Monday, December 8, 2014

Why Do Apples Rot Inside Before They Drop?

Few things are more upsetting than seeing your homegrown apples (Malus domestica) fall from the tree without knowing why they are dropping. The quickest way to discover the cause of the sudden drop is to cut open a fallen apple to see if there is any sign of rot or mold in the core. Moldy core is a  fungal disease that affects an apple tree’s fruit, rotting the apples on the inside. Apples  grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8 and many apple cultivars or varieties are susceptible to moldy core.

Causes

Several different fungal pathogens can cause moldy core in apples, including fungi from the Alternaria, Stemphylium  and Cladosporium genera. These fungal pathogens become a problem when the apple trees are blooming during wet weather or when there is dry weather in the early summer that is followed by a rainy late summer. Lush tree growth can also help harbor the detrimental fungus.

Infection

While infection can occur at any time, even after the apples are picked and placed in cold storage, it is most common for the fungus to infect the apple’s core or seed cavity by first colonizing the blossoms after they have just opened. The fungus enters into the developing fruit through the calyx or bottom opening. The moldy fungus usually stays contained within the apple's core, but if the moldy core fungus penetrates into the apple’s flesh, dry core rot will infect the entire apple, causing it to rot.

Detection

It is nearly impossible to detect moldy core just by looking at the tree and its fruit. The disease is not spotted on the outside of the fruit, on its skin, and it is not detected until the fruit is cut open. Sometimes the apples infected with moldy core will ripen prematurely and drop from the tree, but to find the cause of the problem, the fruit must be inspected for symptoms of moldy core.

Prevention

There is very little you can do to save the fruit after moldy core has been detected. Attempts have been made to fight off the fungus with fungicides during the tree’s blooming cycle, but the results have been erratic and the practice is not recommended. The best method for combatting moldy core is to prevent or decrease further fungal problems. Pruning and tree training are recommended to improve the tree’s air circulation and sunlight.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Animals That Eat Blueberries

There is nothing more disappointing than discovering that something, other than yourself, has eaten your blueberries. There are numerous animals that will eat the blueberries you’ve planted. Here are a few of the common ones.

Birds

Birds love blueberries and will eat an entire crop if you don’t take measures against them. Netting is the most common way to protect your blueberry bushes from birds. A light frame is set up over the tops of the bushes and the netting is draped over the frame and down to the ground, protecting the entire bush from birds trying to get into or under the netting. The netting is only removed when it is time to harvest the berries.

Rabbits

While rabbits will occasionally eat the blueberry fruit, they cause most damage to the bushes young branches. During the winter months, rabbits will eat low growing blueberry branches when other food is hard to find. To prevent rabbits from eating your blueberry bushes, surround the bushes with fine chicken wire fence. Keep the fencing clear of snow to prevent rabbit from getting over the fencing when the snow gets high.

Skunks

Skunks are nocturnal animals that eat many types of food, including berries. Skunks cannot climb fences, so putting up a chicken wire fence around your blueberry bushes will prevent them from getting to the ripe berries. Skunks can burrow, so bury a portion of the fence underground to prevent them from digging under the fence. Killing a healthy skunk is not recommended because skunks are known for eating other pests, such as wasps and bees, grasshoppers, potato bugs, and even snakes.

Chipmunks

Chipmunks will gladly steal some blueberries from your bushes, if you let them. While electric fencing may help keep these small rodents away from your berry bushes, a simpler route is to put up a hardware cloth fence. The hardware cloth fence should be one foot above the ground with one foot buried below the ground to prevent chipmunks from burrowing under it. Repellant sprays are not safe for human consumption and should not be used on the blueberry bushes.

Bears


Bears will eat blueberries and many other kinds of berries while they are in season. As an important source of food, black bears can eat up to 30,000 berries in a single day. To keep bears away from your blueberry bushes, install an electrical fence around around your orchard and gardening area. Picking the blueberries as soon as they are ripe will also help keep away bears looking to eat ripe fruit.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Spanish Cream Recipe Topped with Sliced Peaches

Here is a delicious chilled dessert you can make for your family. The spanish cream can be topped with many different fruits, including berries, but I prefer to top it with either fresh or canned peach slices.

Makes 4 servings.


  • 1 Tbsp plain gelatin
  • 2 cups milk, divided
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


Soften the gelatin in a small dish containing 1/4 cup milk. Put the remaining milk, 1-3/4 cups, into a saucepan and scald over medium-high heat. Turn off the burner and add the gelatin mix, sugar, and salt. Stir until dissolved. Beat egg yolks lightly. Add a spoonful of the hot mixture and mix together. Pour yolk mixture into the saucepan and turn burner on at low. Stir mixture over low heat until it becomes a custard thick enough to coat a spoon. Turn off burner and remove the pan from the heat. Stir in vanilla. Let mixture cool and set. Beat mixture until fluffy. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture. Fill individual serving cups and chill in the refrigerator until firm. Serve topped with peaches and berries.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Russian Cream Topped with Fresh Strawberries

I love my desserts and so do the kids, so I make it a point to try out different desserts with them whenever possible. This recipe for Russian cream is a chilled dessert that is set into a fancy mold or into individual molds. I chill mine in individual pudding dishes and that works great.

Serves eight.

