Monthly Archives: September 2013

Crockett Converted Me into a Green Bean Lover

When it comes to green beans, they’ve never been one of my favorite vegetables. I was happy to eat them if they were young and fresh, i.e., cooked within a few hours of picking. But if they’d gotten too big before picking or had been in the refrigerator for a day or two, forget it. To me, the taste was gone and they were only good for the compost bin.

I’ve grown bean every year because another family member likes them but I’ve been trying different varieties over the years to see if there was one that really excited me. I have to say that I’ve found that bean and its name is Crockett.

Crockett Green Bean (From Harris Seed Web Site)

Crockett Green Bean
(From Harris Seed Web Site)

Crockett is a bush filet variety of green bean, sometimes called haricots verts, French for green beans. These beans are more slender than snap beans and, in my opinion, the taste just can’t compare. While some haricots verts can get stringy if they get too big, I’ve not noticed a problem with Crockett. Also the color of these beans is like nothing I’ve ever seen before – they’re the darkest green beans I’ve ever seen and cooking them just makes the color darker!

The other thing that makes this bean a keeper is the fact that even if the beans are kept in the refrigerator for a few days, they still taste as if they were just picked.

Crockett grows like any other green bean. The seeds are smaller than snap bean seeds but I’ve never had a problem with germination. The bush-size plants can get a little top-heavy but that’s a small price to pay for this amazing bean. I made a number of sowings of this bean and the late July planting has produced the best.

While I may try some other filet bean varieties in the future, I can safely say that Crockett has become a staple in my garden. It grows well, it produces a lot of beans and the beans it produces are the best I’ve ever eaten. Thanks to this variety, I can now say I’m a green bean lover – as long as the green bean is Crockett!



Container Garden Failure 2013 – SunPatiens

What SunPatiens Should Look Like

What SunPatiens Should Look Like

While most of the container plants did well this year, there was one that was an utter failure – SunPatiens. This plant has been touted a lot lately as a great plant for containers and beds. It’s more vigorous than New Guinea impatiens and it’s also resistant to the fungus that’s killing standard impatiens. According to the growers web site, these plants are free-flowering and can grow to 2′ tall and 3′ wide.

My SunPatiens Plant in the Process of Dying!

My SunPatiens Plant in the Process of Dying!

I decided to give the SunPatiens a try this year. The plant did well for about a month but then is started to turn brown. This discoloration continued until the plant was dead. I know these flowers can be great container plants; a local garden center has pots and pots of SunPatiens decorating their entryway.

So what went wrong?

I’m sure it has to do with watering. While SunPatiens can take full sun and even a little drought, the one thing they can’t tolerate is wet feet. If the soil stays moist for too long, they’ll develop fungal root rot caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani. If the rot has just started you might be able to stop it if the soil drys out but most of the time, once the plant has it, it’s a goner. Rhizoctonia solani is present everywhere so the only way to control it in the home garden is through proper cultural practices.

I think I know the two things that cause the death of my SunPatiens. The first is that I used MiracleGro potting mix. While this is a fine potting mix, it tends to be a little heavy and dense. I noticed that when I watered the SunPatiens pot that was filled with MiracleGro potting mix, the mix compacted a lot and didn’t seem to provide much aeration to the roots.

The other issue is that the pot I planted the SunPatiens in had a saucer attached. This isn’t a problem for most plants but the saucer meant that when I watered, the excess water couldn’t fully drain out of the pot; instead some of it sat in the saucer, making sure that the soil was saturated. In the case of SunPatiens, saturated soil equals fungal root rot.

While this plant was a total bust this year, I’ll try it again. Next year I’ll be sure to use the potting mix from Esbenshades that stays open and light all season long. Also, I’ll only use pots without saucers; that way the excess water can drain and not keep the soil too moist.

Now that I know what I did wrong, maybe I can correct it and grow some large and healthy SunPatiens in 2014!

What the….. Oh, It’s a Wheel Bug!

Looking around the garden I saw an insect I’ve never seen before. Two of them were mating on a zinnia plant. Their legs were long, almost spider-like and the head was small with a hypodermic-like mouth. But what really caught my eye was a toothed ridge on their backs that made them look like some kind of dinosaur! I grabbed the camera, got some pictures and then went searching the web to see what this bizarre insect is.

Wheel Bugs

Wheel Bugs

I googled “insect with ridged back” and instantly learned that this strange creature is a wheel bug (Arilus cristatus). It’s a true bug and a member of the family that includes stink bugs and bed bugs. This is the largest of the true bugs, growing up to 1 and 1/2 inches long and it gets its name because of the spiny ridge or “wheel” on its thorax. The “wheel” is only found on adult wheel bugs; nymphs lack this structure.

