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There are a number of plant families of which I am especially fond. The mints and the legumes alone could keep one busy for a lifetime.

But there is nothing that quite captures my imagination so much as the Solanaceae. I have grown more than a few members of this family here in Southeastern New Mexico.

A strange, purple, toxic family; this one. Its members include deadly nightshade, jimsonweed (datura), tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tobacco and petunia.

I adore the Mediterranean Diet members of the group, and would hardly know how to eat without their inclusion in my comestibles; but as far as odd ornamentals go; the more obscure members of the family can be even more intriguing.

Take the Naranjilla, for instance. Solanum quitoense; The Little Orange. These can get quite tall, with their big greeny purple extensively fuzzy leaves and tiny citrusey orange fruit. Just great. I tried to find seed for them a few years back on the net and they were hardly there at all.

Or the Solanum atropurpurea, var. "Malevolence." I was initially apprised of this Solanum species a few years back, by some fine folks in La Honda, the J L Hudson seed company, who most usefully include all sorts of interesting stuff in their catalog with their seed listings, including the occasional note from their happy buyers. The listing for S. atropurpurea that year had a note from one such satisfied buyer who said she'd grown it up to six feet, and that it was covered with striking thorns, and that she'd named that particular specimen "Malevolence" in honor of its impressiveness. As I started to write this diary, I stopped and looked up S. atropurpurea, and quickly found a website listing plant species by their scientific names, cross-referenced by common names. In S. atropurpurea's case, the common name was listed as "Malevolence." Considering how frequently common names are poorly assigned, I was happy to see this particular one catching on, having grown this thorny little critter myself once. I was sadly disappointed, though, that it did not reach anywhere near six feet, or set seed. Fortunately, others have taken up this particular baton.

And...that's good!!

There are bunches of odd little Solanums, many with strange little eggplant-like fruit, including actual eggplant - white ones, orange ones, all tiny. I'd love to devote my life to growing all of them, but alas; at times I must actually grow things to eat.

I live in the desert, and the soil tends to the alkaline, and though I've occasionally seen stalwart potato patches in the vicinity, I mostly don't bother myself. I will note though that the one time I grew ones that hung in through the heat, for a long time, they were those purple Peruvian natives (and indeed potatoes are native to the Andes).

I unfortunately had to leave Artesia that year so I didn't get to see what they did the next year, but it was most impressive, as this is not a potato climate. These purple guys weren't doing a lot of potato growing, but they were doing a fine job of leafing out, all summer, and in this climate, that's pretty impressive for a mere potato.

Normally they like more acidic soil, they get scab in alkaline soils. Maybe one could grow more standard potatoes here in tubs, like one grows strawberries (which also prefer strongly acidic soils) in tubs. I've heard of people growing them quite successfully, flat on the ground, and covered by straw, in enclosures made of stacked up tires. Have at it, you people who have soils with pH below 6.5. And let me know what happens, please.

However, my Solanum failures being what they are, I tend to work more on peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, all of which I've had some success with.

Hot peppers are pretty easy to grow here in Carlsbad. On the other hand, since one can purchase an excellently roasted bushel of impressively hot (and fresh!) chile for about $15 here in the late summer, and then clean, bag and freeze it, growing these has little attraction unless you have a farm and intend to enter the chile farming business.

The standard chile we buy down here cheap is like a hot version of the Anaheim chile. They are long and pointed and run lightish green.

It's nice to have a few jalapeno plants around, though, for fresh salsa, and they are pretty easy to grow without much trouble. Poblanos as well aren't all that difficult to grow, and you can always roast them in your oven if you don't have a barbeque. You can't buy poblanos roasted down here for $15 a bushel, and they are wonderful for rellenos, so that's worth thinking about. In the oven; you turn it up high for a bit, around 400oF, to blister the skin a bit, maybe 10 minutes max - and then down a lot lower to more slowly roast them some more. That way you can get the skin off more easily. When roasting over a grill, do the best you can. If you overcook them they become difficult to work with (and that goes for all chile) and if you undercook them it's hard to get the skin off. That doesn't make them useless, but it's sometimes preferable to have them cleaned.

