Monthly Archives: June 2012

Kudos Optimara!

I follow Optimara African Violets on Facebook and was very pleased by one of their most recent posts. It included a picture of an african violet flower, buds and leaves and the parts of the flower and leaf are labeled. (The picture is copied below) There are a lot of people growing african violets but I’m not sure how many of them know the difference between a petiole and a pedicel. This guide makes it easy to identify these and other parts of an african violet plant.


Optimara Guide to Flower Parts

I know this knowledge isn’t vital to growing plants but I believe that when you start to get passionate about gardening, you’ll want to learn the correct terms for the various plant structures. It isn’t always easy to find this information and if you do, it’s usually based on a drawing of a “generic” plant. Since no plant is truly generic, it can be a little tricky to translate this general information to the specific plant that you’re growing. Optimara has given people an easy way to begin to learn the morphology of the african violet and for that, I say kudos!

To learn more about Optimara African Violets, visit their site:


June Is Bustin’ Out All Over!

The song from Carousel says that June is bustin’ out all over – these are just a few pictures to affirm how true this is!


Bumble Bee and Bee Balm (Monarda)



Honey Bee and Sage


Streptocarpus saxorum

Streptocarpus hybrid

Seed Storage

At this time in the year, the garden is all planted and I have left over seeds. Since my garden isn’t huge, I seldom use an entire packet of seeds in one year. For some plants, like grape tomatoes, the packet has 25 seeds and I grow one plant each season; that packet will keep me in grape tomatoes for years.

This brings up the whole issue of seed storage. Seeds are alive and the two biggest factors that affect their viability are moisture and temperature. To make a seed germinate, you need to give it water and warmth; to store seeds for the long-term, they need to be kept dry and cool.

There are lots of sites online giving information about storing seeds and many of them make it seem like a big process to keep your seeds from year to year. A number of seed companies offer seed storage kits that include special containers and desiccant to keep the seeds dry, all at a premium price.

If you’re planning to store seeds for 10 or 20 years, then being very exact with the moisture content of the seeds and the storage temperature makes sense. But if you’re like me and you just have some packets of seeds that you didn’t used up this year, seed storage is pretty easy. In fact, if you’re only keeping them for a year, leaving the packets on a shelf in your house is fine! Almost all of the standard vegetable and flower seeds need no special treatment to remain viable for one year.

Basic Seed Storage

Since a packet of seed will sometimes last me 3 years or more, I do keep moisture and temperature in mind when I store my seeds. I’ve found that putting them in a tightly sealed container and keeping them in the house works well.

The one place I wouldn’t put seeds is in the refrigerator. There are two problems with the fridge. The first is that a refrigerator is very humid. Unless the seeds are tightly sealed, the moisture will get into the packets. The other issue is ethylene. This gas is produced by aging and damaged plant tissue so if you have vegetables or fruit (esp. apples) in your refrigerator, there will be a lot of ethylene gas. Ethylene shortens the life of a seed by causing premature aging. Because the risks of moisture and ethylene don’t outweigh the benefits of the cooler temperature, I just keep my seeds in a cupboard away from sources of light and heat.

All in all, I don’t worry too much about seed storage. I keep them dry and try to keep them cool. I’ve never had a problem with seeds germinating even after a few years of this very basic storage. To me, it’s just one more example of how tough plants – in this case, seeds – really are.

Hydrangea – pH and Photos

A number of year ago I planted a few hydrangea bushes. I like look of the bushes and the large, mop-head flowers that come in shades of pink, blue and white.

The interesting thing about hydrangea is that the color of the flowers depends on the pH of the soil. Soil pH is simply a scale that indicates whether the soil is acid, neutral or alkaline. The number 7 is neutral and anything less than 7 is acid and anything greater than 7 is alkaline.

If you remember back to chemistry class, litmus paper is used to tell if a solution is acid or alkaline. If the solution is acid, the strip of litmus paper turns pink and if it’s alkaline, the paper turns blue. You could say that hydrangea are the litmus paper of the plant world, the only difference being that the colors are reversed. If the soil is acid, the hydrangea will be blue and if it’s alkaline, the flowers will be pink. (White hydrangeas will always be white.) The cause of this difference has to do with aluminum. When the plant takes up aluminum (which is present to some degree in all soils), the flowers are blue. The reason pH makes a difference is because in very acid soils, aluminum is available for the plant to absorb  and the flowers are blue; in more alkaline soils, the aluminum is bound in a form that the plants can’t absorb so the flowers are pink.