Close Up of the "Wheel" of a Wheel Bug

Close Up of the “Wheel” of a Wheel Bug

The wheel bug is  a member of a group of bugs called assassin bugs. These predators are considered beneficial insects because they feed on many insects that homeowners and gardeners consider pests – aphids and caterpillars in particular. The way a wheel bug feeds confirms the old entomology adage that bugs suck and beetles chew. The wheel bug uses its long legs to grasp its prey. It then inserts its hypodermic-like beak to inject the prey with a substance that paralyzes it and dissolves the internal organs. The wheel bug then drains the prey of its bodily fluids. Like the adage says, bugs suck!

Wheel bugs have one generation a year. They hatch in the spring into small red and black nymphs. These nymphs molt five times and then metamorphose into adults. The adults mate and the female lays between 40-200 eggs on shrub or tree twigs. The eggs overwinter and a new generation of wheel bugs emerges in the spring.

The wheel bug looks frightening but it actually a shy insect that avoids human contact. But I learned that wheel bugs shouldn’t be handled. If they’re disturbed, they can cause a painful bite (actually, more of a puncture). These “bites” are described as worse than a hornet sting and they can take weeks or even months to heal!

I’m not one who picks up insects – I like looking at them but not handling them. After learning about the wheel bug, I’m glad I’m not an insect handler or I’d probably be writing about my wheel bug bite right now!

Having seen a wheel bug, I’ll never forget what it is. But when I see one from now on, I’ll be glad that it’s there, knowing that it’s been feeding on other insects all season long. Oh, and I’ll be sure to leave it alone!

Container Garden Runners-Up 2013 – Zinnias and Cosmos

zin1If the begonias were the winners in the container garden, a couple of plants I grew from seed are close runners-up. The containers of zinnias and cosmos have been great this year.

I started these flowers from seeds sown directly into large pots. While it took awhile for the plants to grow and start flowering, it was an inexpensive way to fill some containers. (See The High Cost of Instant Gratification) And in my opinion, it was worth the wait.

Bright Lights Cosmos

Bright Lights Cosmos

I planted the cosmos variety Bright Lights because it’s one of the shorter varieties of cosmos. The nice thing about cosmos is that they require very little care and have few if any disease or insect problems. The only “problem” I noticed with these plants is that they needed to be dead headed regularly or there’ll be seeds everywhere. Also, I recently cut the plants back to about 6″ in the hopes of revitalizing them and getting another show of color for the fall. I was surprised to see how attractive these flowers are to bees; any flower that brings more bees to the garden is one that I’ll keep growing.


Cactus Hybrid Zinnias

Cactus Hybrid Zinnias

My favorite zinnias are the cactus varieties so I planted Cactus Hybrid zinnias from Jung seeds in a large pot. Since I knew these plants would get over 3′ tall, I added a support structure to the center of the pot. Once the plants started growing, I was amazed at how well they grew. The blossoms have been non-stop and they last for weeks on the plant. Also, it’s the beginning of September and the plants have no powdery mildew on them! It might have something to do with the variety or the weather but my guess is that because the plants are elevated and have good air circulation, the conditions just aren’t right for this fungus to grow.


The zinnias are getting a little out of control as the plants keep growing larger. I could cut them back but I know that their season is soon coming to an end; I’ll just let them grow as long as they can.


While it took some time for the show to begin, in the case of zinnias and cosmos, it was worth the wait. I’ll definitely be growing these in containers next year.


There Will be Grasshoppers Next Year!

Ghopper3I was walking through the garden this weekend and caught two grasshoppers “in the act.” I wasn’t sure how long their mating process would last but I was glad to see that they were still on the sunflower when I returned with a camera.

These appear to be spur-throat grasshoppers (Melanoplus ponderosus), the most common grasshopper in the US. I’ve always thought these were interesting insects but the pictures led me to realize that these are some beautiful insects (at least to me!) with interesting markings and textures.

ghopper2 copy

Having taken a picture of them mating, I spent a little time learning about the mating process of these insects. When mating, the male grasshopper (smaller than the female) inserts a package of sperm called a spermatophore into the ovipositor of the female grasshopper. The sperm then fertilizes the female’s eggs. After fertilization, the female uses her ovipositor to deposit the eggs 1-2 inches underground. Here in Pennsylvania and other temperate climates, the eggs enter into a phase called diapause, a sort of suspended animation, until after winter. In the spring, the eggs incubate, the nymphs emerge and a whole new generation of grasshoppers starts its life cycle.

ghopper1 copy

I find that I don’t notice grasshoppers until late summer. Part of the reason for this is that a grasshopper goes through 6 instars or developmental stages before it reaches sexual maturity. The grasshopper looks like a grasshopper during all of these stages but they’re very small in the beginning, increasing in size after each molt. You see, while I don’t notice the grasshoppers until they’re large, they’re there, eating, growing, molting and waiting to be able to pass on their DNA to another generation.

These two adults have reached the goal of their short life – the species will continue and there will be grasshoppers again next year!