Bell peppers are a little tricker, as they like a little more moisture in the soil, like eggplants. Both will do better in the desert if you put them in a place where they get a fair amount of sun, but not too much, and the drainage isn't perfect. The best (and only really successful) eggplant I've grown down here was in a little plot about 30 square feet, that was cemented in on the sides and had a cement slab about 24" down, that was roughly broken so it did drain, but slowly. There was no sun from the west but good eastern sun. I had a half dozen Japanese eggplant in there and they all got about 40 inches tall and produced really well for months after the flea beetles got done with them.

That brings us to another subject, now that we're on to eggplant. Flea beetles eat tiny holes in the leaves of eggplant, and I've seen them do it to jimson weed as well, but eggplant haven't been as resilient as jimson weed in my experience. I've tried over and over again to grow eggplant, and the flea beetles always just about kill them but never quite do (which is quite evolutionarily clever of them, when you think about it), and finally, the flea beetles, which are early season sorts of critters, give up and then the stunted eggplants try to grow eggplant and eventually give up and then it's fall and it starts to get too cold and they get dispirited, and at that point you might as well dig them up and plant spinach.

I have no idea how to control flea beetles without poison, but it's possible you could do it with fine net. They are really small though, and fast, and it's hard to think of anything that might successfully predate upon them.

But like with some tomato pests, you can perhaps get a decent crop if you get the plant strong enough in the first place, like I did with those amazing eggplants that year, in the cemented in corner.

The worst tomato pest you get down here in the southwest is curlytop, which is a virus spread by beet leafhoppers. They are about 1 cm long and green and thin, and they theoretically only like to feed in the sun, although I think that's a myth myself, as I have personally seen these insects most scurrilously disobeying their own supposed behavioral dictates.

The curlytop virus is worse some years than others, as it too evolves and devolves cyclicly in its beet leafhopper host. Last I heard there weren't any serious tomato variety contenders for resistance, but I have grown tomatoes some years that I'm pretty sure got it but still gave me a pretty good crop, because they were pretty hefty plants when they got hit with it.

With a smaller plant though - like about 18" or under - when I see the symptoms; the distorting of the leaf ends and general yellowing, starting at the tips - I grit my teeth, pull the plant, and wish I'd put in a few more on the other end of the yard. Once you've seen it a few times you know what it is. It's a judgment call as to whether to pull the plant or not, but it can easily spread just by one leafhopper moving from plant to plant.

This disease, on the other hand, can be controlled by net, because these leafhoppers can't get through it. There are different ways to do this, but mostly we're talking about wire and whatever sorts of fabric that allow air flow, that you can come up with that work in your circumstances.

When I gardened in Los Angeles, which I did for years, I used to run into trouble with buffalo treehoppers, which are another sort of leafhopper. The adults of these are green with arched backs like dinosaurs (which ones are those? I can never remember) and the larvae are thorny and brown and they sucked the death out of the peppers, tomatoes and eggplants I grew there, quite reliably, every year, while unhelpfully spreading killing viruses at the same time. I took to buying bridal netting (because it was quite cheap by the yard) and making frameworks to keep them off, but eventually they tended to win.

One of the great gardening mysteries of my life is that we also have these treehoppers here - they show up on sowthistle from time to time, a plant in the Compositae that is in no way related to the Solanaceae - but they never, never have gone anywhere near any of my eggplants, tomatoes or peppers here. Los Angeles - desert. Carlsbad, New Mexico - desert. What's different? It's hard to imagine that these are all that different, these groups of critters, but I've killed enough of those spiny little devils by hand to know what they look like; the way there are bunches of them in different sizes feeding on one stem, etc. And it's not like I leave the sowthistle around for them, and it's not like there wasn't sowthistle in Los Angeles.

Come to think of it, I didn't see any of those buffalo treehoppers here last year. Maybe I could work something out with the flea beetles, to send them to Los Angeles?

Originally posted to mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 06:57 PM PST.

Poll

What's your favorite vegetable family?

24%19 votes
6%5 votes
10%8 votes
7%6 votes
16%13 votes
1%1 votes
5%4 votes
11%9 votes
0%0 votes
2%2 votes
7%6 votes
6%5 votes

| 78 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Oh, how I miss gardening... (4+ / 0-)

    flea beetles and all. I just haven't figured out how to grow anything here in dead McMansion-land, where we are briefly renting.

