a volunteer one)?  I had some fun reviewing the details and look forward to seeing how it will play out this season, with the warm and dry conditions forecast for this fall.

Basically, our fall colors in the Eastern U.S. are revealed as chlorophyll production slows down, cued by the shortening days and lengthening nights. The interplay of pigments in leaves determines the fall colors of different species, with the temperature and moisture determining color intensities. As the chlorophyll (which provides the overriding green color of leaves) breaks down, the other pigments in the leaves become evident. The carotenoids produce the yellow and oranges and anthocyanins produce the purple and reds. Anthocyanins are actively produced as a reaction between sugars and proteins - in the watery vacuoles of leaf cells, and their colors are influenced by acidity. They start showing up as the chlorophyll breaks down, and corky deposits start blocking the downward flow of sugars between leaves and stems.

Different trees have different combinations of the basic pigments, and here in Eastern North America, we have the largest diversity of species of trees that exhibit fall color, so many of our natives are prized in Europe for fall color -- our sweet gums and tulip poplars for example.

Some of the trees that are shades of oranges, reds, and purples include the red, white, and scarlet oaks, persimmon, sassafras, dogwood, sweet gum, as well as the maples. Hickories, river birch, redbud, tulip poplar, and sycamore turn yellow and gold, although the last two frequently turn brown and drop leaves early in droughty years like this one.

Beech leaves also accumulate tannin, adding a bronze color to the underlying yellows. The fall weather plays a key factor in whether it's a particularly good year for color, especially in the reds and purples. Day and night temperature and general moisture levels are important. Warm sunny days (with lots of sugar production) with cool crisp nights produce the best reddish and purple colors – from the anthocyanin pigments - at the same time chlorophyll production is declining. These are the “best” fall color years for bright red and orange hues.

Yellows are fairly consistent from year to year, since the carotenoids aren’t so affected by weather variations. Overly dry weather will produce more brownish leaves and early leaf drop, with washed-out colors in general.

But, some of our non-natives (this ginkgo, for example) have beautiful fall color, too.
This one was at the botanical garden (South Carolina Botanical Garden) where I used to work.

So no two falls are alike!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Year-round vegetable gardening

I've done many programs over the years about vegetable gardening. My early ones focused on creative and attractive kitchen gardens.  Then, a bit more about productive vegetable gardens in the recession years.

But I've moved from three-season to year-round vegetable gardening in some of my programs, as I just think it's so compelling, even for small-scale vegetable gardeners like myself.

Wire cloches (ready for plastic, when needed)
I'm not truly interested in feeding our 2-person household from our veggie garden throughout the year, but it really comes pretty darn close, when I freeze tomatoes, tomatillos, squash, kale and beans from the summer garden to eat in winter, not to mention all of the greens we eat from the fall and spring garden.

So, tomorrow's program is about year-round vegetable gardening.  It's SO possible here where I live in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

I live in the Asheville basin, near to downtown Asheville, so we're at 2000 ft., now USDA zone 7a.  My raised beds are stone and we're next to a brick apartment;  there's a heat-reflecting effect right there.  We have almost 10 hours of sunlight year-round, except for the few weeks around the winter solstice.  So, we can grow a lot of cold-hardy vegetables, depending on the year and the circumstances of freezes and frosts, and whether there's a bit of winter protection from cloches or hoops, covered by plastic or row covers.

We've had hard freezes the last few winters. Two years ago was the coldest winter for over 20 years.  Not good for overwintering hardy veggies, at least unprotected ones.

This year, I'll be working with wire cloches and hoops, which I'll cover with perforated plastic as a minimal cover.  They'll be attractive, I hope (my veggie beds are front row and center in our landscape).  We'll see!

Hoops ready for plastic, too!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A lovely conifer assortment

A transformed lower bed is now full of dwarf conifers.

These and a number of others are now gracing a bed that's been problematic.  Full hot sun in the afternoon.  Shady in the morning. Hot in summer, cool in winter.  Etc.

But, we think the conifers and their companions (not the kale -- it went into my veggie beds) will do well.

We'll see.  More photos to come.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A pollen-collecting bee

Taking a photo of a collection of dwarf conifers, snagged for a new planting (in a very difficult spot), I saw these bees visiting the Vernonia.  

I've seen them before, but they're definitely unusual, with their striking pollen baskets.
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