Monthly Archives: January 2015

Cucumber Beetle Resistant Parthenocarpic Zucchini – Say What?!?!

Partenon Hybrid Zucchini (Park Seeds)

Partenon Hybrid Zucchini
(Park Seeds)

If there’s one plant I’m really looking forward to growing in the vegetable garden this year it’s Partenon hybrid summer squash. I found this new zucchini in the Park Seed catalog. The two things about this squash that caught my eye are that it is cucumber beetle resistance and parthenocarpic.

One of the constant struggles I have with zucchini is dealing with cucumber beetles. While these beetles cause leaf damage to the plants, the real problem is that they’re vectors for bacterial wilt. Bacterial wilt is caused by the bacterium Erwinia tracheiphila. When a cucumber beetle chew on a leaf, if it carries this bacterium in its intestinal tract, it’ll transmit Erwinia tracheiphila to the squash plant through the tissue damaged by its feeding on it. The bacteria multiplies in the xylem (the vascular tissue of a plant that transports water from the roots to the rest of the plant). In time, the xylem clogs and the plant wilts and dies.

While I haven’t had as much of a problem with bacterial wilt as I have in the past, it’s still a problem. Sprays, traps, row covers and silver plastic mulch are all ways to limit the problem of cucumber beetles but none of them are fool-proof. The idea of a squash that resists the beetle sounds like a good idea to me.

The other cool thing about this squash is that it’s parthenocarpic. Parthenocarpic comes from two Greek words: parthenos meaning virgin and karpos meaning fruit. Parthenocarpy is the formation of fruit without fertilization and a parthenocarpic plant produces fruit without fertilization.

Squash plants produce male and female flowers. In order for a squash to form, a pollinator (usually a bee) has to take pollen from the male flower and transfer it to the female flower. This usually isn’t a problem but if the weather is cool and/or rainy or if the pollinator population is low, the fruit set might be diminished due to lack of pollination/fertilization.

A parthenocarpic plant solves these problem. The fruit will form and mature without pollination so any variables to pollination that would affect fruit set in a normal squash are gone. Also, if you’ve ever let a zucchini get a little large, you know how the center of the squash is full of seeds. In the case of parthenocarpic squash there are no seeds because it wasn’t fertilized. It’s a “virgin fruit!”

It should be interesting to see how this cucumber beetle resistant parthenocarpic zucchini does in the garden. I’ll still plant some other varieties of zucchini but this is the one I’ll be watching closely.


The Biggest Orchid

I have a number of phalaenopsis orchids that I’ve picked up over the years. I feel like I’ve finally mastered growing them. But this year I’m surprised at how well they’re doing.

One in particular is doing better than I would ever have expected. While this phalaenopsis had two branches last year, this year it has four branches coming off of the main spike. This isn’t happening because this is some fancy variety of phalaenopsis that I’m growing; this one came from the “renowned orchid supplier” known as Sam’s Club!

IMG_1734I think there are a few reasons this plant’s doing so well. One is age; this plant is maturing as the years go by.

I’ve also found that potting these orchids in a clay orchid pot with a mixture of 1/2 long fiber sphagnum moss and 1/2 orchid bark potting mix works well. The mixture of moss and bark allows the medium to be moist but also aerated. In addition, the clay pot is permeable to gases and helps with aeration as well. I also like that the clay pots are heavy and support the weight of the orchid.

During the summer I kept this plant in a bright spot and was careful about watering. But what I really think made the difference was that I fertilized the plant twice a month with 1/2 strength African violet fertilizer from Miracle-Gro during the spring and summer. I cut back on the fertilizer to about once a month during the fall since the orchid was slowing down in its growth.

This combination of age, light, potting mixture, water and fertilizer seems to have worked. I’ve counted over 40 buds on this orchid and the spike and branches haven’t stopped growing. I’ll be sure to post a picture when this phalaenopsis is in full bloom!

Hunting for Hybrids

Tiger Hybrid Collards

Tiger Hybrid Collard

In a world of vegetable gardeners who are all jumping on the heirloom bandwagon, I stand apart. While I appreciate those who are trying to preserve older varieties of vegetables, the label “heirloom” doesn’t catch my eye. What does is “hybrid.”

A hybrid is produced when two genetically stable varieties of a plant are used as the parents for seed production. One of the plants produces the pollen that fertilizes the ovules on the other plant. The resulting seeds are hybrids.


Tronchuda Beira Hybrid Kale

Tronchuda Beira Hybrid Kale

Hybridization is used to combine the best traits of each parent into the offspring. In addition, hybrids are often more vigorous than either of the parent plants or heirlooms of the same species.

When I look for seeds, I look for hybrids. As a person with a BS in plant breeding who studied how to produce hybrids, this isn’t that surprising. But in my experience as a gardener, hybrids are always better growing plants than non-hybrids.