    It was the blister beetles that got me, though. I didn't realize it, but they will really mess you up if you kill them with your bare hands. I'd go out pinching them off the eggplants, then start feeling really ill and have to go lie down. I had the kind that were black with the white edging.

    The only answer I know of for dealing with the bugs is to help nurture a balance. It takes years to do that, though. I'll never forget how excited I was when I found a few praying mantises on the fence near my beans and blueberry bushes. I learned something, though. You don't pick up a praying mantis and stick it in your garden, thinking it'll eat your bugs up for you. When I tried doing that, that darned praying mantis went marching off across the two-acre plot we had then, marching straight for that fence.

    I like curcurbits a lot, too. But squash bugs are EVIL....

    •  yeah, I gave up a lot (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, wondering if, miss SPED

      to have the opportunity to garden. It's quite possible that the main source of my ongoing outrage at the world at large is that I don't get to both have decent friendly neighbors with similar values, and enough land to farm/garden.

      You'd think that wasn't a lot to ask.

      Blister beetles...black with white edging? I don't know about these. Thanks for the tip. There's some nasty insects out there; some lepidopteran larvae can give you a hard time too.

      Yeah, help nurture a balance, thank you for being on OUR side. I get so frustrated with all the killers...all the stuff on here politically about "haters" just makes me think about that so much - it's all about war, until everyone's dead. Not!

      It's much easier to bring a balance when you have control of more land. The Nature Conservancy has the right idea.

      We have those green Chinese mantid imports here; I like them too. I don't count on them for anything, though. Those motile obligate predatory insects, you can't assume they'll stick around. Web spiders are more reliable - actually spiders are more reliable overall.

      But yeah, it's totally cool to see a mantid in the yard, it always seems like beneficial portent.

      Here's a tip on squash bugs, and this really surprised me, but it works if you are up for it -

      I used to reliably have trouble with them, until I let the paper wasps move into my yard, two years ago. Polistes fuscatus are waisted hymenopterans and they make those honeycombed nests. I have never had trouble with them attacking me, though they will sting me if I touch them by accident. I've read they are also attracted to floral scents and bright colors.

      The adults are pollen feeders and they seek out insects to take back to the nests to feed their larvae. Once I let these guys (girls, actually) move into the rafters, I'd see them all over the squash plants, hunting every day, and I NEVER saw a squash bug at all that year.

      Then, last year, last spring actually, I had about four overwintering queens make nests in my eaves too close for my comfort (near where I walked by a lot) and I took them all out with soap spray. I thought the overwintering queens would continue to build nests higher up in the rafters but they didn't, though I did see them in the garden here and there, now and then this year, though nowhere near as frequently.

      More recently, in the late fall, I'm seeing squash bugs in odd places again. At this point I'm about to try to figure out how to build a paper wasp house, like people build bat houses. What they like is parts under the eaves, facing east, not west, away from the sun and wind, where they can come in from underneath but not be too exposed. I've seen them get very interested in abandoned banana boxes, because of the open handholes. They are great control agents, these Polistes. I highly recommend them, and their stings don't tend to be as bad as true hornets, or even necessarily bees - and there's some ants that can leave them in the shade.

      Look out! The saints are coming through. -- Bob Dylan

      by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 07:31:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  A very apt metaphor... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Creosote, mamamedusa

        about haters, trying to kill off the unwanted, etc. It's so true. Anyone who gardens for very long soon gets it. If you aggressively go after one "nuisance" and kill it off, you will be inundated with something else that at first you thought was okay (because it was in balance with its predators) and you will hate it, too. Before you know it, you're eaten up with hate.

        What's really surprising is the day you realize that, if you are always trying to destroy things around you that you don't want, especially if you do it in a noxious way, nothing ever grows for you. That's pretty profound, when you think about it! That's why I think getting a community garden movement going in the suburbs would be so powerful.

        •  very nice (0+ / 0-)

          Diversity is critical, but on the other hand, there's less to be said for giving equal roles to those who deeply disagree...

          oh well. I have no idea what I'm doing on a political blog. I do like the metaphors though.

