Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Heat Is On!

The heat of summer continues, but thankfully all you out there have everything you wanted planted already right? Well if not today I have three fun herbs to put on your must have list for the year. Todays plants of note are Pineapple Sage, Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm but before I get into the trio of iced tea empowering herbs heres a gardening fact.

Did you know that 'Sage Brush' is actually three differing plants? There are three plants that depending on region are used as Salvia apiana, Salvia mellifera and Artemesia tridentata; or Sacred Sage, Black Sage and Mountain Sagebrush by common name respectively. Fortunately one of the three can be grown outdoors here in North Carolina, Black sage. For those in more northeastern climates if you can get one Mountain sage brush can be grown in containers to the point it makes an excellent bonsai plant.

[The pineapple sages are refusing to photogenic for this article]
Salvia elegans - Pineapple Sage

Pineapple Sage is a commonly seen but rarely regarded herb found in most garden centers. In northern climates it is a absolute annual but in North Carolina, or zone 7 it is a tender perennial further south you can of coruse expect it will return yearly. Pineapple sage unlike most of the sage family does it's best when presented with protection from midday and afternoon sun. Ample moisture and a good soil will go a long way towards maintaining your stand of this sage. But what is it used for? Pineapple Sage has attractive red flowers that can attract hummingbirds and pollinators. The leaves impart a fruity flavor when cooked or soaked in a beverage. You can propagate pineapple sage stems by layering or through cuttings with rooting hormones.

Alloysia citrodora/triphylla - Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena is an unusual herb that has a dedicated following of gardeners who know in great detail it's virtues. Strangely enough Lemon Verbena is not seen in as many garden Centers as it should be. Why this herb has not caught on is beyond me. For those readers who don't know, This herb is the best lemon flavor and scented herb you can get your hands on short of an actual lemon. It is worthwhile to mention lemon verbena is actually in the verbena family and thus has exceptional drought, heat and poor soil tolerance. Furthermore Lemon Verbena makes for a attractive potted plant indoors for winter and cuttings root easily. In the culinary role if you have a recipe that calls for a lemony scent and flavor. The real joy of lemon verbena is in a tall glass of Iced tea at the end of a long work day.

Melissa officinalis - Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is the most common lemon flavored herb of all time short of an actual lemon. It is rare to find a garden center without this herb on the racks in the spring. This is not due to marketing but that Lemon Balm is easy to grow and readily self-propagates from seed. The cultivation of this plant in the north versus the south does vary. In the northeast Lemonbalm can be grown in full sun with little issue and moderate supplemental watering and slight soil improvement needs. In the southeast Lemon balm is best grown in partial to full shade and needs regular water and soil with additional fertility and organic matter. As a herb Lemon balm is more scent then flavor. Few herbs can match the consistancy of the aroma as its sweet lemon fragrance when combined with real lemon can be a real seasoning powerhouse. Lemon balm does make a nice but somewhat thin flavoring for iced tea and in the right amount can make a refreshing tea all on it's own. Cuttings of lemon blam if you are so inclined can be rooted in water, but if happy it will propagate freely by seed.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Okra Trials

 Plant #6 proved to be the prize of the entire trial

As promised the results of the Okra trials are in and here are the  the F1 hybrid trials were nothing less then stunning. Two batches of seed were sown; the first was a random selection from available supplies while the second was a mini-trial where set numbers of dark, gray and light colored seeds were sown in set rows to determine which was more viable. Of the first batch of twelve only 4 germinated where as in the second batch seven out of nine of the dark colored seeds germinated while none of the gray or tan seeds germinated.
The interesting part of this result is that it puts saved seed at odds with store-bought seed. Typically the seed from packs at the store is gray, where as the saved seed was almost black. it might be the variety or just the seed companies treatment of their seed materials.

Sowing Results:
12 seeds sown on 02-25-2011: 4 of 12 seeds germinated
24 seeds sown on 05-01-2011: 7 of 25 seeds germinated

Result:  germination rate is 20% in general or about 78% if only dark colored seed is used.

The actual field trial saw the following placements of plants:
#1-3: Planted in Reinforced mound bed. (#2 petered out in early june for reasons unknown.)
#5-6: Used for 14" pot isolation trial. (#5 developed root rot in trials)
#7-8: Planted in Reinforced mound bed
#9-11: Loaned to two outside sites for true field trials.

This image is of plant #3, note the deep lobes in the mature leaves.

Needless to say the actual feild trials saw some interesting genetic variability, Plants 1-3 all displayed a deeply lobed thin-leaf 'filagree' leaf trait with additional red coloration. Plants 1-3 also displayed a noted lack of vigor. In contrast, plants #7-11 demonstrated moderate vigor, the maple leaf trait and even in feild trials have been found to be highly drought tolerant provided they have good soil. Plant #6 which is detailed below has shown to posses a trait for exceptionally large size.

As seen on a 90 degree day in full afternoon sun little wilt is presented despite the plant's size.

Malvaceae Abelmoschus esculentus 'Clark's Colossal'

Type: F1 Hybrid, specimen #6
Overall growth average: 0.80 inches per day
Germination Rate: 30% overall, 78% among darker colored seed.
Days until Germination: 4-10 days
Days until Mature: 30 days
Height at flower bud set: 11"
Ripe Pod Size: 3-5"

Both of the leaf-traits are clearly visible in this picture, the maple-leaf and 'blood spot' trait

Alternate, simple possibly upwards of 13 inches across. Normally can be found to be three to five lobed, the lobes are roughly ovate with acute leaf tips, a doubly-dentate margin and prominant palmate veins. Where the leaf and petiol meet there is a dark red coloration that fades along the upper surface of the petiole. Petioles can often be up to 0.20" in diameter and as much as 7.5" long.

Older stems are often largely straight however closer to the apical tip the plant takes on an zig-zagging shape. Overall the stem is somewhat glabrous, green, but with age it may attain a gray color.

The estimated potential size based on prime growing weather from now until the end of september using prior growing trends indicates the specimen could be upwards of 4-7 feet. The lower end of the range represents a plant grown in a 14" or larger pot with optimal soil and water. The Upper end of the size range is based on the sample being planted in-ground with optimal soil and water.

possibly 9.0 to 11.0 but typically grown as an annual.

Under optimal conditions this hybrid is upright with leaves born on exceptionally thick and long petioles. Side branching seems opportunistic only appearing on bare sections of the trunk perhaps due to latent cells. Generally the massive leaves can measure up to a 13" across and form a dence canopy that shades the central bud. The stems are thick, can withstand a lot of natural punishment and seem to rapidly reach 1" capipers with under two months. As a whole the plant has deffinate value in the garden

Rate of Growth
Slow to start but rapid once the temperatures stayed in the 80's.

The overall texture is the same in effect as the ornamental Castor bean, the foliage is exotic and each leaf is massive. This okra could be the non-toxic foliage replacement for the ornamental Castor Bean in the landscape.

Leaf Color
The leaves have a rich green coloration, this color is partly due to the heavy veins that add minute shadows and texture this darkening the surface of the leaves.

Flower is typical of a Mallow each is born solitary bears five clasped petals and is somewhat veriable in color, possible hues include white, cream, or pale yellow. Flowers are open for about 12-24 hours then promptly the petals wilt and the seed pod begins to form.

This picture was taken just a few days ago for scale, the okra is growing in a 14" diameter pot. the window pane behind it is 2' 2" wide. The okra is 29 inches tall. At the time this picture was taken the largest leaf was 14" wide by 13" long. #6 is the largest specimen on the trial and the only one to show this 'giant' trait.