Sunday, December 11, 2016

Daikon as Clay Soil Amendment (and Tasty Vegetable)!

Daikon foliage, pre-deer (the stems coming out of the daikon at the bottom of the photo are actually from another annual - redwhisker clammyweed - that was growing in the same area where I scattered the daikon seeds)

In the U.S., when we think of radishes, many of us think of the cute little red skinned radishes.

I like those little reds as much as the next guy, but let me tell you something - they do not thrive on heavy clay. And by 'do not thrive', I mean that when I tried growing them, most of them failed to develop anything resembling the round, bulbous shape that the word 'radish' conjures. It was an abject disappointment.

But daikon radishes - sometimes known as tillage radish - is in a different category altogether. In fact, daikon radishes are so renowned for their ability to penetrate compacted clay soils that some people use them as a winter cover crop to aerate the soil (example Delta Farm Press). Note that if you're growing it to amend the soil, the idea is not to harvest the radish, but to allow it to winter kill and then decay in the soil.

Daikon foliage, post-deer (or possibly post-rabbit)

Having just removed some shrubs from a garden bed, I had some bare soil in September and no firm idea what I wanted to plant there yet. I thought I'd do a trial planting of daikon to see (a) if it could make a good cover crop and (b) if I could get any sizeable radishes from the bed for eating.

I happen to enjoy eating daikon radish, for instance sliced and added on top of a salad.

I sowed the seeds (from Sow True Seeds) in September, gave them a couple drinks of water to get started and then basically left them alone to fend for themselves during two months of severe drought that followed.

How did they fare?

Color me impressed. As a cover crop, daikon produced a nice head of leaves that sheltered the soil and blocked weeds. (The leaves are also edible, fyi.)

And the roots actually did manage to penetrate the hard-as-concrete parched clay soil. In fact, the soil was so tight that I had to water the plants just to pull some of the radishes without having them break in the middle.

A couple of daikon radishes pulled from the concrete, er... clay, soil

Now, it's true that my radishes did not reach the mammoth portions of ones grown in sandy-loamy soils. In Japan, where daikon radishes are quite popular, the roots can easily be 12 inches long with the diameter of a baseball bat. My daikons were only about one-third that size, but consider their growing environment and the lack of rain (which would probably have softened the soil and allowed the daikon root to expand deeper and wider), I was quite impressed and pleased with their performance.

How was the taste? I was expecting that the lack of rain would have made the radishes hot and spicy, and indeed the first daikon I ate was almost too hot to handle, but the subsequent ones I consumed generally had just enough bite.

Sliced daikon makes a lovely salad topping

I did run into two problems - deer and rabbits.

The daikon leaves seemed mainly untouched in late October, but throughout November, I saw more and more herbivore damage (and telltale deer droppings scattered around the backyard pointed to the culprits). I figured the deer shouldered all the blame, but late in November, I spotted a well-fed bunny scampering from the radish patch, so I'm dividing the blame among both types of critters.

Still, I can't blame them too much. A nearby wood has been mostly clear-cut this summer, and the drought meant that much surviving wild vegetation was parched, dead or dormant. Finding this green salad bar in my backyard probably seemed like quite a treat - maybe even a life-saving one - for the critters.

I saved some seed and hope to try again in the spring. If we have normal rainfall this winter (the last week has been promising), hopefully there will be plenty of other wild greens for the local herbivores to eat and I'll get a chance to see how the daikon fare without being denuded of their foliage. (Neither the rabbits nor the deer touched the radish root, so technically I could still dig up and eat some of the daikons, but I think I'll let them decompose over the winter to help the soil.)

Overall, I'd say this experiment was quite fun, tasty and successful. So much so, that I plan to grow a lot more daikon in the future. And for any other gardeners out there stuck with heavy compacted clay - consider giving daikon radishes a try!


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Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Time to Sow

So many hopes and dreams in these packets...

After months of drought, the rains have finally arrived.

With rain in the forecast, I rushed to sow the wildflower seeds - some bought, others gathered on my own property - that I had been squirreling away.

I'm taking a multifaceted approach to seed starting this year.

For those seeds that need months of cold stratification, I sowed many outdoors yesterday. After all, I figure that's how these plants propagate themselves in the wild - they drop their seeds, which undergo freezes and thaws all winter, and then they sprout in the spring.

Of course, there are drawbacks to sowing seeds outside so early in the year and letting them fend for themselves. Some seeds may get washed away. Others will probably get eaten. Still others may rot or dessicate. But with thousands of seeds sowed, presumably some will find the 'just right' conditions that allow them to germinate.

As a control, I'm holding other seeds in cold storage (the refrigerator) all winter. In February and beyond, I'll start taking action with those seeds - sowing some outdoors, transferring some into bags of wet sand (that I'll still hold in the fridge), eventually trying to start some seeds in eggshells that I'm already saving, etc.