          I'm intrigued by community gardening in urban areas, haven't thought about it in the suburbs. I guess that's at least partly because I don't quite believe in the suburbs; they seem an artifact. But you may be on to something there.

          "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

          by mieprowan on Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 03:45:29 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  the seed catalogs (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fabian, miss SPED, mieprowan

    start showing up about now. I've learned to control my impulses. Things that look like a good idea now become a burden when I actually have to find space to plant them. I've heard last year was a big year for the seed companies as the economy worsened and food prices were heading through the roof. I'm guessing this year will be an even better year for them.
     In New England all our soils are acidic, we're constantly having to add lime.

    music- the universal language

    by daveygodigaditch on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:04:19 PM PST

    •  I was a teenager in Lakeville, Massachusetts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      daveygodigaditch, miss SPED

      I learned to garden there.

      My mom lives in Washington State and we both have to pull back from sending each other seeds that won't work where the other lives.

      So yeah, I know some about acidic soils, with the rocks, and the leaching, but it's been so long.

      I'd offer to send you seeds from my extensive refrigerated collection but the climate thing usually gets in the way.

      Thanks for writing. I want to keep in touch with the other gardeners here, and participate in the other gardening blog that is already extant here. I always feel a little guilty this time of year though, because I'm a month away from getting going again, and I mean outside! I figure if I write too much on the garden blog too soon people with SAD will start hitting me over the head with brickbats!

      "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time." -- Charlie Brown

      by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:15:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  you're right about the SAD (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mieprowan

        and it's fricking cold out with over a foot of snow. Of course when the temp. goes above 80 in the summer I wonder why I complained about the cold all winter.

        Some day I plan on flying out to N.M. for a vacation. I   drove through nearly 40 years ago and loved the scenery.

        music- the universal language

        by daveygodigaditch on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:27:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  well, don't come down south (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KenBee, daveygodigaditch

          if it bothers you over 80oF. Down here, I've gotten so used to the climate that I feel a tad cold under 80oF. In the summer, it often goes up over 100.

          I like it better hot than cold, though; because cold can just kill you and hot is usually survivable if you stay out of the sun and don't move much.

          Now, if you want to visit NM, go to Santa Fe, or Taos. There's lots of scenery and even some Kossacks up there.

          On the other hand, if you're interested in caves, what we have down here is caves. But otherwise, go visit the nice liberal Santa Fe people and go see the wonderful mountain scenery even further up north. That's what I'd do if I was in a position to go on vacation.

          Thanks for writing!

          Miep

          "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time." -- Charlie Brown

          by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:52:45 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  taters in tubs (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, mieprowan

    does work.  I knew someone who used large barrel ends, bigger than the typical ones in garden and big box stores, as the base.  Mostly sand and well aged compost for soil, drained well but rich and a bit acid.  As the plants grew they'd drop an old tire around the plant, then add a few inches of soil a week so as to bury the part of the plant enclosed by the tire. After that add another tire, fill with soil, repeat several more times.  This gave huge yields of potatoes from the large underground portion of the plant.

    The soil was shoveled through a screen to get all the tubers, then went into a pile for the next year, when it would get fresh compost mixed in.  There's some soil pest that sometimes gets the potatoes but they didn't have problems, perhaps the screening and overwinter freeze took care of the problem.  Some of the smaller tubers were used for planting next year, when they'd be dusted with sulfur before planting.

    •  Thank you! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, wondering if

      That's quite interesting. Now, I'm wondering whether there is anything toxic in tires? Because if this works, surely one could do it with other such materials. You get the compost, you get the sand, you make some kind of barrier to build it up, it doesn't have to be tires, right? This is basically a high raised bed concept involving using soil that's pretty different from what's below, and lots of aeration?

      I love the idea that we could re-use dead tires for this, because I love all ideas about re-using anything that's otherwise problematic to reuse. But at the same time, anytime I learn about a new idea, I want to think about how to expand it, and make it even better. That's my agricultural dream; we all keep experimenting with stuff like this, trading information, and making it better.