Ingredients

2 cups sweet cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold water
1 Tbsp plain gelatin
2 cups sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a saucepan, mix sweet cream and sugar. Heat cream and sugar to scalding taking care not to boil. Turn off burner. Mix cold water and gelatin. Add to sweet cream mixture and stir until dissolved. After the mixture has cooled to lukewarm, stir in sour cream and vanilla. Pour into a fancy mold or into individual molds or serving dishes. Chill until firm. Serve topped with fresh, sliced strawberries.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Controlling Weeds With Vinegar

Many people are turning to vinegar as an environmentally safe way to get rid of annual weeds. Research done by the USDA has proven that vinegar (acetic acid) can be used as an herbicide. Effective at killing some common weeds, vinegar quickly breaks down in the soil and doesn’t affect the pH for longer than a few days.

Affects of Vinegar on Plants

Vinegar applications work best at killing annuals by causing a rapid burn to some weed’s plant tissue. Perennials will have green die-off, but the roots may survive the application and send up new plants.

Killing Weeds with Vinegar

Household vinegar is a 5 percent concentration of vinegar mixed with 95 percent water and can be used on young seedlings. Solutions made with a 5 to 10 percent vinegar concentration are sprayed on the leaves of young plants under 2 weeks of age. For older plants, the solution should contain a 10 to 20 percent vinegar concentration. These higher vinegar concentrations are being sold as herbicides at many lawn and garden stores, but should be used with great care. Any vinegar concentrations above 5 percent can cause eye injuries and skin burns.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sand Use in a Vegetable Garden

The best gardening soil is comprised of three different sized mineral particles: sand, silt, and clay. Coarse sand is used to make fertile garden soil and promotes the proper drainage necessary for growing healthy vegetables.

Coarse Sand

Coarse sand, also called builders sand, is the best type of sand to add to the soil in your vegetable garden. The sand should have sharp, not rounded, edges and be 0.5 to 1.0 millimeters in diameter. When mixed in with your soil, it will provide plants with proper drainage and it helps to prevent crown rot.

Fine Sand

Bought in bags for children’s sandboxes, fine sand is not used in vegetable gardening. It does not increase soil drainage and provides no other benefits to the garden.

Salts in Sand

Beach sand may contain high levels of salt. When mixed into the soil, the salts in the sand will alter the pH balance of garden soil and can prevent plants sensitive to salts from growing or producing. Although beach sand can be washed to remove fine dust and salt, it is still not a good sand to use in gardening because it is too fine.

Adding Sand to Soil

When you have clay soil, water will often settle on top of the soil after a rain. Clay soil retains water and doesn’t provide plants with enough drainage and aeration to grow healthily. While it was formerly believed that adding coarse sand to the soil improved water drainage, soil experts now advise that adding sand does not improve the soil's quality. It is now recommended that organic matter is added to soils to improve the soil's quality. The addition of earthworms and other beneficial microorganisms will help improve the soil's texture.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Save a Dying Agave Plant

The most likely causes of a dying agave plant (Agave spp.) for homeowners are its growing conditions. Agave is often grown indoors where its growing conditions can be controlled, but it is also grown in outdoor gardens in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. Agave plants that lack the sunlight they need, proper soil drainage, and are suffering from overwatering can easily become infested with fungus and pests.

Growing Conditions

Agave needs full sun, at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Watering should be minimal. Because they are desert plants, agaves planted outdoors and in the ground rarely need water, except in extreme drought conditions. When the outdoor temperatures rise above 100 F, provide agaves with 1 gallon of water per hour for 2 to 4 hours through drip irrigation once a week. Indoor and outdoor potted agave plants should be watered only when the top inch of soil is dry. Provide enough water to the soil to make the soil moist. Plants also require fast draining soil because if it does not drain quickly it can cause the agave to rot and die. Potted agave needs to be planted in cactus soil available at most nursery stores. For agaves planted in the ground, add up to 25 percent pumice to the surrounding soil to create proper drainage. Avoid adding fresh or un-composted manure to the soil because its high salt content will damage the agave’s root development.

Fungus

Anthracnose is a disease that affects agave plants. It’s caused by a fungus that occurs when an agave is overwatered and grown in damp conditions with not enough sunlight. The fungus is identified by the lesions it causes on the leaves and the orange to red spores found within these lesions. To save an infected agave plant, remove all leaves showing lesions and spores. Properly dispose of the leave and avoid overhead watering. Water the soil only when needed.

Soft Scale

A common pest of the agave plant is called soft scale (Coccid species). These small scale insects attack stressed plants by attaching themselves to the leaves and sucking out the plant’s juices. To get rid of them, separate the infected agave from other plants and begin nurturing the plant back to health with proper watering, sunlight and soil drainage. If the infection is severe, treat the infect plant with imidacloprid found in 2-in-1 Plant Spikes by Bayer Advanced Garden. A spike is pushed into the soil and as the imidacloprid is released into the soil, the agave takes in the pest control and kills the scale bugs that are feeding on the leaves.

Death After Flowering

It is natural for most varieties of agave to die after flowering. Some of the agave varieties will produce offspring from the base of the plant to replace itself after expiring. The Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) produces offspring on its flower stalk which are removed and replanted. It takes the agave about 10 years before it produces a flower and many times, agaves that are grown as indoor houseplants will not flower.