Hybrid tomatoes, peppers, carrots and onions are easy to find. However, when it comes to greens, hybrids aren’t as common. That’s why I was excited to see that Burpee Seeds offered hybrid varieties of collard, kale and swiss chard.

Red Magic Hybrid Swiss Chard

Red Magic Hybrid Swiss Chard

Tiger Hybrid collard and Red Magic Hybrid swiss chard are said to regrow quickly. This is something that would be a real plus when you want to keep harvesting a lot of greens during the season. Tronchuda Beira Hybrid kale is touted as being very heat-resistant which means I might be able to grow kale during the summer instead of waiting to grow it for a fall harvest.

The order for these three hybrids has been placed and I look forward to giving them a try this coming year. Will they be better than the non-hybrid varieties that I’ve been growing in the past? I don’t know. But I do know that I can’t wait to grow these uncommon hybrids and see how they perform.

(All pictures are from the Burpee website.)

African Violet Propagation – The Pay Off

While propagation African violets is pretty easy to do, it takes time for the leaf cutting to root and grow plantlets. It takes more time for the plantlets to establish themselves and grow. And only when they’ve reached maturity will the plants start to bloom. Considering the fact that it takes 7-10 months for this entire process to occur, propagating African violets has to be seen as a labor of love and an exercise in patience!

The leaves that I put in potting soil back in the spring have finally completed this process. I’m growing five different varieties that I purchased from Lydon Lyon. What has surprised me is how different the grow habits of each of the violets are. These differences just seem to be part of the genetic make up of the plants.

My favorite of the group is “No Regrets.” The flowers are large and the same plant can have different combinations of pink and white. These are also the best looking plants of the group.

No Regrets

No Regrets


No Regrets

No Regrets

“Circus Fascination” is another violet that’s a keeper. The plants have dark green leaves and the flowers are an interesting color with different marking on each one. I also like the frilled edges of the flowers.

Circus Fascination

Circus Fascination

The one semi-miniature plant that I’m growing is “Blueberry Sprite.” I’m warming up to this plant as time goes on. The leaves tend to cup down over the pot and the individual blooms aren’t that interesting. However, the flowers are long-lasting and put on a nice show en masse.

Blueberry Sprite

Blueberry Sprite

I’m on the fence with last two varieties. “Solemn Promise” has very pale leaves and appears to be sensitive to over fertilization. The picture on the website was much nicer than what I’m seeing on this plant.

Solemn Promise

Solemn Promise

“Spectacular” has yet to live up to its name. So far, it’s just bizarre! The plants are just getting ready to bloom but each one is filled with suckers and all twisted up. If the blooms impress me, I might try to keep this variety going; otherwise it’s into the garbage to make room for other plants!

Whenever you’re working with any kind of plant, you never know for sure what you’re going to get until you grow it yourself. I’m surprised by how differently each of these violets grow. My labor of love has paid off with at least three violets that I’ll be keeping. 60% pay off? Not too bad in my book!






African Violets Propagation

Back in August I had posted about the soil fungus problem that I was having with propagating African violets. The good news is that a spray or two of a copper fungicide took care of the problem and didn’t cause any harm to the plantlets.

African Violet Plantlets

African Violet Plantlets

In late summer I was able to remove the small plantlets and pot them into individual pots. The challenge was finding pots. African violets can be a little temperamental and you don’t want to put them in too large of a pot. The roots need to be able to fill the soil quickly or you can run into disease problems. I needed some small pots but small pots are hard to find.

3 fl oz Cup as a Pot

3 fl oz Cup used as a Pot

Then I learned a trick for the Facebook group African Violet Nerds. Someone had posted that they use small plastic cups for the initial potting of the plantlets. I found a bag of cups at the grocery store that were 3 fl. ounce and seemed perfect for my violets. Plus I got 150 of them for less than $2 – I could never have found 1 or 2 inch pots at that price! All I had to do was snip a couple of holes in the bottom of each cup and I had all the pots I needed.

After the fungus problem, I was also searching for a potting mix in which to grow the plants. I ended up using three parts Optimara African violet potting mix with one part perlite. Optimara’s a big violet grower so I knew I could trust their soilless mix. I just found it to be a little to heavy for my liking so I added the perlite and have been pleased with the results.

plantlet 3After planting up the plantlets, I wanted to give them a humid location for a few weeks until they started to establish themselves. The best mini greenhouse I could find was a large plastic baby spinach container. The height was perfect and the lid allowed me to adjust it so that there would be some increased humidity but also airflow.

I didn’t lose one plantlet and I haven’t had any more fungus problems. Each plant grew and right now they’re starting to bloom. I’ll share the results of this process in the next post.