      Just screens are a whole interesting subject by themselves. My current compost screen constitutes a piece of metal mesh that's used for basing stucco, attached to some wood studs, and I set it on cinderblocks over a piece of plastic tarp. I do that when I want to screen a whole lot of compost; but when I just want to do a bit, I use those plastic trays gardening nurseries use to stack little pots in, the cross-meshed plastic trays. There are different grades of them, but there is one that works quite well, if you set it on top of about three five gallon buckets and put the rough compost into the tray, and smooth it with a shovel into the buckets.

      I have to do that to get the dead pecan hulls out of the compost, etc. Not everybody has a lot of rough trash to screen out; the thing about gardening is there are so many different factors we all have to deal with, that any set of instructions are usually at least partially useless. So, that leaves us with nothing much else to do but experiment and talk about it.

      Well, I'm rambling as usual. Thanks for your feedback!

      "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time." -- Charlie Brown

      by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:27:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  yup - tires were free, and this was long ago so (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KenBee

        toxicity wasn't thought about much. These were old ones that had been sitting in alleys for years, so they may have had their surface layer pretty well leached out; we'd collected them so they wouldn't trap rain and breed mosquitoes and now had a stack of them.  

        The handy thing, besides the price, was that they stacked well so you could gradually increase the height without shading the plant.  Several had some cut or hole in the tread, and on occasion the plant would find this with the result of a additional leafy stem starting from the hole; this could be a useful addition to some alternative way of building the stack.

        I suspect the thermal mass of the tires may have helped some too, leveling out the day-hot/night-cool aspect; old milk jugs and drink bottles filled with water do the same, seem to work well with tomatoes and peppers up here in the PNW.

        •  that's a good point (0+ / 0-)

          about tires, or plastic too, leaching out anything toxic when it all sits out a lot exposed. Plastic just doesn't last long enough. Not sure what you're doing with milk jugs filled water - surrounding plants with them? Are you using them to insulate the soil?

          "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

          by mieprowan on Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 07:39:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Potato bin (0+ / 0-)

        what I'm going to try next spring, as an experiment, is a chicken-wire bin covered with landscape fabric. I'll pull the fabric up little by little, like a sock. The potatoes will get plenty of air circulation but the black fabric will help absorb heat and hold in the soil.

        I got this idea from something I read on a garden supply website--they were selling such a device but it would be easy to make.

        Oops! I'm gonna need a whole new sig!

        by sillia on Thu Dec 25, 2008 at 05:49:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think it's possible (0+ / 0-)

          to get great results with little tricks like this if you're available to tend to them. I bet people could grow a lot of food this way, at home. It's just a matter of thinking it out and paying attention and working on improving the techniques.

          But you have to be around to tend to things, I think. Where I live; it matters a great deal whether I can water twice a day during a critical part of the year. In some places, it may be equally critical to make sure things are properly aired out and exposed when the sun is there, and then covered up to protect them from the cold, during other times. But I really do believe that if you work all this out, and feed your soil properly (and that doesn't mean dumping chemicals on it) that you can grow a heck of a lot of food, and in a relatively small space too, as long as there's always someone around to tend the land.

          "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

          by mieprowan on Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 07:43:31 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I've met a cousin (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mieprowan

    of 'Malevolence': buffalo bur. Yellow flowers, and a whole lot of spines on the stem and the leaf veins. I recommend removing it as soon as the spines start appearing, and using tongs or really heavy gloves when you do it.

    You can grow tomatoes in containers, but for full-size tomatoes, you'll need large containers, either self-watering or with something like a drip-irrigation system. (If the moisture level isn't fairly even, they get blossom-end rot.) Cherry tomatoes are a little easier to grow in containers.

    •  looks like a nightshade (0+ / 0-)

      indeed.

      I do understand that it might not be ideal to have one's grounds entirely infested by obscure spiny nightshades, but now and then, one just captures my affections.

      Yeah, I've grown cherry tomatoes in the ground, in containers; I've grown full-sized tomatoes in the ground; under trees, out in the open, partially shaded, etc. I've lived in Eddy County for 12 years and tried to grow tomatoes just about every year.

      This is not to say I'm any sort of expert as to how to do this here. I am firmly an advocate of the idea that few people are experts about how to grow much anything anywhere. I strongly suspect that much of all of our success is in spite of our best efforts.