I'll keep you all posted on the success (or not) of these various experiments.

For now, here's a list of the seeds that have been sown outdoors:

- Allium tuberosum, garlic chives (gathered from my own plant)

- Anemone virginiana, thimbleweed, native (from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery - these seeds are amazingly fluffy! I thought I'd been shipped a piece of wool when I looked into the seed packet!)

- Asclepias tuberosa, butterflyweed, native (from Sow True Seed)

- Chamaecrista fasciculata, partridge pea, native (gathered from my own plants)

- Desmanthus illinoensis, Illinois bundleflower, native (from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery)

- Echinacea simulata, glade coneflower, native (from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery)

- Gaillardia x grandiflora, blanketflower, 1/2 native (the G. pulchella parent is native across the Southern U.S., although rarely present in Tennessee) (gathered from my own plants)

- Heliopsis helianthoides, false sunflower, native (gathered from my own plants)

- Parthenium integrifolium, wild quinine, native (from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery)

- Polanisia dodecandara, redwhisker clammyweed, native (gathered from my own plant)

- Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susan, native (from Sow True Seeds)

- Senna marilandica, wild senna, native (gathered from my own plant)

All of the seeds purchased from nurseries (i.e., all seeds other than those gathered from my own plants) represent my first attempts to grow these species in my garden.

Incidentally, for the first time, I tried mixing the seeds with sand before sowing. As I'd hoped, the sand helped me get better coverage and allowed me to see where seeds had already been sowed.

In colder climates, I've read that some people will wait until it snows and then scatter seeds (sample image). That way, they can easily see where the seeds have been scattered and when the snow melts, the seeds will gently sink into the ground with a ready supply of water.

I don't sow all species outside indiscriminately. Even though zinnias (Z. elegans), for example, do lightly self sow here, I suspect/hope that I'll have better germination waiting until spring to sow those seeds. And I'm also holding off on some other species I've purchased (like Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot, from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery) where my research indicates that cold stratification does not improve germination. If the seeds will germinate just as well from a spring sowing, I'd rather scatter them then on the reasoning that fewer seeds will be lost, washed away, buried or eaten than with a winter sowing.

Dear Readers -- Do you sow any seeds outdoors in the winter? If so, do you scatter the seeds as I do or use a more controlled sowing method (e.g., something like this)? 


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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hello, November! :)

No rain in 2 months? If you're Salvia greggii (autumn sage), apparently you don't care.

We're going through a dry spell.

A no-rain-in-two-months kinda dry spell.

I recognize that's no big deal in some parts of the country (e.g., California, Arizona, heck even Pacific Northwest in the summertime), but it's quite unusual in the Southeast.

Still, I guess I'd rather have a drought now than in the Spring. At least this time of year, plants are getting ready to go dormant for winter anyway so many of them just call it quits and shut down a little sooner in the case of a drought.

(At least, I'm hoping that's the case. Clearly I won't know whether there's any more serious damage until the shrubs leaf out and the perennials emerge from dormancy - or not - next spring.)

Nonetheless, with only minimal amounts of supplemental irrigation, some plants in the garden continue to put on a fantastic show, attracting and supporting beautiful wildlife...

Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)  

More balloon flowers still to come! They're budding and getting ready to bloom as we head toward mid-November! 

Bee on the blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora). This is a volunteer blanket flower. I like how this photo shows the multiple stages the flower goes through. On the bottom right, you have a bud just starting to open. After the flower blooms, the petals fall off to reveal a yellow puffball. Eventually, you have the smaller silver starbursts that fade to tan. It's hard to think of a flower that looks prettier at every stage of its life!

"This flower ain't big enough for the two of us."
"Um...yes it is."

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), a native that's been blooming for months and attracting small clouds of skipper butterflies on warm days. (This was a cool, breezy morning. No butterflies in sight.)

Unknown Camellia sasanqua and honeybee. This plant and a few Russian sages are the favorite plants for honeybees in my autumn garden.

Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry). The berries are pretty, but birds don't seem interested in them. And having tried them, I can tell you there's a reason they're called chokeberry - their astringency is off the charts. I may actually be removing this plant from the front foundation once these berries have fallen off. The foundation planting is a little overcrowded and I'd rather give more space to the adjacent oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). 

A few pretty fruits on the 'Sugar Tyme' crabapple. I think this crab gets ravaged by cedar-apple rust fungus spread from all the nearby eastern redcedars that I planted (Juniperus virginiana). It's a pity. Maybe it would do better on decent soil with irrigation, but it's surviving (and sending up suckers) on heavy clay in hot baking sun all day.

