Monday, July 23, 2012

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia fotundiflora)

Last winter I planted some seed of Mexican Sunflower in my garden near some Jerusalem Artichoke and some Yacon to see if it might do anything. All three of these plants are tall and flowering. I utilize them on the west side of my garden in order to provide afternoon shade for plants such as tomatoes and peppers (both of which have already surrendered to disease). When the Mexican Sunflower first came up I thought it was Yacon because the leaves looked very similar.

The Mexican Sunflower plant does very well in my climate and grows quickly – the plant enjoys the heat much more than the Yacon does. However, this year it has really taken a beating from the spider mites.

The Mexican Sunflower plant can grow quite tall

Spider mites are a plant-eating mite that can attack many plants in the garden. With their webbing and small size, spider mites are often difficult to completely get rid of. I also have some beneficial insects that live in the same area, so I am wary to do too much to try to kill everything off.

Spider Mites can cause problems on the Mexican Sunflower

This is the first non-vegetable plant that I have grown in the last few years. It is nice to pick some Mexican Sunflower and Jerusalem Artichoke flowers for my wife. She enjoys the colors in our kitchen.

Though Flowers do not feed the body, they definitely liven one's spirits

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Processing Carrot Seed

Some gardeners prefer to buy seed from the store year after year. I prefer to save myself money by harvesting  as much seed as I can, including carrot seed. Once the stalks of carrot plants are dry and the seeds are brown, I then come around the stalks to harvest them.

Harvested Carrots in a Pot

Because carrots are outbreeding plants, it is recommended to have at least 12-20 plants to keep the seed strong. As I harvest the seed for a particular trait, such as color or root thickness, I keep the seeds of plants with desirable traits from the seeds of undesirable plants. In this way, I seek to slowly shape my carrot variety into something that I want them to be.

Carrot seeds in a dry, well-ventilated place

After harvesting the seed I keep it in a well-ventilated dry place to keep the seed stalks from molding. It only requires a few days of wet seeds to have them mold.

Some Carrot Processing Material.

When stalks are dry, use a comb or other method to remove the seeds.

Combing Seed out of the stalk works pretty well

Carrot seeds are very hairy. The first time I harvested carrot seeds I didn’t worry about the small hair. However, when planting the seed, the hair can make the seeds difficult to handle. They tend to cling to each other which tends to waste seed.

Hairy seeds tend to stick together

To remove the hair, rub the seeds through screen that is slightly larger than the seed. This will separate the hair from the seed. Both will end up falling into whatever container you have below the screen.

Seperating the hairs from the seed via rubbing through a screen

To separate the seeds from the hairy mess, take a handful of seed and hair mixture to winnow away the small hairs and the other small material by using a fan or blowing away the hair with your mouth (as pictured).

My lovely picture demonstrates my method for winnowing seed

What is left after winnowing is the usable seed and a few other small branches you can pick out, if you desire. Home-harvested seed may not be as clean as from a seed catalogue but the quality of the seed can be much greater when harvested when the seed is completely grown.

Finished Carrot Seed

Tepary Bean Review

Tepary Bean Plant with small flowers
Though I usually have a lot of good to say about the veggies I grow I had mixed emotions when I recently harvested my tepary beans. These beans were obtained through the Pima County’s Seed Library. The package they were in was only labeled only as “tepary beans grown in Tucson” and had no reference to what particular cultivar of tepary bean they were. Their bushing habit would definitely enable them to support each other if grown in an open area.

One positive thing I have to say about this variety is that it took the heat very well and was well adapted to my climate. Tepary beans are native to the Sonoran desert, so I wasn’t too surprised by that. Another positive trait was that the plants produced a nice crop of beans given the lack of space and time I provided for them to grow. Only a few small plants grew in a limited space with partial sun.

So – why did I pull them out? One of the traits of the tepary bean is that it can carry common bean mosaic virus without significantly affecting the tepary bean. Unfortunately, this virus affected my pink-eyed purple podded beans – which did not have mosaic until the tepary bean plants grew larger. My tolerance for disease in my garden is zero. This means that the beans were removed, pods and all, along with other infected plants and all bean debris was promptly deposited in the trash. If I lived in a rural area I would have just burned it.

Tepary Bean pods do not work well as a snap bean

Another negative side to this bean is that they are primarily useful as a dry bean. This is because the beans do not grow large enough to eat until the seeds in them are large enough to harvest.

I saved the majority of the seeds for the seed library – something that is part of the deal of “borrowing” seeds is that you bring more back. However, due to the fact that the majority of the legumes I grow are susceptible to bean mosaic I will most likely never grow this variety again.

Purple Dragon Carrot Lifecycle

Of all the carrots I have grown so far I enjoy growing the variety Purple Dragon the most. The flavor is mostly like a conventional carrot with a bit of a kick. The kick I am referring to is not spiciness, but rather a different flavor than a conventional carrot. Purple Dragon carrots are perfect for snacking and - most importantly - my children love them.

I used to leave the fuzz on the carrot seeds

Small Carrots require thinning if one would like large roots

Later thinning includes snack-sized carrots

At last, the larger carrots are great for lunches

Most carrots have orange flesh, though you can select for darker flesh

Carrot Plants Bolting

As the carrot plant grows out a main stem the carrot root becomes dry and woody. At this time the gardener can choose to pull the carrot out for compost or grow the plant out to seed. The carrot flowers attract beneficial insects from miles around including small wasps, bees, ladybugs, lacewings, etc. The area around the flowers literally becomes buzzing with activity.

After a while, the seed begins to form on the flower heads

The dried seed heads are now ready for harvest

Harvested Purple dragon Carrot seed now ready to plant