      Thanks for bringing up blossom-end rot. I should have and I didn't think of it. That's what happens when you have irregular moisture, it's related to calcium imbalances, and you can also get it by over-fertilizing your tomatoes with synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, which is also related to calcium imbalances.

      Lots of mulch, even watering, and deep good humousy soil does wonders to prevent this disorder. I suspect it helps with curlytop, too.

      "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time." -- Charlie Brown

      by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:36:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Zombies! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jennifree2bme, mieprowan

    Thats what I thought of when I saw the title of the diary.  "Solanum" is the name of the virus that allegedly creates zombies in the "Zombie Survival Guide"

    The responsibility of a great state is to serve and not to dominate the world--President Harry S. Truman (April 16, 1945)

    by TomK002 on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:30:33 PM PST

    •  awhile back (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, wondering if

      I posted a diary entitled "Fox Visitation," that was about how excited I was to see a fox while hiking down an acequia near where I live.

      Someone wrote back saying he initially thought I was writing about having suffered from Fox News people invading my house.

      Y'all need to get out more.

      :-)

      Miep

      "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time." -- Charlie Brown

      by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:38:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Serpent and the Rainbow (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Schwede

      Ethnobotanist Wade Davis (now Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic) concluded that members of the Solanaceae family, particularly Datura, seemed to be a key ingredient in so-called "zombie powder" in Haiti.

      Most Solanaceae produce toxic alkaloids, many of which are hallucinogens.

  •  wow, composites (0+ / 0-)

    so far winning the poll. That gives me some thoughts about a Christmas vegetable post.

    We could talk about sunflowers; that'd be fun.

    "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time." -- Charlie Brown

    by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 08:55:04 PM PST

  •  Not a Solanum but a Cucurbitaceae, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee

    the Indian Bitter Melon is nicely bizarre looking, starting out a somewhat pale green and ending up a bright orange-yellow, with spikes and knobs sticking out it looks like some alien beasty.    

    (photo is in this  page of a blog titled A Caribbean Garden.)

  •  I use soap (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terabytes, mieprowan

    just a couple of drops of dish soap in a spray bottle to control
    flea beetles. You have to be careful not to add too much or you'll
    dehydrate your leaves. And use it in the morning before it gets
    too hot.

    •  ah hah! (0+ / 0-)

      so, do you think they get down under the ground at night?

      I've used soap spray, but when do they emerge? If they stay down in the dirt and then come out to feed when it warms up; yeah; I can try that.

      They are so fast though! But like you said, before it gets too hot. They will be slower then.

      What I've been told about soap spray (by an entomologist friend who is friendly about ecology) is use cheap stuff, don't use the stuff with degreasers, and wash the plants off afterwards. Maybe ten to one water to soap.

      So maybe if I got up early - or in the summer got out there at night, and hit the plants with a light soap solution. Maybe if I did it when it was coolest, so the flea beetles were moving most slowly.

      The deal with pests is so often figuring out when they are getting at your plants. It took me years to figure out the flea beetles, because I never saw them, and they chewed those funny round little holes in the leaves.

      The other part has to do with the rest of their biological cycle. What do the flea beetles do the rest of the time, when they are not sneaking up into my eggplant? Are there other barriers one can put up? It's all about barriers, one way or the other. I'm looking for ways to invent barriers that aren't so toxic.

      Thanks so much for your feedback; you've given me another idea about how to go with growing some of these plants.

      Miep

      "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time." -- Charlie Brown

      by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 10:39:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  knowledgeable gardeners (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    miss SPED, mieprowan

    it is great to read how knowledgeable gardeners go at it.  i've gardened all my life, might even refer to me as an 'avid gardener,' but i'm struck reading this by how little i actually know about what i do.  i just do what my dad, mostly taught me, or what experience has shown me works.  in the pacific northwest where i live now, you mostly try to keep things from growing rather than try to get things to grow.  and my general theory is to grow what already seems in my neighborhood to grow okay and not to mess with plants that slugs like because either i turn into a full-time slug killer or i have to mess with poisons, which i'd prefer not to do.

    but we can grow crucifers very well up here, but tomatoes, not so much.  i'd move back to to idaho or california for just a few months to get real tomatoes...sigh...

