Friday, July 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2011

Not only are the wintersown velvetleaf and wild carrot blooming on my balcony, but so are the ever-reliable marigold and bacopa.



The heat is causing the sacred and Thai basils to bolt. The cinnamon-candy smell of the Thai variety when you brush your hand over the plants is heavenly. I'm not sure, though, whether to let them bloom or to clip off the flowering stalk.

Sacred (Tulsi) basil

Thai basil

'Alaska' and 'Tom Thumb' (or is that 'Empress of India'?) nasturtiums are blooming for the first time this season.

Nasturtium 'Tom Thumb' or 'Empress of India'

Nasturtium 'Alaska'

The bumblebees love the lavender, but are a little camera-shy.

Bee and lavender

And this bug apparently likes chomping off the Shasta daisy buds :(

Bug on Shasta daisy

Shasta daisy with amputated flower bud. The guilty party lurks in the background.

All is not lost though, as some of the buds were spared, giving the first flowers of the season. What a pleasant surprise; I was told that Shasta daisies don't bloom until their second year.

Shasta daisy

And anyway, most of the bugs (even the wasps!) in the garden have been very friendly.

I think that the beefsteak and red pear tomatoes have more or less done flowering for the season and are busy setting fruit, but there's still sparse fruit on the White Queen plant, but it's determinedly playing catchup. No pun intended.

White Queen tomato

And finally, a promising sign for August's bloom day.

Morning glory

Weeds of the Balcony: What's Up Dauc?

One of the cedar planters has been rife with carrot-like seedlings all spring. I've been generally very relaxed about weeding, but I've been quite relentlessly pulling these guys because of their numbers.

I'm happy that I did leave one around to grow up, because for one thing I get to identify the plant, and for another, they're quite nice and the smaller pollinators love them.

Oh how I wish for Smell-o-vision. The scent is indescribable, but I love it.

It's wild carrot (Daucus carota). I guess the carrot-like appearance of the plant should have been a clue, but I like to be sure about these things. The plant is otherwise known as Queen Anne's Lace.

Apparently, they're good aphid repellents, which is fortunate since I do have a minor aphid problem.

One cool thing that I had never noticed before was that the umbrels nod and close up as the day ends, only to become erect and open up again as the sun rises. Pretty cool.

Feed me, Seymour!

Was the international biohazard symbol inspired by this?

According to some sites, young wild carrot (i.e., less than a year old) is just as edible as the cultivated kind that were derived from them, but I have also heard that it doesn't taste all that great. As with the velvetleaf, I plan on investigating.

It should be notic that a couple of deadly poisonous species of hemlock can be confused with wild carrot (here's a poison hemlock fact sheet), so if there are no more blog entries from me this fall, you'll know why :) Key differentiators: unlike hemlock, wild carrot roots smell like carrots and the stems are hairy; hemlock leaves smell musty while wild carrot leaves can smell like carrots; the central floret in the umbel of the wild carrot is often purple. The roots of the siblings of this plant that I've torn out definitely smell like carrots, the stems are very hairy, and the flower itself has a tiny purple floret, so I think I'm safe. Not sure about the carrot-scented leaf though; mine didn't smell of anything.

Hairy legs = good

Spot the purple central floret 0_o

A winner is you!
Whether or not I eat it, I quite liked Queen Anne's Lace when I was young and I like them still, especially the architectural quality of the bracts, but the plants themselves can get quite big. I'll have to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't get out of control.

Speaking of out of control, remember that lovely Epilobium I posted about last month? A week ago, it started setting seed on the main stalk, flowering from side shoots, and generally growing like a house on fire. I had to finally tear it out before it bullied the rest of the plants into submission. The way the seed pods opened was fascinating, though.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mystery solved

Just for fun last fall, I collected a bunch of seed from various unidentified plants around the neighbourhood (here and here) and wintersowed them with the idea of eventually identifying them when they flowered.

The first ID of the season is Velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrastii), a member of the mallow family. As you might have guessed, the plant has velvety leaves, large and heart-shaped, alternate, growing from a single (velvety) stalk. They can grow very tall (up to 7 feet), but thankfully mine have remained a manageable 2½ feet. They're still completely out of proportion for the scale of my balcony, but the tactile quality of the plant means they'll be sticking around until the end of the season.

Velvety, palm-sized leaf.

Two velvetleaf plants, one bigger, one smaller.

The cool-looking "king's crown" seed pods are what motivated me to collect the seeds. I had a 20% germination rate with mine, but germination can be erratic, and the seeds can persist for a very long time in the soil.

Dry velvetleaf seed pods
Dried velvetleaf seed pods. By Boby Dimitrov on flickr.
According to Wikipedia, an alternate name for Velvetleaf is China Jute, hinting at the useful quality of the plant's fibres. Portions of the plant are also edible; I may give this a go later on in the season. It is, however, considered a weed in this part of the world.

Here's some more useful information about the plant from the Illinois Wildflowers site..

Monday, July 11, 2011

The story of broccoli

Early Aprl: Seedlings

Late April: Growing up!

May 15: Planting out

May 30: Explosive growth

Early June: a curd appears ...
... and the neighbours are eaten!

Mid-June: Obvious curd is obvious ...

... and the plant is about a foot tall

A week later, and the curd is ping-pong ball sized

June 22: Baseball-sized. Probably should have harvested at this point

June 25: Whoops! Flower buds haven't opened yet ...

... but the plant is obviously bolting

July 1: Canada Day fireworks

July 4: Flower buds continue to open

All sorts of pollinators visit. The smaller ones are easier to photograph ...

... but I spend a couple of days chasing down a pic of the big fat camera-shy bumbles

The haze of pollinators around the broccoli flowers and the flowers themselves are happy-making ...

... but the plant is taking up valuable real estate from the fall crop of carrots and beets. Buh bye!
Overall, growing broccoli was fun but, except for the petite Purple Peacock variety that you see in the last picture, not practical for a balcony garden situation. I'm more than willing to swap the remaining seeds (they're the Di Cicco variety, from Sage Garden Herbs) for more space-efficient veggies (leafy greens like guy lan or root plants like small carrots, beets, radishes).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Balcony o' Bugs: Oh sh*t edition

So, I found these creepy-crawlies on my budding shasta daisies today. Do they look like aphids to you? How can I get rid of them (organically)?