I wanted the hydrangeas I had planted to be blue so I add some aluminum sulfate to the soil. Aluminum sulfate is a soil additive that lowers the pH; various sulfur compounds can also be used to lower the soil’s pH. I was expecting that all of the hydrangea flowers this summer would be blue but instead I’m finding that the plants are primarily blue but there are still a lot of bright pink flowers. I’m not sure why this happened – some suggest it results from the plant adjusting to a change in pH – but I like the mixture of pink and blue. Who knows what color they’ll be next year!

Below are some pictures of hydrangeas that came from the same bush – one pink and one blue. Clicking on the photos will let you see them full-sized.

Day-Neutral Strawberries in Bloom

At the end of March I planted day-neutral strawberries in a raised bed. These are the strawberries that provide three harvests during a growing season. After about three months of growth, the plants are doing well. They have the brightest green leaves and also the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen on strawberry plants.

Strawberry Stolons or Runners

For the last month I’ve been removing runners from the plants. All strawberry plants produce runners which are technically termed stolons. A stolon is a stem of a plant that grows along the surface of the ground and produces roots and plants at the nodes along the stem. This is a way that plants clone themselves, producing new plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant.

June bearing strawberries are often planted far apart and the runners are allowed to form new plants that create a bed of cloned plants. When I was researching day-neutral strawberries, I read that the plants don’t produce as many runners and it’s recommended that any that do form be removed. Because of this, the plants are spaced much closer than June bearing plants.

When I read that day-neutral plants didn’t produce a lot of runners, I was expecting to find one on every other plant. How wrong I was! I’ve found that each is producing about 5 runners. This seems like a lot but when I grew June bearing strawberries, each of those plants could easily have 10 or more runners. So I guess the articles were right – 5 is less than 10 but it still seems like a lot. I’ve followed the article’s advice and have been faithful in cutting the runners off of the plants whenever I see them.

Day Neutral Strawberry Blossom

The plants have also started to bloom. When I first planted them there were a few blooms but I cut all of them off so that the plants could get established. Now the blooms are everywhere so I guess this is the summer crop that’s forming. It’ll be interesting to see how these strawberries grow. The same articles that stated there weren’t a lot of runners also reported that the berries are smaller in the summer because of the heat. Well, the heat is coming, so we’ll see what this summer crop of berries will look like.

The fun part of growing something new is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no frame of reference when it comes to growing strawberries that can be picked in July – day-neutral strawberries are a brand new experience for me. I can’t wait to see how these summer strawberries look and taste!

Lily Photos

It’s lily season here in PA and they all seem especially healthy this year. Here are a few pictures of some of the asiatic lilies that are growing around the yard. I’m particularly interested in close-up photos of the flowers. You can double-click to enlarge the photo.

What’s in that Packet of Pea Seeds?

When I was growing up there was only one kind of pea to grow in the garden – shell peas. I loved the taste of peas but I hated shelling them. In my opinion, the only thing worse than shelling peas is shelling lima beans!

So I was glad when seed catalogues started to offer snap peas. These are great peas to grow because you can harvest them when the pod is filled with full size peas and the pod can be eaten. There’s no need to shell these peas; just steam them for a few minutes and you have peas without the work of shelling them.

Lately I’ve been growing Super Sugar snap peas because this is one of the few snap peas that has a large vine. You need a trellis or some other sort of support to grow this pea variety because the vines can easily get over 5′ tall.  These tall trellised pea vines are so easy to harvest – no need to stoop or bend. The vines also produce a lot of peas so I only plant a row that about 5-8′ long and find that I have plenty of peas to harvest. This also means that one packets of Super Sugar has enough seeds in it for four seasons.

But I’ve noticed over the past few years that there’s something a little strange in the packet of peas that I purchase a few years ago. The seeds all look the same and the plants grow well. But when they start to produce pods, there’s always one or two plants that have pods that are very different from the rest of the crop. These pod aren’t round and full; they’re flat and you can see the outline for each pea seed in the pod. Also, these pods don’t have a nice snap pea flavor.

The Two Pea Varieties in One Packet of Seed

It’s obvious that my current supply of Super Sugar snap peas has a few seeds of some other variety in the packet. It might be a mix-up during packaging or the fields of peas for seed might have had some other variety growing in it in addition to the Super Sugar plants. Fortunately it’s only a plant or two each year and they’re easy to spot when you’re picking the pods.

When these seeds are gone, we’ll see if the next packet has this strange pea variety mixed in it!