    •  oh well, slugs (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, terabytes, miss SPED

      if you live where there's lots of mollusks going after any vegetative matter available, that always makes things a lot more difficult. I found out from Neon Vincent, a Kossack here who runs a science blog, that we have predatory decollate snails here. I'd heard about them but it never occurred to me to think that I might have them here. They eat other mollusks.

      They are an introduced species, so maybe we had some sort of more problematic mollusks here earlier before these puppies were brought in. NV sent me photos of decollate snails, after I described the locals to him, and they were dead ringers. He also told me that he used to be the mollusk bio guy at the La Brea Tar Pits, so I guess he knows about snails and in fact has sent me other links about snails in the mountains around here.

      I wish you could move back to climates reliable for tomatoes, or all sorts of other produce, during the months when such were harvesting. Where you live is great in the summer, but that's a lot of hard row to hoe during the winter, up there in the Pacific Northwest.

      "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

      by mieprowan on Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 11:09:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Solanum Fruits from Baker Creek. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, terabytes, miss SPED, mieprowan

    I've grown many Solanum fruit plants from Baker Creek. I grew the Litchi Tomato from them this year and it was the last Solanum to die from low temps. Also very delicious and very thorny. Their Giant Cape Gooseberry is the most delicious fruit I have ever grown from seed.

    Baker Creek is an heirloom seed company with a stunning catalog this year, made for the coffee table. Their forum site, I Dig My Garden.com, is filled with friendly gardeners willing to help new gardeners. They also talk politics, Monsanto, NAIS, GMO's, patents, ...

    An amazing seed company started 10 years ago by a young man with a love of growing things.

  •  thank you (0+ / 0-)

    we've been at and below freezing for days, so my solaneum are likely kaput.
    Texas is a great place for peppers and tomatoes and eggplants.  My potatoes all disappeared.  Alkaline soil and drought, not so good.

    I'm so desperate for growing, I bought a hydroponic basil for my kitchen window.  The aloes I dragged inside aren't enough. :)

    •  I know the feeling (0+ / 0-)

      about getting hungry for gardening..especially this time of year.

      Where I live you can get going a lot in February, and then put in stuff that isn't frost-tolerant in April. The rule of thumb around here is "don't plant your tomatoes until the pecans leaf out," which is interesting, as it's about right. I love little bits of local horticultural folklore like that; they can be so useful.

      Well if you want to try potatoes again, you might try those purple Peruvian ones. Someone like Seeds of Change might have them; they are in Santa Fe I think. Good company.

      "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

      by mieprowan on Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 03:49:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Have you tried Solanum pyracanthum? (0+ / 0-)

    It's more decoratively prickly (orange stems, deeply notched sage-green leaves with orange thorns down the midvein, and purple flowers).  

    http://img.photobucket.com/...

  •  Bacillus Thuringiensis (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Creosote, mamamedusa

    Miep,

    For controlling insects on your vegetables, I recommend bacillus thuringiensis (BT) in a powdered form.  It really works for me on my eggplant here in northern Virginia.  I used to get the shotgun effect really badly but a couple of application of BT powder and the problem goes away.  It seems to control pretty nearly any beetle-related problem.  I'm not sure how selective it is, but since it only infects insects, it's absolutely non-toxic to any other form of life.

    If I am suggesting some environmental no-no then please, mineshaft, let me know!

    •  re: Bt (0+ / 0-)

      hi boor; far as I know Bt and its varieties are good control agents, and I hadn't ever heard of any being available to control flea beetles. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

      My understanding about Bt (and I really need to look into this more and thanks for getting me thinking about it) is that many variations on this bacillum were derived to control a wide variety of ag pest insects, starting with leps (moth and butterfly larvae). I've never looked into this much and I suspect Monsanto worked with these a lot, and I trust them about as far as I can throw them. This is not to say that Bt is bad, but more that you never know what Monsanto will mix into stuff.

      I will keep in mind your post and do some research and come back here about this. Thank you very much for the idea.

      "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

      by mieprowan on Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 03:54:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  My favorite: grasses! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Creosote, mamamedusa

    I'm eating a slice of whole wheat/rye bread, toasted, with butter and garlic. Another grass that's great with butter and garlic is sweet corn. Yum!