Senna marilandica (wild senna) seedpods. Lots of seedpods on this plant. I harvested many of the seeds, but have left these to dry on the plant (and hopefully provide some volunteers).

Tomatoes in November?! Well, we have had record warmth recently... This is an unnamed volunteer cherry tomato that sprung up next to the house. I didn't harvest many fruits from it this year, but the chipmunk(s) got some.

The autumn drought has meant that leaf colors have been muted for the most part, but this Viburnum ashei is putting on a good show. Love the reds!

Wish you a beautiful month and a happy, hopeful, peaceful holiday season ahead...


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Perils of Garden Snobbery

For a long time, I thought rose bushes were too common.

Everyone has rose bushes around here.

So I refrained from adding one to the garden.

My loss! I missed out on this 'Carefree Beauty' all those years...

It's been a champ throughout our hot, humid summer. It grows in full sun from morning through early afternoon and then has shade for the rest of the day.

Early on in the season, I was disappointed with the way it suffered from Japanese beetle attacks, but the beetles soon went away and the rose recovered and flourished with little help from me.

In August, I started cutting just about-to-open roses every few days and bringing them inside to adorn the kitchen or dining tables.

I'd say that Carefree Beauty has a light but delicious fragrance. I don't think I'll go bananas about sprinkling roses throughout my garden. I'm too nervous about rose rosette disease (RRD) to do that. But I do hope to add a couple more tough, vigorous and hopefully even more fragrant roses.

I've got my eye on Jacqueline du Pre. And I'm also interested in the native Carolina rose, which reportedly is resistant to RRD.


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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hot and Dry with a Strong Chance of Balloons

The more I grow balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), the more it impresses me.

We only had two days of rain all of September.

Temperatures were way above normal. (Or perhaps this is the 'new normal'?)

So it was hot, dry, sunny and I rarely watered.

Many plants would wilt or go dormant. Some would give up the ghost. But not balloon flower - it kept sailing through, pushing out more and more cheerful, cooling blue flowers.

These flowers are not exactly pollinator magnets, but they do attract some creatures.

Can you spot the tiny pollinator here?

In my experience, balloon flower has a very long blooming season, but it tends to slow down in midsummer. If you cut (or break) the stems way back, it will soon regrow and rebloom.

Individual plants seem to be long-lived. They don't spread through rhizomes, though clumps can get bigger over time. Balloon flower does self-sow. These volunteers are amenable to transplantation and they're not hard to pull if you find yourself with too many balloons!


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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Beautiful Berries

You can see where the American beautyberry bush (Callicarpa americana) gets its name...

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says that the seeds and berries of Callicarpa americana "are considered an important food source for many species of birds."


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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Doomed Caterpillars

Caterpillar (perhaps hummingbird clearwing moth, Hemaris thysbe) with braconid wasp cocoons on Viburnum dentatum 'Chicago Lustre'

In my last post, I talked about looking for a caterpillar and finding a small tree frog on an arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum 'Chicago Lustre').

Today, on the same shrub, I found two large caterpillars that had been attacked by some sort of parasitoid wasps.

The wasps - which I believe belong to one of the 15,000-plus known species of 'braconid wasps' - lay their eggs in the caterpillars. The larvae mature inside the caterpillar, then emerge to construct cocoons on the caterpillar's back, where they can metamorphose into wasps and continue their life cycle.

Incidentally, I believe the caterpillars are the larvae of the hummingbird clearwing sphinx moth (Hemaris thysbe). The adult moth is quite beautiful.


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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Looked for a Cat, Found a Frog

A couple of days ago, I spotted this green caterpillar nicely camouflaged as it munched away on an arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) leaf.

Unknown caterpillar snacks on arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum 'Chicago Lustre') leaf

So this morning, I thought I would take another look at the shrub to see if I could spot the caterpillar again.

Couldn't find it, but I did discover this little fella looking quite at home on a leafy perch!

I think this might be a young eastern gray treefrog, but I'm no herpetologist!

I was so happy to see a frog in my garden for the first time ever! :)


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Friday, September 16, 2016

Too Many Cats on the Fennel?

I counted 19 caterpillars - eastern black swallowtails, I think - on the bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum'). You can see 13 or 14 of them in the photo below if you look carefully...

Here's a close-up to make things easier...

How many caterpillars can survive on a single fennel plant? I worry about whether these cats will have enough to eat, but since I only have the one fennel plant growing in my garden (I direct sowed a packet of seeds and only one plant grew to maturity), I don't think I have any options to relocate any of the cats.

Hopefully they'll all make it to maturity and will be able to pupate successfully! So far, there's still plenty of foliage, but there are also lots of hungry caterpillars!


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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wild Senna and the Hidden Cat

Can you spot the caterpillar on this wild senna plant (Senna marilandica)?

How about now? :)


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