    •  and the butter is (0+ / 0-)

      or should be derived from grass, too.

      Garlic, on the other hand, is an allium. I forgot alliums in the poll.

      Of course, I forgot a lot of things in the poll. I appreciate all the reminders :-)

      "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

      by mieprowan on Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 03:56:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  flea beetle barriers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mamamedusa

    I used to cover my young eggplant transplants with floating row cover fabric (used to be called Reemay), the white stuff. It comes in various thicknesses. This works, but in my Nebraska garden the wind makes it very difficult to handle row covers. They blow off, they rip, or they flap in the wind and mash the plants. Hoops, bah! it's all too much trouble.

    I have a big stash of old one-gallon plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut out, which I use to cover broccoli and cabbage plants when they first go out. (The Amish do this, as I saw when we visited Pennsylvania one spring!) I slide a small bamboo stake slantwise through the handle into the soil which keeps the jug from blowing away.

    Last year, I suddenly thought, I wonder if the plastic jugs would keep the flea beetles off?? I tested this theory first on my husband: If you were a flea beetle, would you fly down this hole to see what's down there? He said absolutely not, so I figured it was worth a try. Sure enough, it worked! Although the jugs were open at the top (needed to prevent heat buildup, besides I've lost the lids) no flea beetles attacked my eggplants. Once they got too big for the jugs, they were strong enough to withstand the insects--damage was minimal and we had a wonderful crop of eggplant. I will certainly do it this way again next year.

    Oops! I'm gonna need a whole new sig!

    by sillia on Thu Dec 25, 2008 at 06:04:52 AM PST

    •  oh, great! Neat! (0+ / 0-)

      great ideas. That's in line with the way I worked with the buffalo treehoppers when I found that they didn't tend to fly down into the tomato plants etc. when I surrounded them with chicken wire fences covered with bridal netting.

      The treehoppers and leafhoppers are in the same group so it's intriguing to think maybe there's the same "flight pattern malfunction" going on there, let alone with flea beetles, which I think are true beetles.

      I've used milk jugs like that as cloches, but they aren't so useful here where the temps change up so fast in the spring, and I hadn't thought about the bamboo stake trick either. But I had also not thought about using them as flight barriers for a variety of pests, an idea you just gave me all over the place.

      I think milk jugs would be too small for what I need here, because the eggplant get hammered up until they are two feet tall, but the concept is good and adaptable. I'll need more ventilation because it gets hot so fast, but this is really interesting.

      I did know about floating row covers, but never had any. I always think one should be able to make this sort of thing one's self, considering how much gets thrown away. And indeed the more you can make the plant protection devices more individualized, the less wind resistance you have to deal with, and we have bad wind here all spring.

      Thank you so much for your feedback; this was really, really helpful.

      "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

      by mieprowan on Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 04:04:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Enjoyed your diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mamamedusa

    Sorry I found it so late. I do think a food garden blog would be appropriate on Kos, a more workman-like, focussed approach than Frankenoid's, though that is a lot of fun. I'm not in a position to do this myself but I would participate!

    Oops! I'm gonna need a whole new sig!

    by sillia on Thu Dec 25, 2008 at 06:08:25 AM PST

    •  that's okay (0+ / 0-)

      I'm back and forth with Kos myself. I've looked around the net for websites where there are people writing about evolving sustainable agriculture techniques (and that's the best name I can give what I'm looking to help with) but mostly there are just ones here and there and with only a few participants (though sometimes quite good ones).

      Maybe I can get into doing this here on a more regular basis and link to the people who are also coming up with interesting news and analysis about sustainable ag. I'm glad to hear that there are a fair number of people interested in this sort of thing here. It is inspiring, since dKos does have a fairly substantial audience/participant group, and I like the leftist slant here a lot too.

      Oh, and I haven't looked at Frankenoid's blog much, but it did strike me as a good place for attracting gardeners here into one, friendly, place, and I'm glad that's already happening. The more the merrier - plants are pretty basic!

      Thanks!

      "Alienate - no! Empathize - si!" --Swami Sivandenda

      by mieprowan on Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 04:09:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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